Helplessness in the NATO-Russia Council | WEB.DE

Updated on 01/15/2022 at 04:40

  • The last time they met was in 2019 – now the NATO-Russia Council has finally met again.
  • There were no concrete results – they were not to be expected either.
  • East-West relations are characterized by misunderstandings and differing perspectives.
  • The central claims – and what is really there:

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Claim 1: It all started with the Crimean crisis

reply: The assertion is not correct. Russia’s intervention in the 2014 Crimean crisis marked a low point in East-West relations. In the so-called “Budapest Memorandum” in 1994, the USA, Russia and Great Britain committed themselves, among other things, to respecting Ukraine’s borders. The annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine in particular violated this, but also several other international agreements.

But the alienation between Russia and NATO member states started earlier. Political scientist Johannes Varwick dates the beginning of the drifting apart to 1999, when NATO intervened in the Kosovo war with airstrikes against Serbia. “From today’s perspective, that was correct,” emphasizes the scientist, but at the same time the intervention, which was not covered by a United Nations resolution, was directed against Russian interests: “Russia understood at the time that NATO didn’t always play by the rules.”

Assertion 2: With its eastward expansion, NATO violated agreements

Reply: The claim is wrong. The record is clear, says Varwick: “There is no obligation, no declaration, no contract in this context.” Former Russian head of state Mikhail Gorbachev also sees it this way: “The question didn’t even arise at the time,” he said in 2014. Expert Varwick adds: “Back then, there was still the Warsaw Pact as a counterweight to NATO, there were hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers in the DDR and it was absolutely inconceivable that one day NATO would stand on Russia’s western border.” When Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic later wanted to join NATO, NATO was hesitant, and then-US President George Bush Sr. initially put the brakes on: “Nobody shouted ‘hurrah,'” stresses Varwick.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that Russia has felt like a loser since the end of the Soviet Union. With its eastward expansion, NATO “played to the maximum” the victory of the West. This is not a legal, but a political problem.

Assertion 3: NATO maintains combat units in the new member states, contrary to the agreement

Reply: This assertion is at least not entirely incorrect. One of the foundations of the 1997 NATO-Russia pact is the agreement that the countries of the new members must not have either nuclear weapons or “permanent NATO structures”. In order to comply with this agreement, NATO regularly rotates NATO formations in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as in Poland. The so-called “Battlegroups” of NATO Enhanced Forward Presence, which were decided in 2016, are not “permanently” in a country that NATO considered the treaty to have been complied with.

Also read: Ukraine crisis: Is Russia flying out of SWIFT?

However, it is obvious, says Varwick, that this solution is a “sleight of hand”: “You don’t violate the letter of the contract, but you also no longer act in the spirit of the agreement.” The approach taken by the West shows “that the child fell into the well in 1997”.

Claim 4: Russia is violating other countries’ right to self-determination

Reply: The accusation is correct. By annexing Crimea and massively threatening Ukraine since then, Russia wants to prevent the country from joining NATO and/or the EU. But Johannes Varwick doesn’t like to make blanket judgments here either: “Russia has accepted the changes in the Baltic States – but if Ukraine were to join NATO, it would feel encircled.” Russia has the feeling “that an opponent is getting close to its borders,” he says, and appeals: “We have to understand that!”

Assertion 5: Russia wants a new Yalta

Reply: The claim may be true. But here, too, one should judge cautiously. After the end of the war, the decisions of Yalta led to the east-west division of Europe into democratically governed countries supported by the western powers and “vassal states” dependent on Russia and communist governed. The analysis that Russia wants “a new Yalta” in Europe today is decisively supported by the political scientist Carlo Masala, who teaches at the Bundeswehr University in Munich.

“This comparison is evil,” says Johannes Varwick, but admits that “thinking in zones of influence” is back in fashion. At the same time, he advocates compromise solutions. There are not only the alternatives of bringing Ukraine into NATO or “throwing them to the Russians” – instead, politicians can also think about a future “neutral status” for the country.

Claim 6: Russia is using Nord Stream 2 to blackmail the West

Reply: It’s correct. But the West is doing the same. The 1,200 km long gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 is controversial in German domestic politics, and the USA would also like to prevent its commissioning. Critics fear that Europe is making itself dependent on Russian gas and thus vulnerable to blackmail. But the opposite is also true. “The debate in Germany is very one-sided,” says the expert. Not only is Germany dependent on Russian gas “because otherwise the lights would go out here and the stoves would get cold,” but conversely Russia was dependent on selling gas because of the high foreign exchange earnings. It is not new that the globalized energy markets also create international dependencies.

Assertion 7: Bold steps to de-escalate are needed

Reply: Politics must decide that. Johannes Varwick advocates accommodating Russia in the eastward expansion of NATO. The West must accept “that there are zones of influence” and also keep an eye on what the alternative is – Varwick fears “permanent escalation or even war”. He points out that Russia is a nuclear power: “The West is much stronger, but Russia has a different risk assessment than we do.”

So it’s a good thing that the NATO-Russia Council finally met again. The expert believes that these were not negotiations, but at least the prelude to a possible new dialogue.

About the expert: Prof. Johannes Varwick teaches political science at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg.

NATO is sticking to its principle of a country’s right to self-determination, stressed Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in view of Russia’s demand that Ukraine should not be admitted to the alliance.

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