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Russia’s War Against Ukraine Is The Cost Of Moscow’s Reaction To NATO’s Eastward Expansion – OpEd


One of the basic concepts for understanding the position of American realists on the Ukraine issue is the theory of the security dilemma, which, along with the balance of power theory, is of paramount importance for understanding realist foreign policy. Realist theorists of the United States believe that Washington’s behavior towards Russia in the decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union has been wrong to a great extent. Both Henry Kissinger and John Mearsheimer reckon that the US should not have brought up Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Believing that foreign policy is the art of recognizing priorities in the historical face of international relations, Kissinger emphasized in 2014 that Ukraine’s membership in NATO was a strategic mistake that should not be insisted on.


Russia’s attack on Ukraine took place eight years after Kissinger’s famous speech. However, it was not only Kissinger who warned against Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Rather, many theorists of international relations made similar statements too. John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, both world-renowned stars of neorealism, are remembered above all for warning about the consequences of NATO’s expansionist policies.

Why don’t these neo-liberalist experts consider a role for Russia in starting a war against Ukraine and assign it utterly to the west and NATO? The strategic question here is how to analyze the war in Ukraine based on the teachings of realism in international relations. Perhaps the starting point of the current issue lies in a deeper disagreement beyond Ukraine or the decisions of Moscow and Washington: On what basis do countries decide to go to war based on their main priorities?

Based on the concept of the security dilemma, when a country accumulates its power increasingly, its rivals are also forced to increase their powers- by resorting to measures such as military power enhancement or membership in military coalitions. Therefore, in the course of the West’s confrontation with Russia, one of the constant warnings of realist theorists has been to pay attention to the security dilemma, a scenario based on which Moscow has no choice but to try to increase its military power with war.

Mearsheimer believes that the basis of international relations is realpolitik, and ignoring this fact is the foundation of a destructive idealistic approach, which ultimately breaks the norms at the international relations level and delegitimizes the weak powers.

The important point in condemning the concentration of power policy is the damage that the endless wars of the West in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya have caused to the world; the same logic has been used by Russia and Vladimir Putin to wage a war in Ukraine through seeking for excuses or even distorting the history. Both Mearsheimer and Walt emphasize that they have no doubt about the moral responsibility of Putin or Russia in the war, and they do not approve of what is happening in Ukraine these days. 


From the viewpoint of these commentators, even the realist approach of the western narrative of the war in Ukraine is not correct either. Because the West’s behavior towards Russia during the last half century has been a tension-stirring policy that has always resulted in terrible consequences like war. In 2008, NATO announced that the ground for the membership of Ukraine and Georgia in NATO is clear. In addition, at the summit of NATO leaders in 2018, it was decided to establish two “Allied Rapid Reaction Corps” headquarters in the USA and Germany to confront more seriously with Russia. Another decision made at that summit was modernizing nuclear weapons of Germany., Moscow reacted very quickly to NATO decisions, describing such events as a threat to its existence. However, Western leaders ignored Moscow’s concerns and continued on their way to expanding NATO.

Just months after the 2008 NATO summit, Russia invaded Georgia, wresting control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Tbilisi. The separatists who had the support of Moscow declared independence. Five years later, the mass protests of the people of Ukraine once again brought Russia and the West face to face. The Ukrainian opposition succeeded in overthrowing the pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych with the support of Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State. Russia’s reaction to this development was more intensive than that of 2008. This time, Moscow not only separated parts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces from Ukraine but also annexed the strategic peninsula of Crimea.

However, none of these events caused the West to reconsider its tension-stirring policy toward Russia. This is the same criticism that Kissinger, Mearsheimer, and other realists express about the West and NATO. They say that Russia’s reaction to NATO’s expansion in Russia’s security environment is an example of rational reciprocal behavior in international relations, and the West should have considered the Kremlin’s possible reaction and devastating events such as Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine.

Mearsheimer had emphasized before the war that insisting on Ukraine’s membership in NATO could put the world at risk of a nuclear war. Mearsheimer, Walt, and some other experts who believe in realism consider what happened at the summit of NATO leaders in 2008 and 2018 as the background for the current situation. They do not consider the root of the Ukrainian war to be reducible only to the psychological characteristics and developmentalist tendencies of an autocratic person like Putin, as the West propagates. In addition, they do not accept Putin as an irrational leader because It was not difficult for him to predict the destruction of the war in Ukraine.

Consequently, disturbance of the balance of power and dominance of one side over the other is one of the issues that have caused realists to describe the NATO expansion policy as a tension-stirring policy that can disrupt the balance of power. The realists now say that all their predictions, based on these two concepts, have come true and Putin logically behaved as any leader in any country would behave in such a situation. Because he, as the president of Russia, is concerned about the security and existence of his country and must work to ensure the security. These efforts can even make sense in the form of an attack on Georgia, Crimea, or the war in Ukraine or taking revenge for the war in Ukraine in another war in Europe.

The realists believe that in addition to Russia, the West should also be blamed for the war in Ukraine, because not only Russia’s hostile reaction to NATO’s expansion policy was predictable, but also the West’s insistence on increasing its power against Russia, its efforts to dominate all of Europe and push Moscow back, can make the world face the danger of nuclear war; the biggest victim of which will be the West itself. If the nuclear war is not going to engulf the world, the West must guarantee Moscow that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO- although the argument of Western politicians is always based on the principle that Ukraine’s membership or non-membership in NATO is a decision that should be made by the people of Ukraine and not by the Kremlin.

In order to prevent more damages that also threaten global security, the West must accept that the democratic decisions of a country are not necessarily a reason for their acceptance by other countries. Moreover, if, for example, Russia democratically decides to become a member of NATO, this military pact does not necessarily agree with this decision, as it previously opposed Russia’s request to join NATO in 1955 and 2003.

Greg Pence

Greg Pence is an international studies graduate of University of San Francisco.

2 thoughts on “Russia’s War Against Ukraine Is The Cost Of Moscow’s Reaction To NATO’s Eastward Expansion – OpEd

  • August 4, 2022 at 2:23 pm

    It’s Russia expanding westward really that made the former Soviet states declare independence. The Ruskies are indigenous to the Muscovy region. Once they expand, then they ethnically cleanse the territory by sending the locals to Gulag and replaces them with populations that are basically bred by the Orthodox church as bounty hunters, or brigands, who are promised loot in land and material goods as well as rape and other sadistic liberties. I mean, who doesn’t want those? Life is good.

    Since all populations are smaller in number, in the minds of Russia they all must be Nazis because how else could you think of beating Russia but to think that you are ten times better. It’s simple math.
    one tenth the population must take on a multiplier of 10 in personal value to equal the power of those ten times the size. It’s how Russians rationalize war crimes over the “too good 4 you” tribes.
    However, if the number of Nazis is multiplied by ten, then the Russians are in trouble and we can’t have that can we? Because if we did, in the realm of realpolitik, those Nazis could easily challenge the US.

  • August 5, 2022 at 4:03 pm

    The bok ” The Israeli Lobby& american foreigh policy ” by peofessore Meiersheimer & waltis a mustread to understand what is going on with our foreign policies.


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