Impotence in the NATO-Russia Council | WEB.DE

Updated on 01/15/2022 at 04:40

  • The last time they met was in 2019 – now the NATO-Russia Council has finally met again.
  • There were no concrete results – that was not to be expected either.
  • East-West relations are characterized by misunderstandings and divergent perspectives.
  • The central claims – and what is really there:

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Claim 1: It all started with the Crimean crisis

replica: The statement is not correct. Russia’s intervention in the 2014 Crimean crisis marked a low point in East-West relations. In the so-called “Budapest Memorandum” of 1994, the United States, Russia and Great Britain pledged, among other things, to respect Ukraine’s borders. The annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine in particular violated this, but also several other international agreements.

But the alienation between Russia and NATO member states started earlier. Political scientist Johannes Varwick traces the beginning of the drift back to 1999, when NATO intervened in the Kosovo war with airstrikes against Serbia. “From today’s perspective, it was correct”, underlines the scientist, but at the same time the intervention, which was not covered by a United Nations resolution, was directed against Russian interests: “The Russia understood at the time that NATO didn’t always play by the rules.”

Claim 2: With its eastward expansion, NATO violated the agreements

To respond: The allegation is false. The record is clear, Varwick says: “There is no obligation, no representation, no contract in this context.” Former Russian head of state Mikhail Gorbachev also sees it this way: “The question did not even arise then,” he said in 2014. Expert Varwick adds: “At the At the time, there was still the Warsaw Pact as a counterweight to NATO. , there were hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers in the GDR and it was absolutely inconceivable that one day NATO would stand on the western border of the Russia.” Later, when Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic wanted to join NATO, NATO hesitated, then US President George Bush Sr. also slowed down at first: “No one shouted ‘hurrah'”, Varwick points out.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that Russia has felt like a loser since the end of the Soviet Union. With its eastward expansion, NATO has “played to the max” for the West’s victory. This is not a legal problem, but a political problem.

Claim 3: NATO maintains combat units in the new member states, contrary to the agreement

To respond: This assertion is at least not entirely false. One of the cornerstones of the 1997 NATO-Russia pact is the agreement that new member countries should have neither nuclear weapons nor “permanent NATO structures”. In order to comply with this agreement, NATO regularly rotates NATO formations in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as in Poland. NATO’s so-called Enhanced Forward Presence “Battlegroups”, which were decided in 2016, are not “permanently” located in a country for which NATO considers the treaty to have been complied with.

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However, it’s obvious, says Varwick, that this solution is “sleight of hand”: “You’re not violating the letter of the contract, but you’re also not acting within the spirit of the agreement.” The approach taken by the West shows “that the child fell into the well in 1997”.

Allegation 4: Russia violates the right to self-determination of other countries

To respond: The accusation is correct. By annexing Crimea and massively threatening Ukraine ever since, Russia wants to prevent the country from joining NATO and/or the EU. But Johannes Varwick doesn’t like to make general judgments here either: “Russia has accepted the changes in the Baltic states – but if Ukraine joined NATO, it would feel surrounded. Russia has the feeling “that an adversary is approaching its borders”, he says, and launches an appeal: “You have to understand that!”

Statement 5: Russia wants a new Yalta

To respond: The statement may be true. But here, too, we must judge with caution. After the end of the war, the Yalta decisions led to the East-West division of Europe into democratically ruled countries supported by Western powers and Communist-ruled “vassal states” dependent on Russia. The analysis that Russia today wants “a new Yalta” in Europe is decisively supported by political scientist Carlo Masala, who teaches at the Bundeswehr University in Munich.

“This comparison is evil”, says Johannes Varwick, but admits that “thinking in zones of influence” has become fashionable again. At the same time, he advocates compromise solutions. There are not only the alternatives of integrating Ukraine into NATO or “throwing them to the Russians” – politicians can also think of a future “neutral status” for the country.

Claim 6: Russia uses Nord Stream 2 to blackmail the West

To respond: It’s correct. But the West is doing the same. The 1,200 km long Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is controversial in German domestic politics, and the United States would also like to prevent its commissioning. Critics fear that Europe is making itself dependent on Russian gas and therefore vulnerable to blackmail. But the opposite is also true. “The debate in Germany is very one-sided,” explains the expert. Not only was Germany dependent on Russian gas “because otherwise the lights would go out here and the stoves would get cold”, but conversely Russia was dependent on the sale of gas due to strong foreign exchange earnings. It is not new that globalized energy markets also create international dependencies.

Contention 7: Bold measures to defuse are needed

To respond: Politics must decide. Johannes Varwick advocates accommodating Russia in NATO’s eastward expansion. The West must accept “there are areas of influence” and also keep an eye on the alternative – Varwick fears “permanent escalation or even war”. He points out that Russia is a nuclear power: “The West is much stronger, but Russia has a different risk assessment than ours.

It is therefore a good thing that the NATO-Russia Council has finally met again. The expert believes that these were not negotiations, but at least the prelude to a possible new dialogue.

About the Expert: Professor Johannes Varwick teaches political science at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg.


NATO sticks to its principle of a country’s right to self-determination, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed in response to Russia’s request not to admit Ukraine to the alliance.

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