Further expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) toward Russia’s territorial backyard is nothing new. As a prestigious security alliance, it consistently seeks consolidated development in terms of tasks and membership strength. The collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of Mikhail Gorbachev and ushering in of Boris Yeltsin as the first President of the Russian Federation. There were negotiations aimed at preparing Russia to ascend unto NATO and even join the European Union (EU).
The political history documents show that the former Soviet republics dreamed of these steps so as to elevate their status to greater heights on the global scene. The three Baltic republics are today part of the EU and NATO. Georgia attempted the same, but never ultimately realized these goals due to so many factors, some connected to Russia.
Research Professor Fyodor Lukyanov at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, argues this mid-April in his wide-circulated article titled “Old Thinking for Our Country and the World” that Russian intellectuals have been discussing whether Russia belongs to Europe.
The notion of belonging or not belonging to Europe acquired an institutional framework. Europe has turned from a cultural and historical phenomenon into a set of structures that emerged out of Cold War-era homogeneity, that is, Western homogeneity. In order to participate in these structures, one must meet the prescribed criteria.
According to his explanation, the Russian Federation tried to make this choice in 1992 when it emerged on the international stage in a somewhat schizophrenic capacity as the inheritor and successor of the Soviet Union but strongly rejecting its heritage and identity. In parallel with post-Soviet Russia, the European Union, just transformed from the community, entered the world stage as the embodiment and apotheosis of institutionalized Europe.
For about fifteen years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia genuinely sought to become part of the European order created by the United States and its allies. It tried to do this on grounds that would not be standard (Moscow was never ready to stand in the queue of candidates to Euro-Atlantic institutions), but at the same time would not imply radical changes in the Western scheme of things.
Earlier, Bill Clinton said in an article for The Atlantic that he had demonstrated readiness to accept Russia in NATO. The effort did not work out due to Russia’s dilly-dally. In his February 21 televised address, President Vladimir Putin deliberately mentioned an old conversation with Bill Clinton about Russia’s possible admission to NATO and the U.S. leader’s basic negative reaction. The disappointment about the fact that such an option was envisioned by Moscow, but was rejected by the Western club, left a mark on the Russian political consciousness.
IDN research shows that NATO has 12 original founding member states. Of the 30 member countries, 27 are mainly located in Europe. Three of NATO’s members are nuclear weapons giants—France, the United States and the United Kingdom. Georgia attempted but in vain. Between 1994 and 1997, wider forums for regional cooperation between NATO and its neighbours were set up, including the Partnership for Peace, the Mediterranean Dialogue initiative and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.
Georgia, just like Baltic republics, attempted but was never successful. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization late March 2004 and are part of Europe. As Research Professor Lukyanov, and many other Russian researchers IDN talked to said, Russia was impatient and did not painstakingly work on the requirements toward membership. For instance, it took Russia 18 years to World Trade Organization (WTO) and many years to raise its status unto similar international organizations.
Ukraine is now frustrated, as was Georgia, when as a former Soviet republic, it made the decision to join both NATO and Europe. As IDN was explicitly told, it was one of the reasons for Russia’s February 24 “special military operation” in addition to “protecting and defending” ethnic Russian minorities and Russian-speaking population in eastern part of Ukraine. There are solid reasons to say that Russia was preparing to annex this part of sovereign Ukraine several years back by simplifying acquisition of Russian citizenship.
Ryan McMaken, a Senior Editor at the Mises Institute offers an in-depth discussion into Russia’s strategic policy tools. “We saw similar tactics used in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both in Georgia. The Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014 used similar rhetoric. Notably, the Russian regime extended citizenship to the populations of the separatist regions in question either before or after the military intervention in each case. This was done by granting passports en masse to the residents of each region, in a process called passportization.”
Most recently, this has also been done in eastern Ukraine where passportization—as in Georgia—helped set the stage for military intervention. This use of citizenship and naturalization as a tool of foreign policy helps to illustrate some of the geopolitical implications of the existence of unassimilated ethnic or linguistic minorities within a state’s borders.
But states have to determine their individual political independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity within the confines of international law. So also, to make decisions concerning their future development.
Ukraine’s decision to join NATO and Europe has sparked the Russians to demand security guarantees for NATO’s non-eastern-ward expansion. Moldova, Finland, and Sweden are also lining up to join the NATO. These are backyards to Russia at stone’s throw. In fact, and understandably the neutral status of Sweden and Finland did not impede these states from developing closer ties with the European Union and eventually becoming its members.
Helsinki and Stockholm have filed with the least number of bureaucratic procedures the necessary, and it vividly shows that both might join this summer. Based on InDepthNews research, this will seriously worsen the military situation and bring about the most undesirable consequences if Moscow moves into these countries with its military. That will mean a radical change in the military and political situation in the region, though.
Already the Kremlin, the Russian government, and Ministries of Defence, and Foreign Affairs have issues serious warning again these countries’ membership and accession unto NATO. With the exception of Moldova, the reality is that Sweden and Finland have joined the sanctions and are actively participating in the campaign against Russia, unleashed in the West.
Russia’s former President (2008-2012) and Prime Minister, and now Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia would bolster its western borders, if Sweden and Finland joined NATO and in this case, “there can be no talk about the nuclear-free status of the Baltic region”. As the topmost authority on the Security Council, Medvedev ordered that it would be necessary to beef up the group of ground troops and the air defence system and deploy substantial naval forces in the Gulf of Finland. If Sweden and Finland join NATO, the length of the alliance’s land border with Russia will more than double.
Naturally, it will be necessary to strengthen these borders. Until today, Russia has not taken such measures, nor was it going to do so. If we are forced to, then “note, it wasn’t us who suggested this,” as a character in a famous old movie said, added Medvedev.
But then, there should be hope of common sense. That said, Deputy Chairman Medvedev stressed that there is no sense in arguing that if it was not for the special operation in Ukraine, the accession of these countries to NATO would not have been an issue in the first place, and the situation would have been simpler for Russia.
Local Russian media, the Vedomosti, reported that Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has vehemently set its sights on joining NATO. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on April 13 that the issue of joining the Western bloc is marked untainted.
Deputy Director of the HSE Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies Dmitry Suslov told Vedosmosti newspaper: “Russia will consider the territories of these countries as a possible theatre of military operations. At the same time, the expert noted, as long as Sweden and Finland remain neutral, Moscow does not consider their territory a zone of potential conflict.”
Another Researcher at the Center for International Security at the IMEMO Dmitry Stefanovich said,” Russia will definitely not remain indifferent to the situation” if these countries become members of the military alliance. Russia has the world’s biggest arsenal of nuclear warheads and along with China and the United States is one of the global leaders in hypersonic missile technology. Lithuania said Russia’s threats were nothing new and that Moscow had deployed nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad long before the war in Ukraine.
Finland and Sweden are Scandinavian countries. Near Finland—where Russia has its Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania—shares a 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia, so also landlocked Moldova. Still, the possible accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO—founded in 1949 to provide Western security against the Soviet Union – would be one of the biggest strategic consequences of the already devastating war in Ukraine.
In the meanwhile, United States and European Union members have been soliciting support around the world for the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, now experiencing tremendous atrocities and worsening humanitarian conditions as a direct result of Russia’s “special military operation” since late February. Russia has come under a raft of sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries.