As I expected, the meeting of the US and Russian presidents in Helsinki did not lead to a breakthrough in bilateral relations. Trump’s recent sensational statements, such as those concerning Crimea being Russian, him “trusting” Putin on the matter of alleged “Russian meddling” in the American elections, etc., have been disavowed or muddled over the past day. The pressure of the “deep state” and the powerful opposition of the American bureaucracy and political establishment has made itself felt.
However, in Russia, even in circles that sympathize with Trump, the ease with which the president of the most powerful state in the world can swap his positions has been a genuine shock. To say the least, this does not add any credibility or authority to the American state system. And it is precisely the intangible sphere of trust and authority that makes up a very significant part of the political “capital” of the American state.
But the issue of internal relations within the American establishment is not my area of expertise. It is much more deeply understood by experts from the United States. I merely aim to highlight Russia’s official position.
As an occasion for this I would like to cite today’s statement by Vladimir Putin. Speaking at a meeting with Russia’s ambassadors and permanent representatives Putin touched upon the topic of Georgia and Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO. Putin stressed: ”We will react to such aggressive steps, which pose a direct threat to Russia, proportionately.”
The President of Russia also touched upon the topic of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s joining the North Atlantic Alliance in an interview with Fox News during his visit to Helsinki.
Putin called the advance of NATO forces up to the Russian border a threat to the country’s security. However, this topic is traditionally very important and relevant for the Russian state. Russians simply cannot forgive the US and the West’s, to put it mildly, non-gentlemanly behavior and outright deceit – after all, their verbal promise to Soviet President Gorbachev not to expand NATO to the East, in exchange for the Soviet leader’s consent to the annexation of East Germany (GDR) by Western Germany, was fragrantly violated and is the source of much of the present conflict between Russia and the West.
The North Atlantic Alliance has absorbed not only former Warsaw Pact countries, but also three former Soviet Baltic republics. As a result, NATO military bases and aircraft are now a little more than a hundred kilometers from the Northern capital of Russia, Saint Petersburg. This fact is more than a serious cause for concern for Russia.
However, the possible induction of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO entails a lot more than mere concern and anxiety. This would mean a declaration of war on Russia. NATO military bases in Georgia, a state unfriendly towards Russia, could be compared to the tip of a sword thrusted into Russia’s soft underbelly – the North Caucasus.
A few years ago, I had the chance to talk in detail with a veteran of the Russian armed forces (air defense) with the rank of general. Omitting the technical details, I will summarize his conclusions as such: Ukrainian membership in NATO would undermine Russia’s entire anti-missile and anti-aircraft defense system. Not to mention the fact of American tanks and armored vehicles being on the borders of Russia. Moscow would be exposed to the threats of air, missile, and ground invasions, and the distance of a tank offensive on Moscow would be reduced to a mere several hundred kilometers.
Thus arises a deadly threat to Russia. And it is clear that Russia is ready to respond with all its potential, including by military means. Even analysts who do not have access to state secrets recognize that it is obvious that the arsenal of such reactions is very wide. I can only conclude that Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO would automatically result in their disappearance as states.
For Ukraine, in the very least, such could mean the reduction of its state borders down to the territory of the 1654 Hetmanate. Therefore, Vladimir Putin’s words of warning towards Kiev and Tbilisi should be taken with full sensibility. However, there is very little hope for this, since sensibility is one of the most acute shortages that Ukraine and Georgia face.
Many more questions could arise about the fate of future relations between Russia and the US, Russia and the EU, and Russia and NATO. Europe would become a continent of war. After all, what is profitable for the US is unprofitable for Russia and European countries. Just recently, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned about the dangers of “teasing” Russia with NATO advances up to its borders. He was suddenly dismissed shortly thereafter. Will his warning, and Putin’s warning, be heard in the capitals of Europe?