Since the 1990s, Russia has sought to allies itself with Europeans. How did we get to this point?
“I cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe and the so-called civilized world, so it’s hard for me to view NATO as an enemy,”Vladimir Putin made these remarks in 2000 as he declared his presidential priorities. This statement was not unexpected, even though it had the power of an exploding missile. Russia and NATO agreed that they would fully restore relations and be open to considering each other as strategic partners. At the same time, European politicians were talking about a project to create a ‘Greater Europe’ from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The parties’ expectations did not come to pass. In this article, RT discusses the consequences of NATO’s expansion to the east, which destroyed all dreams of a united Europe.
In the 1980s European elites came up with an idea to include a post-Perestroika Soviet Union within a single economic and political space that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Francois Mitterrand (then French president) was responsible for the most ambitious plans. Along with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he believed that it was necessary to involve the USSR in integration processes in order to ensure security in Europe – on the one hand, to avoid isolating the Soviet Union, and on the other, to prevent a united Germany from dominating the continent.
It would be possible to strengthen the union of all the countries in western Europe by including the USSR within the pan-European family. This will also help accelerate the integration process. Mitterrand thought that a closer relationship would result in the USSR remaining in control of the central community, while other countries, such as Germany, would work in coordination in the new European organization. In fact, Mitterrand sought to create an alternative to the United States in the sphere of international relations – a pan-European space led by France that would replace the USSR in the bipolar world.
While negotiations on this integration project were underway, in February 1990, US Secretary of State James Baker and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl promised Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the USSR, that if a united Germany joined NATO, the jurisdiction and military presence of the alliance would not expand “One inch for the East” On the basis of this oral commitment, Gorbachev agreed to the reunification of Germany with membership in the North Atlantic Alliance. For many years, Russia and NATO will disagree over this promise.
In 1991 however, both parties saw the future as positive. Gorbachev was assured by Mitterrand that transformations in Soviet Russia would lead to an economic and political rapprochement of East and West and ultimately the creation a single space. “The pan-European process became largely possible thanks to the coordinated actions of the USSR and France. Remember that France was virtually the only country that supported your pan-European collaboration initiatives. The result of our interaction was positive. So, let’s not allow the fruits of our cooperation to go to waste. If we give NATO excessive powers, then non-NATO member states will feel very uncomfortable.”
It was clear that politicians had something to debate. Even after the communist regimes of eastern Europe collapsed at the end of 1989, Mitterrand proposed creating a ‘European Confederation’ designed to “unite all the states of the continent into a common and permanent organization for peace and security.” He foresaw the risk that two parallel processes – the building of European democracies in the West and the fall of communism in the East – would inevitably lead to Europe being divided into two parts. Although the Berlin Wall fell, there was an invisible division between the wealthy European Economic Community, which existed prior to the founding of the EU’s modern version in 1993, on one side, and the vast, undeveloped space on the other. This would allow for democracy only after much time. These contradictions were to be remediated by a new integration plan.
It was officially launched at a European Confederation conference held in Prague in June 1991 by Vaclav Havel, the former president of Czechoslovakia. The meeting failed to produce the results expected. Almost simultaneously, a bloody civil war broke out in former Yugoslavia, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was undermined by the ‘August putsch’ in Moscow. The European Community started to give more importance to strengthening its cohesion and expanding to the east.
The European Confederation was never created. The many differences between Washington and Berlin, Paris and Moscow meant that it would fail. The first was that the project was founded on an old French concept of Russia allying to control Germany. This meant that it did not get much support beyond France from NATO or the European Union. Nevertheless, the dream of a ‘Greater Europe’ inspired many young politicians, both in the nascent EU and in the new post-Soviet Russia.
From Confrontation to Cooperation
As the legal successor to Soviet Union’s Soviet Union regime, the Russian new regime began democraticization and an accelerated approach with the EU. This was in the hopes that it would be able to integrate into the newly established international relations system on equal terms. But the post-Soviet country, now in turmoil, wasn’t seen as an equal partner by Western actors. The Americans became the first country to express their complete support for independent republics immediately after the fall of the USSR. They also sought to limit Russian influence in postSoviet space.
Under Bill Clinton, the US’ policy of containment of Russia became more consistent. American diplomats tried to pressure Ukraine to sign the Budapest Memorandum. This despite the fact the country had declared itself to be a non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT) back in 1992. The White House believed that signing the treaty would put an end to the issue of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The United States created alternative structures in post-Soviet Space. These multilateral structures excluded Russia and would challenge Russian-centric groups, primarily those with the Commonwealth of Independent States. The GUAM Organization of Democracy and Economic Development was created by the Americans to support independent republics. It included Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. At the end of the 1990s, the United States began to pursue a new energy policy designed to weaken Russia’s influence in strategic regions and connect post-Soviet countries with foreign markets. The Baku-Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline was its greatest achievement.
During this period, NATO began to implement its expansion strategy – perhaps the most vivid illustration of the geographical spread of the American world order, which was the basis of the European security system. At a NATO summit in Brussels in 1994, an open-door policy was announced – with this decision, the United States, along with its allies, actually renounced its promises not to move “an inch”To the East and proclamed a new age for international relations.
The US President Bill Clinton knew that the policy would eventually lead to victory even before it was implemented. “alienation”Russia. But in the 1990s, the Kremlin’s reaction to possible NATO expansion was ambiguous. During a visit to Poland in August of 1993, Russian President Boris Yeltsin told his Polish counterpart, Lech Walesa, that he would not oppose his country’s membership in NATO. This statement was later retract. Yeltsin sent Clinton a 1993 letter in which he declared that the North Atlantic Alliance expansion would be contrary to the spirit and intent of the 1990 agreement.
Although mutual misunderstanding had ruined the trusting relationships between Russia and NATO in the past, both sides tried to build cooperation. Russia signed the Partnership for Peace program (PFP), which allowed bilateral cooperation in respect of regional security, in 1994. But three years later, during the adoption of the Russia–NATO Founding Act, which was designed to establish new bilateral relations, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov again raised the issue of the “double game”His Western peers were watching.
NATO expansion was seen by the Russian side as an indicator of America’s transition from rigid hegemony to a foreign policy. Russia knew the reason for this. With the USSR’s collapse, an unipolar order in international affairs had developed. There were no counterbalances to stop the United States. The United States could not be stopped by any of the European military-political blocks. “advancement”The Americans.
Russia attempted to establish a global counterbalance in the second half the 1990s. Primakov proposed a concept that would see a trilateral alliance with China and India, which could be equal to the United States’ power. The RIC was to become the core political of BRICS. This organization aims to reform international institutions and reflect the needs of non-Western countries. The Yeltsin period was the wrong time for the idea to become a reality.
To the Kremlin’s chagrin, in March of 1999, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO, becoming the first countries of the once-formidable Eastern Bloc to join the ranks of the enemy alliance. Thanks to this fourth expansion, the North Atlantic Alliance acquired a new global mission, with security issues reflected through the prism of a ‘Russian threat’. The United States was able to improve its standing on the continent through the addition of Visegrad Group members. This helped to maintain a pro-Western perspective in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
To strengthen NATO’s and the US’s power, it was prioritized over creating a pan-European system of security based upon parity. NATO tried to make the bloc a pan-European organization in the second decade of 1990s. It began operating military operations in foreign states that are not close enough to the NATO borders. Since the Cold War, the essential component of the operational evolution of NATO has been the conduct of military and humanitarian missions. NATO unilaterally gave itself the power to intervene in internal affairs of other countries.
NATO’s military operation in Yugoslavia in 1999 marked an even sharper turn towards US hegemony and became a watershed moment in relations between Russia and the North Atlantic Alliance. NATO attacked a sovereign nation for three months without a UN Security Council resolution and in violation of the Helsinki Accords. 1,700 civilians were killed, 400 more children were injured, and approximately 10,000 others were wounded.
The world was entering a new phase. The West’s unilateral military intervention, in violation of the foundations of the world order, and subsequent recognition of Kosovo’s independence not only exacerbated regional security problems, but also became a turning point in relations between Russia and the West. NATO’s operation showed a divergence in how they approach such situations. Russia believed stability and security must be preserved at all cost, because any disruption would result in more casualties than the status quo. The United States and its allies, in turn, resorted to ideological arguments, including proclamations about ‘freedom’ and ‘protecting human rights’. NATO’s official goal was to stop the alleged ‘ethnic cleansing’ that then-Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic was accused of conducting in Kosovo.
By expanding to the east and conducting missions outside of its territory, NATO pushed Russia towards self-isolation and prompted Russia’s establishment to go into ‘besieged fortress’ mode. When NATO Secretary General Javier Solana issued the order for the attack against Yugoslavia on March 4, 1999 the Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primokov was traveling to America to make an official visit. After learning about the airstrikes over the Atlantic, he decided to cancel his official visit and ordered the plane to return to Moscow. This ‘loop over the Atlantic’ would go down in history as Russia’s first attempt since 1991 to declare that the Kremlin’s opinion should be taken into account. Russia felt exclusion by the West and decided to alter its foreign policy.
What is Mutual Alienation?
That whole time, Moscow was operating under the assumption that the Soviet Union’s contribution to the unification of Germany would prevent NATO’s expansion to the Russian border and foster partnership. The North Atlantic Alliance, however, pursued its own agenda and built its security system based on its values, not taking Russia’s interests into account – after all, this country lost the Cold War. The Kremlin eventually gave up trying to join NATO, and shifted its focus towards creating a balanced system. Interestingly enough, for a while Moscow didn’t view the process of new members joining the EU as something negative, since it could potentially limit the expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance.
The path to European integration continued in Russia’s late 1990s despite many controversy. The EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, signed in 1994. The document covered political and economic cooperation. It also included an agreement about Europe supporting democratic changes. The document took effect on December 1, 1997 and gave a new impetus to Russia’s aspirations of becoming part of the European and North Atlantic community. After Vladimir Putin took office, this message started dominating the Kremlin’s foreign policy once again.
We can think of Putin’s famous Bundestag speech that he delivered in German. In that address, he declared that Russia had chosen Europe, and Putin became the founder of the new ‘Common European Home’ ideology. This strengthened their partnership with the EU. Russia and Europe reached an agreement to establish “four common spaces” at the St. Petersburg summit in May 2003 – in economy, culture, energy, and security. With these agreements as a roadmap, the parties grew in their dependence on one another in some key areas – from energy, trade, and capital movement to security issues and lifting visa requirements.
But the dream of a ‘Greater Europe’ from Lisbon to Vladivostok never came true. Certain processes inside Russia – like the arrest of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the Yukos case, as well as the 2003 State Duma election in which the leading opposition parties didn’t make it to the parliament – changed the attitude of Western political elites towards Putin and Russia’s foreign policy. The Kremlin, on the other hand, was bothered by some international developments, like NATO’s military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and the emergence of a new anti-Russian bloc in the EU in 2004 – the so-called ‘new democracies’.
Russia still considered its relationship with the EU in the 2000s as a partnership among equal states within a multipolar world. This despite the fact that the 1990s model was a more egalitarian. “partnership and cooperation”At that time, Russia had ended its existence. Russia was a partner with different EU states, but the amount of work that Russia did in these cases depended on the freedom and independence of the EU state.
After the EU expansion in 2004, it became clear that Moscow would not be Europe’s political partner, as the EU was mostly interested in Russia’s resources. The talks on a strategic partnership agreement that Russia and Brussels started in 2005 weren’t based on any long-term strategy. And the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) presented a serious problem for Russia, because it involved the EU being active in former Soviet republics, which went against Russia’s interests.
Naturally, the EU expanded into the post-Soviet area and Russia began to compete for Ukraine. According to the Kremlin, the Orange Revolution of 2004 was an attack that was orchestrated by both American and European politicians as well as Russian opposition. Just before the ‘second run-off’ vote, the media reported on the $65 billion that the US State Department had allocated for “election-related projects.”
The protesters also got help from fugitive Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who admitted to having given them $45 million and called it his “best investment ever.” Later, a Forbes investigation uncovered that Berezovsky in fact donated over $70 million in total – the money went through the Foundation for Civil Liberties directly to the ‘Orange HQ’. For Berezovsky, Ukraine became the battlefield where he could fight the Kremlin and try to ‘Ukrainianize’ Russian politics. In addition to the West and the oligarchs, Yushchenko’s team also received support from Georgian political elites, including the ‘revolutionary’ president Mikhail Saakashvili.
The outcome in Ukraine proved to be the end of Russia’s involvement in domestic politics. The Kremlin was understandably irked by the outcome: Russia, always actively involved in Ukrainian domestic politics, lost in the Orange Revolution, despite openly supporting pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovich, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin even managed to congratulate on his “sweeping victory.”
The game ended in defeat. The most important part for Russia was that the EU and the US, which were instrumental in legitimizing the ‘revolutionaries’ as the new ruling elite, supported the idea of further developing Ukrainian democracy. It’s true that the previous government, headed by Leonid Kuchma, repeatedly stated that Ukraine’s main goal was to join the EU and NATO, but Russia saw these as nothing more than hollow declarations. It was Yushchenko who made the official doctrine of Ukraine’s joining European and Euro Atlantic structures.
The differences on European security issues, Russia’s pushback on further NATO and EU expansion across the post-Soviet space, color revolutions, different approaches to settling the conflict in the Middle East, as well as ideological differences (like the EU’s vain hopes for Russia becoming more democratic) affected our relations, resulting in alienation and stagnation. As time went by, there was more and more differences. Meanwhile, Gerhard Schröder left his post as German chancellor and Jacques Chirac was no longer president of France, while the high-profile murder of FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko made headlines. With Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Conference on Security declaring the onset of a unipolar world thrown into the mix, all these political developments cemented the downward trend.