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Old 09-02-2023, 09:56 AM
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Post The Unremembered History Behind Russia’s Fear of NATO

The Unremembered History Behind Russia’s Fear of NATO
By: William Moloney - The Messenger Opinion News - 09-02-23

Vladimir Lenin memorably remarked that “ who controls Germany controls Europe.” Given that Russia was twice invaded by Germany in just 27 years (1914 and 1941), resulting in the deaths of over 30 million Russians, it is unsurprising that Lenin’s successors — from Joseph Stalin to Vladimir Putin — have taken his warning seriously. Add to this that, over four centuries, Russia has been invaded by a half-dozen of its Western neighbors (Sweden, Poland, Prussia, Turkey, Austria and France) and it’s no wonder that Russia’s rulers believe threats of Western encirclement and invasion are the highest national security concern.

Seen in this light, Putin’s stout resistance to the eastward march of NATO since 1990 is perhaps a little more understandable — without excusing his regime’s widely reported war crimes in Ukraine.

To understand the deeper background of the dangerous, growing crisis that has engulfed the world since the outbreak of the Ukraine war in February 2022, it is useful to consult a 2021 book by historian Mary E Sarotte, Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate, which takes us back to the critical year of 1990. That’s when the Soviet Union, though verging on economic collapse, still had 400,000 troops stationed in East Germany — the largest single military force in Europe.

As Sarotte relates, the goal of American policy in this environment was to seek the rapid reunification of Germany and allow the enlarged German state to become the bulwark of NATO. Many Europeans with long memories of two ruinous world wars strongly opposed this policy, as was illustrated by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s testy remark: “We defeated the Germans twice and now they’re back.” Some urged Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev to maintain the Russian troop presence in Germany, as he was entitled to under agreements among the Allies at the end of World War II.

Gorbachev, who had disbanded the Soviet counterpart to NATO — the Warsaw Pact — proved amenable to German reunification and withdrawal of Russian troops, if he could receive assurances that there would be no further eastward expansion of NATO.

These assurances were swiftly delivered from the highest levels of American leadership. On Feb. 9, 1990, Secretary of State James Baker met with Gorbachev and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, pledging that “NATO jurisdiction would not move eastward,” and adding the now famous phrase: “Not one inch eastward.” Shortly thereafter, President George H.W. Bush confirmed this U.S. pledge in a letter to Gorbachev.

Subsequently, Gorbachev supported German reunification and withdrew his troops from Germany. However, despite U.S. pledges, in just a few years, NATO had expanded eastward to include the key countries of the former Warsaw Pact. Some observers had issued ominous warnings, such as George F. Kennan, a leading expert on U.S.-Russia relations, who stated in a Feb. 5, 1997 article in the New York Times that “expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.”

Further adding to Russia’s suspicion of U.S. intentions during this critical period was Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s formal proposal to the National Security Council on Sept. 5, 1991 that the U.S. work actively not just to break up the Soviet Union but to dismantle the Russian Federation entirely, much as was then occurring with the former Yugoslavia. As former CIA director Robert Gates recounted in his 2014 memoir, Duty, Cheney’s intent was to prevent Russia from becoming a threat in the future.

President Bush rejected this strategy as too extreme — but the idea returned again with President George W. Bush, for whom Cheney was vice president and a chief adviser. He strongly urged at NATO’s 2008 summit in Bucharest that Ukraine and Georgia become members of the alliance. However, this proposal was vetoed by French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called it a “dangerous provocation” that Russian President Vladimir Putin would view as “ little short of a declaration of war.”

Subsequently, NATO membership for Ukraine was decisively sidetracked by President Barack Obama, who told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic that “Ukraine is a core interest for Moscow in a way it is not for the United States.” There the matter rested until the Biden administration made challenging Russia over Ukraine a central foreign policy objective. Upon the outcome of this high-stakes challenge may well depend the future peace of the world.
About this writer: William Moloney is a senior fellow at Colorado Christian Universities Centennial Institute who studied history and politics at Oxford and the University of London and received his doctorate at Harvard University.
Personal note: A little background on Ukraine & Russia's ongoing ambitions.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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