[New School] Perception or truth? Demystifying NATO’s “fault” in the Russian-Ukrainian war
In the early hours of February 24, 2022, after a lengthy address to the nation, Putin declared a special military operation against Ukraine. This chain of events finally kicked off an eight-year confrontation. For the first time since the Second World War, the sovereignty of a European nation is threatened by a foreign invasion. As Russia’s war in Ukraine drags on into its fourth week, Russian propaganda is stepping up to justify itself.
However, analysts were quick to debunk Putin’s fallacy for this war. The racket caused by Putin can be said to reflect a “disconnected” perception of history and reality, in particular his assertion that NATO poses a threat to Russia’s security. However, what do we know about NATO-Russia relations? How accurate is Putin’s allegation of security threats? How to discern facts from propaganda?
First, we need to understand where NATO began and its position in the geopolitical atmosphere of Europe. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) came into existence in 1949 with the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949. This treaty sets out the principles of the Alliance, namely to contribute to better international relations and to promote conditions of stability and well-being (Article 2) . NATO started with 12 members, namely Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom and United States. Some may say that NATO promised the USSR on February 9, 1990 that it would not expand eastward. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new geopolitical atmosphere formed and former satellite states voluntarily applied for membership in the Alliance.
It should be noted that joining NATO goes through a rigorous process. The criteria include a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy, fair treatment of minority populations, a commitment to resolving conflicts peacefully, an ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations, and a commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions. . The accession process begins with an “intensive dialogue” between the candidate country and the North Atlantic Council (NAC), which is NATO’s decision-making body. The next step is an invitation to join the Membership Action Plan (MAP), a program that helps countries prepare for possible membership. The culmination of the process is when the aspirant deposits their Instrument of Accession with the US government (Section 10).
Notwithstanding the USSR, NATO-Russia relations began with the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security. The law aimed to overcome the remnants of the previous confrontation and to enhance mutual trust and cooperation between the two sides. The Act also reaffirms their desire to give substance to the common commitment to build a stable, peaceful and undivided Europe. One who is whole and free, for the benefit of all his peoples. In Article II, Mechanism for Consultation and Cooperation, NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council, the provisions do not prejudice the rights of NATO or Russia to independent decision-making and action. Article III, Areas of Consultation and Cooperation, describes cooperation on civil and military matters.
We can see that both sides sought to resolve Cold War frictions through diplomatic means. Unfortunately, NATO decided to suspend practical cooperation with Russia due to its aggression in eastern Ukraine in 2014. In addition, in 2016 NATO began its rotation of four combat groups of battalions in the Baltic States and Poland. However, it still maintains political communication channels and adheres to the ban on the permanent deployment of substantial combat forces in countries aspiring to NATO membership.
Having established the context of NATO-Russia relations, let us now examine the question of Ukraine and its position between the two main parties.
Relations between NATO and Ukraine date back to 1992, when Ukraine joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, later renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. In February of the same year, the then NATO Secretary General, Mr. Werner, visited kyiv. Four months later, then-President Leonid Kravchuk visited NATO headquarters in Brussels. Later in September, a Ukrainian embassy was opened in Brussels, further cementing contacts between these two parties. Two years later, relations were further strengthened when Ukraine accepted the framework of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) initiative. With the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, policies turned to NATO membership. Beginning with intensive dialogues in 2005, the Ukrainian government has done everything possible to meet the criteria set by NATO despite fierce internal opposition.
Unfortunately, at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, it decided that it would not yet offer the action plan for accession to Ukraine. When Viktor Yanukovych took over from Yushchenko, he set aside any active commitment to joining NATO. Instead, he chose to maintain the status quo and declare Ukraine a non-aligned nation (despite being a well-known pro-Russian). Despite this, Ukraine continued to honor its commitments to NATO, such as the annual national program and peacekeeping missions in the Middle East.
After the 2014 Euromaidan protests, the impeachment of Yanukovych and the election of Petro Poroshenko, the government continued its non-aligned position, even declaring that it had no intention of making Ukraine a member of NATO. But when Russia annexed Crimea and reports of Russian military activity in Ukraine emerged, Ukraine’s parliament reversed its earlier decision and prioritized NATO membership. On February 7, 2019, the Ukrainian parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional change that would help fast-track Ukraine’s membership in NATO and the EU.
During the first two years of Zelenskyy’s tenure, several NATO member heads of state openly lobbied for Ukraine to receive a Membership Action Plan. A month before the Russian invasion, Andrii Yermak, chairman of the office of the president of Ukraine, said that Ukrainian authorities hoped to hear specific conditions for joining the North Atlantic Alliance. It is perhaps ironic that when Ukraine gave up its inherited Soviet-era nuclear weapons, Russia assured that it would respect its independence and territorial security. Both have since been breached in 2014, and with this unwarranted invasion.
To sum up the points made, Putin’s assertion that NATO is a threat to Russia’s security could not be further from the truth. While NATO has accepted Central and Eastern European countries into the Alliance, it is not positioning itself aggressively against Russia. NATO was founded on their collective principle of safeguarding the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means. NATO has also played an increasingly important role in crisis management and peacekeeping. NATO’s rigorous membership process and its act with Russia further disprove Putin’s justification. The acceding countries have voluntarily reviewed the terms of membership and decided on them independently. They did so in the interests of better security and better cooperation between themselves and their neighbours. This independent decision-making process is protected and endorsed by Article II of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997.
Similarly, Putin’s paranoia about Ukraine joining NATO stems from his irrational decisions following the loss of a pro-Russian president in Ukraine. Even in the months leading up to the invasion, Ukraine’s NATO membership had been a mixture of approvals and commitments, but no finalized plan. Given the irrationality displayed by Putin, he has only worked to antagonize his neighbors and thread a more unified NATO.
After reading all this, one wonders what does this mean for us Filipinos? First, the machinations of Russian propaganda, which portrays itself as the liberators and the West as the instigators, has further fueled the defeatist rhetoric among the people. This rhetoric plays to erode national unity against a greater enemy. Moreover, Filipino politicians have also pandered to this rhetoric, thus causing further social decline. Second, the effect of this defeatist rhetoric has become glaring with statements that call on Ukrainians to surrender or that the Philippines shouldn’t care about the ongoing war. This backward logic ignores the principles of defending the rights and interests of the Filipino people and inflames exposure to the risk of foreign encroachment.
It therefore remains imperative to push back against this type of propaganda, rhetoric and disinformation. We may not share massive land borders like Ukraine and Russia, but that doesn’t diminish the risk of a foreign aggressor. As we know, China has forced its way into Southeast Asia and claimed vast swaths of territory. His posture recalls the Russian annexation of Crimea and his support for pro-Russian separatists. Instead of weapons, China is using its economic position to bring key players into its fold and distort the reality of its narrative. If we allow this misinformation to firmly grip our country, we leave the risk of infighting that can lead to further exploitation by China.
We must not allow the principles of our democracy, our independence and our freedom to fall into a vacuum. We are not alone in this fight as we have like-minded countries that are ready to support us. It simply comes down to the will of the Filipino people to stand up for what is rightfully theirs. That, among many other things, remains to be seen. – Rappler.com
Kiefer Zechariah Hipe East a raised at the University of Holy Joma. Outside academics, he spent his time like a amateur military historian and Politics analyst. He sometimes hosts the story podcasts together with other local historians and analysts.