Russia, from partner to enemy for the Alliance





At the NATO summit held in Madrid, described by the allies as “historic”, the leaders of the Alliance have completely changed the vision they had of Russia in the strategic concept approved in 2010 in Lisbon. In twelve years, NATO has gone from considering Moscow a “strategic ally” to the “greatest threat” to its security and has rearmed to deal with it.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been one of the main reasons for this drastic change in the new strategic concept, which for most experts opens the way to a new Cold War.

“What certifies the strategic concept is a return to the 20th century. A back to block politics”, tells RTVE.es the co-director of the Institute for Studies on Conflicts and Humanitarian Action (IEACH), Jesús Núñez Villaverde.

Return to bloc policies with the new strategic concept

The strategic concept establishes the action plan of the military alliance for the next decade; the previous document had not been renewed for 12 years. In the text approved at the summit held in Lisbon in 2010, the allies recognized Russia as a strategic partner, but the situation has changed a lot since then.

This has led NATO member countries to approve a new strategic concept in which they point to Russia as “the most significant and direct threat” for security, peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”.

“Now we find ourselves in a situation contrary to that of twelve years. Russia is no longer a partner. On the contrary, he is a rival”, explains the professor of International Relations at the European University of Valencia, Frédéric Mertens from Wilmars. “We return to the situation of 1950 with a declared enemy regime (…) The first strategic concept of NATO was to contain Moscow and now we return to the same situation“, Add.

NATO leaves Madrid with expanded borders and a new strategy

Both Núñez Villaverde and the professor of International Relations at Comillas Pontifical University and security expert, Javier Gil, agree that “We have been in a new Cold War for a long time”.

“The Cold War ends with the end of the Soviet Union. We spent ten years where there was only one world power, which was the United States. The new millennium brought changes and technically speaking For about 10 or 15 years we have had tension between the Euro-Atlantic world and two countries that are emerging strongly: Russia and China”says Professor Gil.

For the IEACH co-director, “what NATO’s new strategic concept does is certify what was already evidence.” “Unfortunately it will not bring more security and it will increase defense budgets when there are other priority needs to attend to,” he asserts.

For her part, the researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute, Mira Milosevich, in the current situation “there are big differences with the Cold War”. “The international context is completely different. In the Cold War there were only two superpowers and now we have a world where we can talk about the West and after Russia and China”, says the expert. “I would speak more of a hybrid war, in a broader sense, because this confrontation includes an economic war and a military war. It’s a proxy war,” she adds.

Russia will continue to threaten the security of its neighbors

The Lisbon strategic concept, which defined Russia as a strategic ally, was approved just a few years after Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the Atlantic Alliance was Russia’s greatest security threat, and two years after that Moscow invaded Georgia in August 2008. Later, in 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and began to support militarily, economically and politically the pro-Russian rebels from the Donbas region.

Milosevic believes that “there was no adequate response” from NATO. “The Atlantic Alliance either she was very naive or she did not have a will to really see the Russian position that has evolved from a verbal protest to a direct aggression”, affirms the researcher. “The change of the strategic concept is now a logical consequence that was not reacted to at the time. It is a consequence of this open, unjustified and illegal aggression towards an independent and sovereign country like Ukraine”, he adds.

Along the same lines, Gil believes that the new NATO document “responds 90% to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its desire to change the security order in Europe”.

At the Madrid summit, the leaders of the allied countries have also agreed to accept membership applications from Finland and Sweden, which would greatly increase the Alliance’s border with Russia. The Russian president has warned that if these two Nordic countries accept Alliance troops and military infrastructure on their territory, “Russia will respond reciprocally.”

“Russia will continue to threaten the security of neighbors in Eastern Europe. It is conceivable that won’t dare to go any further at the moment, seeing how poorly he has performed in Ukraine”, indicates Núñez Villaverde. “It has become visible that Russia has no real capacity even to obtain a victory in Ukraine, much less to face the most powerful military alliance on the planet that is NATO”, he asserts.

Putin, no plan B

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s strategic position has substantially deteriorated. The Russian president wanted NATO to withdraw its troops from Eastern Europe, but he has achieved the opposite: a more united Atlantic Alliance that is now expected to have two more allies.

“Putin wanted less NATO on his borders, but he is receiving more,” said the Secretary General of the Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, in the framework of the Madrid summit. Nevertheless, Putin is not likely to change his strategy on Ukraine or his position after NATO’s new strategic concept.

“The feeling is that Putin does not raise the slightest possibility of a plan B”, says Núñez Villaverde. “Putin has gotten into a wrong dynamic that does not serve the interests of Russia and, since he has left his country naked, he feeds his side by insisting on not recognizing its mistake and on the idea that since Russia is weak it can continue go ahead,” he stresses.

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Both Mertens de Wilmars and Professor Gil believe that for NATO’s vision of Moscow to return to that of 2010, it would be necessary to “see how Russia could change the regime”.

“Russia’s foreign policy and defense decisions are subjugated to Putin’s mandate. In Russia we are facing a totally personalist leadership, not a collective leadership”, indicates Gil. “There would have to be a change in leadership or the costs of the war in Ukraine and economic costs at the level of sanctions are so great that it makes them back down on their response of change by force. If those two events don’t happen, we’re going to have an aggressive Russia,” he adds.

The IEACH co-director affirms that “we must understand that Russia is still part of Europe and there is no way to establish a European security order without Russia”. For this reason, he explains that in order for Moscow to stop being a direct threat to NATO, “a change of position on both sides” is necessary and “they recognize that the current imbalance is unsustainable.” “You have to remember that already in the Cold War, with moments of tension equal to or greater than the current one, it was possible to come to an understanding with Moscow and establish agreements”, he asserts.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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