Russian Reactions to the NATO Summit

September 9, 2014

The NATO summit in Wales was treated in Russia with a great deal of equanimity. The official reaction was quite predictable, with the Foreign Ministry putting out a statement that claimed that interfering in the affairs of foreign states was part of NATO’s “genetic code” and flowed directly from the organization’s desperate search for a role in the global security system after the end of the Cold War. The ministry went on to claim that NATO policy is dictated by hawks in Europe and the United States who have been “striving for military domination in Europe.” Moreover, the statement claimed, these hawks have shown themselves willing to prevent the emergence of a common Euro-Atlantic security system and sacrifice international efforts to counter real threats such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and WMD proliferation in order to achieve this end.

The Foreign Ministry argued that the build-up of NATO presence near Russia’s borders is part of a long-nurtured plan to strengthen the alliance’s forces in the east to counter Russia, with the Ukraine crisis serving as an excuse to begin its implementation. The statement continued, insisting that these plans, together with announced plans for joint exercises with Ukrainian forces, will escalate tensions in the region and forestall progress toward a peaceful settlement in Ukraine. The head of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, Alexei Pushkov, stated that the buildup of NATO rapid reaction forces in Poland and the Baltic States is a hostile act towards Russia.

Unofficial reactions, by contrast, were far more muted. The most prominent foreign policy commentators chose to focus their regular columns on the ceasefire in Ukraine, rather than on the summit. The few who did generally de-emphasized the summit’s impact on Russia and focused more on the extent of the alliance’s support for Ukraine. For example, Victor Miasnikov, a columnist for the Independent Military Review, said that the 15 million euros allocated by NATO for military assistance to Ukraine was just pennies and would not have an impact on Ukrainian capabilities. Similarly, Andrei Kortunov of the New Eurasia Foundation argued that this assistance was no more than a symbolic act to show sympathy for Ukraine and to serve as a signal to Russia. Ukraine had sought substantial military assistance, including lethal weapons, which NATO was not willing to provide (though some individual member states have indicated that bilateral military assistance may be forthcoming). Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the Russia in Global Affairs journal, and other commentators argued that the chances of a successful ceasefire rose as a result of this decision, with Ukrainian President Poroshenko understanding that Ukraine would have to base its actions on its own (limited) resources, rather than persevering on the hope of receiving more assistance from the West.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these reactions show that Russian views of NATO remain sharply negative, with government officials in particular convinced that NATO remains at its core an anti-Russian alliance and that its policies since at least the late 1990s have been focused on encircling Russia with hostile states. While the majority of non-government commentators largely share this perception, they appear to think that NATO plays a less important role in the international system. Accordingly, the primary focus in recent commentary has been either on the actual conflict in Ukraine or on the impact of the current crisis on bilateral relations between Russia and the United States.

 

Dmitry Gorenburg is a senior research scientist in the Strategic Studies division of CNA, a not-for-profit research and analysis organization. Dr. Gorenburg is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Law and an associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. He has previously taught in the Department of Government at Harvard University and served as Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS). He holds a Ph.D in political science from Harvard University and a B.A. in international relations from Princeton University. He blogs on issues related to the Russian military at http://russiamil.wordpress.com.

 

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