NATO's Blunder in the Former Soviet Union
The story of relations between Russia and the United States has been a very interesting one. The Russian Empire and the United States were allies during the first World War, when they fought against the German, Ottoman, and Austrian armies across Europe. During the Russian civil war, with the Tsar of Russia attempting to regain power when the Bolsheviks took power, US soldiers were on Russian soil, fighting against the communists. This obviously led to deteriorated relations between the United States and the newly founded USSR, which reached a low point in 1939 as Soviet armies rushed into Poland, splitting it with Germany. Nevertheless, when Germany turned on the USSR in 1941, launching the largest land invasion in human history, the United States shipped unprecedented amounts of tanks, guns, and trucks to the Soviet Union, tremendously helping Stalin in his (eventually successful) bid to drive the Wehrmacht out of Russia. Eventually, as American and British forces overran Northern Italy and Western Germany, Soviet troops hoisted the Soviet flag over Berlin on May 2nd, bringing the 3rd Reich to an end.
What followed would end up becoming a 40 year long Mexican standoff, with the entire planet seemingly having no way of backing off from an eventual nuclear firestorm that would destroy humanity. The United States and Soviet Union turned on each other once more in what was known as the Cold War, as the two superpowers spread their respective ideologies throughout the world, opposing each other in a series of proxy wars, while also threatening each other with nuclear annihilation. However, things begun to go wrong for the USSR in the 1980s. America’s rapprochement with China led to the USSR having to defend two borders - its border with NATO in Europe, and its border with China in the far east. Additionally, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a costly failure, as the guerilla warfare of Muslim guerillas proved to be too unorthodox for the Soviet army to handle. This, combined with the rise of the internet, eventually led to the Soviet Union collapsing in 1991, leading to the creation of 15 different countries, including modern day Russia.
It is this Russia, the Russian Federation, that we are focusing on. It is the blunders of the west and the United States, above anything else, that have resulted in Russia’s aggressive behavior over the past decade.
Relations between the modern day Russian Federation and the United States got off to a good start. In 1994, Russia, led by Boris Yeltsin, joined NATO’s partnership for peace, and Yeltsin overall begun to draw close to the west. However, Yeltsin was hit with a barrage of domestic problems back home. Inflation was high, economic growth was low, and Russian pride had been badly bruised following the collapse of the USSR. Facing mounting domestic pressure, Yeltsin resigned on December 31, 1999, just hours before the turn of the millenium. This left Vladimir Putin as president of Russia.
Putin came into office already possessing an aggressive, cold and calculating reputation. He was a former KGB agent, and was masterminding the war in Chechnya, where islamist militants attempted to break away from the Russian federation. Putin also harbored the anti-western sentiment of the Russian people. Putin, much like his people, wanted to see Russia return to its former glory.
But the blame for Russia’s aggression should not be placed on the shoulders of Vladimir Putin. It is not Putin who is the main catalyst for Russian aggression in the 21st century. No, the main catalyst has been the aggressive expansion of NATO.
Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has expanded into 14 different countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, and Montenegro. Of these countries, nine were under direct control of Russia or members of the Eastern bloc during the Cold War (the other five were formerly parts of Yugoslavia, which was non-aligned). This NATO expansion severely contradicts Russia’s history of maintaining a large buffer zone between its capital, Moscow, and the rest of Europe. In fact, the reason as to why Russia is so big can be largely explained by this desire to create buffer regions. Russia colonized Siberia in the 18th century not because Siberia had anything of actual value, but rather to stop far East invaders from ever marching into Moscow. Similarly, Russia has, for most of history since the 1700s, had everything east of Warsaw under its control, as well as everything north of Romania.
Now, with NATO countries on Russia’s border, Russia has every reason to feel threatened. It is no wonder that the two countries Russia has intervened in militarily - Ukraine and Georgia, are two states bordering Russia that have attempted to join NATO. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are constantly threatened by Russia, solely because they joined NATO. Contrary to the arguments of the United States Senate, letting former Eastern bloc nations into NATO makes them far less safe, not more safe. Indeed, expanding NATO is also a detriment to the security of the United States. Any moves by Putin could trigger Article V, resulting in war between Russia and NATO. No reasonable person would want this. Yet, the expansion of NATO has put a potential World War III scenario just one invasion away.
To further visualize the threat to Russia, let us assume you live in the United States. All of a sudden, the US collapses, for whatever reason - this is just a hypothetical. However, a large part of this collapse is blamed on Russia. Now, imagine Canada’s government switches to being aligned with Russia. Mexico soon follows. Meanwhile, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Alaska, and Arizona have all broken away form the United States and have become pro-Russian nations, while Russia is attempting to influence New Mexico and Texas to come to its side. Will the government in Washington D.C. be angry? Obviously. And, the next logical step for D.C. is to reclaim its “lost territory” and somehow bring the breakaway states back under its influence.
The situation in the former Soviet Union is similar, although there are a few differences. Yet, the United States and NATO have refused to see things from the Russian perspective. The result has been an illogical expansion into Eastern Europe which earns political brownie points for being “tough on Russia”, yet has done nothing but invite Russian aggression. NATO is still valuable and strong. But its reckless expansion must stop.