Own Goal: NATO Just Gave Putin Great Propaganda Fodder
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is supposed to know better than this. The diplomatic and political heads of the NATO countries are supposed to know better than this.
Regardless of how much credulity one must have to accept Putin’s stated reasons for invading Ukraine, the lack of a plausible casus belli is not the same as a lack of any grievance or security concern whatsoever. One of Russia’s most significant security concerns is the possibility of Ukraine as a full NATO member.
Jens Stoltenberg, in public remarks today in Bucharest, just gave Putin a prime example of why that concern exists—that NATO genuinely does not like Russia. At all.
“NATO’s door is open,” Stoltenberg said. “Russia does not have a veto” on countries joining, he said in reference to the recent entry of North Macedonia and Montenegro into the security alliance. He said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “will get Finland and Sweden as NATO members” soon. The Nordic neighbors applied for membership in April, concerned that Russia might target them next.
“We stand by that, too, on membership for Ukraine,” the former Norwegian prime minister said.
While there is a certain truthfulness to the assertion that Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was the primary motivator for historically neutral Sweden and Finland to opt to join the NATO alliance, there is no military nor political benefit to be gained by reminding Putin of it.
Yet Stoltenberg’s artless rhetoric does not stop with just bombastically claiming that “Russia does not have a veto.” He all but acknowledged that NATO is not merely interested in helping Ukraine defend itself, but wants the Russian bear declawed and pacified.
Many of NATO’s 30 allies believe the focus now must solely be on defeating Russia, and Stoltenberg stressed that any attempt to move ahead on membership could divide them.
“We are in the midst of a war and therefore we should do nothing that can undermine the unity of allies to provide military, humanitarian, financial support to Ukraine, because we must prevent President Putin from winning,” he said.
It is one thing for NATO to supply arms to Ukraine so it can adequately defend itself against Russia. It is one thing for NATO to staunchly defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It is quite another to speak openly of “defeating” Russia and preventing Putin from “winning.”
Stoltenberg essentially confirmed what I have articulated as NATO’s broad strategy with regards to Ukraine: NATO supplies the cannons, Ukraine supplies the cannon fodder. After Stoltenberg’s comments today, there can be no doubt that such is NATO’s overall strategy in Ukraine.
Yet, as with defending the notion of Ukraine acceding to the NATO alliance “someday”, there is neither political nor military benefit to speaking such quiet parts out loud.
One should bear in mind that, as with much of Putin’s propaganda, Ukraine was not at all on the cusp of acceding to NATO. Even though NATO and Ukraine have been partners since 1991, with the partnership formalized in 1997 with the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Ukraine, Ukraine needed to resolve several issues including the status of the separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk and whether Crimea should be Russian or Ukrainian proper.
The chronology of Ukraine’s relationship with NATO is important, because these signature events took place long before Putin was even made Prime Minister in 1999. Ukraine’s pro-NATO tilt has always been something Putin (and, by extension, Russia) has known and accepted, especially as Putin was more than happy to participate in US/NATO “threat reduction” programs under the auspices of the US Nunn-Lugar legislation.
Yet while the history of partnership and cooperation between Ukraine and NATO eviscerates any notion that there was an immediate existential threat facing Russia involving Ukraine, talk of Ukrainian accession to NATO now confirms for Putin that a strategic threat at the very least exists. One need only look at a map of NATO members to see Russia’s security concern.
Ukraine in NATO potentially puts an invading force less than 300 miles from Moscow, and with Finland on a glide path to NATO accession, Ukraine in NATO would put an hostile military alliance along virtually the whole of Russia’s European border.
Stoltenberg’s public remarks today confirmed several things that Putin is sure to use in creating propaganda for domestic consumption within Russia.
The NATO Alliance views Russia as an adversary.
NATO fully intends to encircle Russia.
NATO wants Russia’s military capabilities destroyed.
NATO intends to use the war in Ukraine to bleed away those capabilities—NATO’s strategy really is the simple, cynical, and brutal “NATO will supply the cannons, Ukraine will supply the cannon fodder.”
None of this is helpful towards finding some form of diplomatic off-ramp from the war in Ukraine. Regardless of the why and the wherefore of the war, the reality of the war is that Russian soldiers are bleeding and dying, Ukrainian soldiers are bleeding and dying, and Ukrainian civilians are bleeding and dying. The reality of the war is also that Europe’s economy is being battered and brutalized by the war, and that Russia’s economy is also being battered and brutalized by the war.
There is but one way for these realities to end, and that is for there to be an outbreak of peace.
There is but one way for there to be an outbreak of peace, and that is through diplomacy. Jens Stoltenberg today effectively took diplomacy and peace off the table, for no good reason and with no appreciable gain.
Putin when he invaded Ukraine chose war over peace. Jens Stoltenberg today made the same choice for war over peace.
Choosing war over peace is never a good choice, no matter who is speaking.
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