NATO and Russia after Crimea: From Failed Socialization to Renewed Containment

March 12, 2014

Publisher: Association for International Affairs, Czech Republic

Written by Tomáš Karásek, chief analyst with the Association for International Affairs (AMO), this policy paper presents an analysis of the situation in Ukraine, particularly its impact on NATO-Russia relations. It explores the roots and historical connotations of current events, discusses their implications for the international system and suggests possible course of action on NATO’s part. The paper was prepared as a follow-up to the AMO international conference NATO and Russia: Geopolitical Competition or Pragmatic Partnership?

Russia’s aggressive steps against Ukraine constitute a grave threat to the territorial integrity and political sovereignty of the country, simultaneously undermining its new, post-Yanukovych government and instigating secession of Crimea. Moreover, Russian actions also pose a serious challenge to the post-Cold War international system as such. The Euro-Atlantic community cannot afford to accept either.

Out of many available historical analogies, the remilitarization of Rhineland by Nazi Germany in 1936 offers the best contextual guidance for the understanding of the current situation. Like Hitler eighty years ago, Putin is deliberately testing the limits of the system and wishes to use the resulting chaos and confusion to his advantage. This does not make him a totalitarian dictator, but it does warrant labelling Russia as a revisionist power.

Current revisionist posture is a direct result of failed socialization of post-Soviet Russia. Just like in Germany after WWI, incomplete victory of the West bred resentment over the results of Cold War which has been cleverly manipulated by Putin’s regime. What mattered for Russia, apparently, was the lack of invitation to join the new European order as equal, in the vein of post-Napoleonic France after 1815 or West Germany after 1949. Without trying to assign blame, it is now clear that the partially accommodating approach by NATO and other Euro-Atlantic institutions was insufficient to irrevocably integrate Russia to the new system.

At this stage of the dynamics of Russia-West relations, the risks of inaction overweigh the fear of escalation. Putin’s moves must be resolutely countered. Ukraine’s territorial integrity and political sovereignty should be firmly upheld through diplomatic and economic support and defence assistance. NATO and the EU should reconsider their lukewarm position on possible accession of Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. International community needs to be reaffirmed that the basic tenets of post-Cold war international order still apply.

The goal is not to unnecessarily antagonize Russia but to signal to its rulers (and other would-be challengers) that rules of the game cannot be changed by force. After the current round of confrontation ends, the Euro-Atlantic community should reconsider its overall stance towards Russia and contemplate more effective ways to retry its socialization into the system.

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