NATO Expansion: The Untold Agreement & Its Role In The Ukraine War

- colombotelegraph.com

By Udara Soysa

Udara Soysa

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has roots that stretch back decades, to a time when the geopolitical landscape of Europe was dramatically shifting. In the aftermath of the Cold War, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, new alliances and understandings were formed. Among these was an untold agreement between Russia and NATO, which plays a crucial role in understanding the current crisis.

The End of the Cold War: A Promise Made?

As the Berlin Wall fell and the Iron Curtain was lifted, the world witnessed a remarkable transformation. The Soviet Union’s collapse left the United States as the sole superpower, with the promise of a new era of peace and cooperation. However, this period of optimism was underpinned by delicate negotiations and promises, many of which were not formally documented but were significant in shaping international relations.

One such promise was made in 1990, when then-US Secretary of State James Baker assured Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand “one inch eastward” beyond Germany. This informal understanding was meant to assuage Russian fears of encirclement and maintain a balance of power in Europe. Despite this, NATO has expanded significantly since then, incorporating many former Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet republics into its fold.

NATO’s Eastward Expansion

From the mid-1990s onwards, NATO began its eastward march, admitting countries like Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in 1999, followed by the Baltic states and others in the 2000s. Each wave of expansion brought NATO’s military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders, heightening Moscow’s sense of encirclement and insecurity.

For Russia, this expansion was seen as a breach of the informal agreement and a direct threat to its national security. The prospect of Ukraine, a key former Soviet republic with deep historical, cultural, and economic ties to Russia, joining NATO was particularly provocative. To Russian leaders, Ukraine’s accession to NATO was akin to having a hostile military alliance right on their doorstep, potentially capable of hosting offensive weapons aimed at Russia. Arguably, this is a logical point of view!

The Ukraine Crisis: A Boiling Point

The crisis in Ukraine began to boil over in 2014, when a popular uprising ousted the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Russia viewed this as a Western-backed coup aimed at pulling Ukraine out of its orbit and into NATO’s sphere of influence. In response, Russia annexed Crimea and supported separatist movements in Eastern Ukraine, leading to a conflict that has since escalated into a full-scale war.

The argument that NATO expansion is the root cause of the Ukraine war hinges on the perception that the West ignored Russia’s security concerns and pushed too far, too fast. By continuously expanding NATO’s reach, the West crossed a red line that Russia had repeatedly warned against. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, this was an intolerable threat that justified drastic measures.

A Hypothetical Perspective: The US and Its Neighbours

To understand Russia’s perspective, one might consider how the United States would react if faced with a similar situation. Imagine if Mexico or Canada were to become hostile states, potentially hosting adversarial nuclear weapons aimed at American cities. The US would likely perceive this as an existential threat and take all necessary measures to neutralize it, including military intervention. This hypothetical scenario underscores the importance of geographical proximity and perceived threats in shaping national security policies.

Conclusion: A Path to Understanding

The narrative that NATO expansion violated an informal but critical understanding with Russia offers a lens through which to view the Ukraine conflict. It suggests that the West’s actions, while aimed at promoting stability and democracy, inadvertently provoked a powerful adversary. Understanding this perspective does not justify Russia’s actions but provides context for the deep-seated fears and historical grievances driving the conflict.

Moving forward, addressing the root causes of the Ukraine war requires acknowledging these historical tensions and working towards a security architecture that considers the legitimate concerns of all parties involved. Only then can lasting peace and stability be achieved in the region.

Udara Soysa is an attorney at law and lecturer in international law and international relations based on Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The post NATO Expansion: The Untold Agreement & Its Role In The Ukraine War appeared first on Colombo Telegraph.

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