The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was established in 1949 as a collective defence strategy against the threat of the growing and hostile Soviet Union, of which Russia was at the helm. Originally, the organisation consisted of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, and the United States but now encompasses more than 40. The most recent addition to the organisation was North Macedonia – a country whose territory was once part of the Soviet Union.
During the Cold War, NATO formation was specifically concerned with the militarisation of the USSR as well as using its power to increase the extension of its political agendas and influence beyond the remits of Russia’s predetermined eastern ‘sphere of influence’. For example, after World War 2, eastern European electoral systems were perverted by the Soviet Union to establish fellow communist governments.
While, during the Cold War, the organisation can be deemed as successful in protecting NATO countries and preventing nuclear war (the Cuban Missile Crisis being the best example), since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO’s existence and purpose have been questioned. The involvement of NATO in major conflicts has arguably been short-sighted with Afghanistan being the latest example. After 20 years of financing, developing, and lives being risked and lost in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of the troops from leading NATO countries ultimately resulted in the country being taken back by the Taliban in a matter of weeks: a complete failure.
The failure in Afghanistan played out against a backdrop of increasing isolationism across the world. In the United States, Trump’s presidency saw the draw-down of the American presence in Germany as well as a criticism of American presence in Afghanistan. Similarly, the UK’s exit from the European Union in 2016 signalled a rejection of European collaboration, in favour of domestic security and politics. Furthermore, in 2018, Trump stated that “The United States is paying far too much and other countries are not paying enough, especially some.” Conversely, however, new European collaboration with Russia saw the outgoing German Chancellor Merkel in support of the Nord Stream Gas Pipeline which would bring Russian gas supplies directly to Germany. In turn, this would increase European reliance on Russian energy.
This undercurrent of the last decade has thrown NATO onto a trajectory of weakness and decreasing prevalence…. Until now.
The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has rightly, given NATO’s history, been suspicious of the organisation. Since 1991, Moscow’s influence has rescinded dramatically with only Belarus remaining a loyal subject. Arguably, some of the previous Soviet Republics, now members of the Eurasian Economic Union, can be regarded as allies to Russia but muster nowhere near the might of the forces and economic capabilities of NATO countries.
Now along Russia’s border, there are a litany of current and prospective NATO countries – Estonia and Latvia as full members and Ukraine (sharing a substantial border and cultural links with Russia) and Georgia as prospective states. In addition, the majority of the ex-Soviet Republics to the west of the Black Sea are NATO members, signifying Moscow’s waning influence over the last 30 years.
Against the potential for a further amalgamation of NATO forces at Russia’s front door, Ukraine’s shift in the global community is the straw to break Russia’s back.
In the months before the invasion, efforts had been made to pave the way for Ukraine to gain full NATO status. There had been much support from the US on this matter with the U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership in place to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty from ‘Russian aggression’.
It is arguable to say that if the previous President Trump, Russia’s favourite, had won a second term in office then this document would never have existed. To Russia, such documents support an existential threat, given the history of NATO and its frosty relations with the US. Ukraine not only shares a huge border with Russia but, arguably, it is also culturally and historically more intertwined with Russia than any other nation.
Therefore, the political steps taken in recent months, rightly, have drawn Ukraine’s sovereignty as a point of no contention, while signifying a point of no return in terms of relations with Russia. Simultaneously, the actions have ratified Putin’s suspicions of NATO expansion against Russia. However, whatever the result of the invasion, the geopolitical lines drawn in the sand over the last two months will never hand back security to Putin.
In fact, Putin has handed re-invigoration to NATO.
Prior to the invasion, NATO was on tenterhooks as to whether the warnings from western intelligence agencies would materialise. Holding the troops on the Russian and Belarusian borders with Ukraine, gave Putin control to either validate or humiliate NATO and the intelligence services of member states. Choosing to invade, proved NATO right, legitimising its existence once again against a Russian-led threat to the European continent.
Since the invasion, NATO countries have stepped up to provide weapons and aid to war-torn Ukraine. Boris Johnson visited Kyiv with many other Heads of State and Governments visiting NATO countries in Eastern Europe to reassert their support. Even civilians and expatriate Ukrainians have headed to Ukraine to bolster the number of forces. Crucially, Sweden and Finland, with the latter bordering Russia, have begun the process of joining NATO.
Ultimately, the results of Putin’s invasion so far have been at odds with his intent. After fifty-six days of the war, the once considered ‘easy victory’ has not been achieved. The fight for Ukraine’s sovereignty has ignited a fire across two continents against the largest country on the planet and a fight for sovereignty that many countries in Europe can empathise with on a historical level. Furthermore, Putin’s paranoia over Ukraine joining NATO has opened Pandora’s Box, revitalising and unifying NATO in a way not recently seen as well as triggering even more neighbouring countries to join. Putin’s actions have fuelled his paranoia and perhaps after the result of this war, his own demise.
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