[WRITTEN BEFORE THE RUSSIAN INVASION]
The calculus, whether made by Putin or by any Russian, regarding the potential threat NATO expansion poses to Russia, is that there is much reason for concern. Putting aside the fact that Russian history shows that invasions and interference from the West is frequent, history is not stable. NATO may see itself as a an alliance of peaceful republics and may indeed be such, but that reality can change quickly. A country that is weak today may be strong tomorrow. A country that is republican today may be authoritarian tomorrow–witness authoritarianizing Canada and America. One that is passive may be aggressive tomorrow. Russians know that even the most self-proclaimed republicans can soon become militarily aggressive imperialists. Poland, bearer of the cross of the king of peace and the banner of representative government, marched into Russia through what is now Ukraine with the goal of making Muscovy Catholic instead of Orthodox. Republican France produced Napoleon’s conquests, the invasion of Russia, the detonation of the Kremlin, and Moscow fires. The Weimar Republic became Nazi Germany, Plan Barbarossa, and 27 million Soviets dead. Now a decaying America is flirting with cultural Marxist authoritarianism and throwing a global sissy fit against its own decline, struggling to make the world safe for transgenders’ access to girls’ bathrooms.
One outcome of this American global imperial derangement is continuing the push for NATO expansion, as if the larger NATO grows the further down then the line dealing with the complexities of multipolarity can be pushed. But a funny thing happened on the road of NATO expansion. The powers creating the new multipolarity that NATO expansion itself drove into each other’s arms — rising China and eternal Russia — decided to resist the Western plan. Some argue that “(n)o degree of NATO expansion, including to incorporate Ukraine, will threaten the military balance and deterrence stability.” They go so far as to claim that the United States won’t gain a serious strategic advantage over the Russian Federation by deploying missiles close to [the Ukrainian city of] Kharkiv” (https://carnegiemoscow.org/commentary/86304), see full quote in appendix below). While this may be technically true in some generic sense regarding ‘strategic advantage’, it is not true in terms of overall costs, risks, and contingencies.
Contingency scenarios can easily be constructed in which such a NATO force posture would pose a grave risk if Russia needed to undertake actions to protect itself. Let’s take the present situation in Ukraine. Imagine a scenario where there is a complete breakdown of law, order, and state integrity in Ukraine. The army and other siloviki split in some fashion and civil war begins. It spreads into Donbass, with perhaps the Donbass rebels having sided with one party in the other civil war. Donbass is seized by a virulently nationalistic anti-Russian force, and it begins to carry out acts of subversion and terrorism, cross-border attacks into Voronezh and other Russian regions. Russia would need to respond, but with Western bases and NATO forces massed in Poland, the Baltic states, and Ukraine along with missiles close to Kharkiv (Kharkov), Russia would be deterred from protecting itself, have to go hat in hand to the West for a resolution of the problem, or risk a war with NATO and intervene without NATO agreement. Those Zirkon missiles that Trenin proposes as a counterbalancing deterrent would of little use to Russia, unless it is willing to escalate from the local Ukrainian conflict to a nuclear missile attack on the U.S. There is no reason for NATO to stop at one U.S. army brigade in Poland or a NATO battalion in the Baltics. NATO could do both and much more. Certainly, Russian planning, deployments, and therefore budgeting and expenditures would have to be stepped up in response to such a NATO disposition along Russia’s entire Western borders. This has been true for years.
But now matters for Russia are much worse. Before the West could be expected to behave itself in a more or less responsible fashion. But with authoritarianism on the rise in the West, most notably in the US, Russia’s security calculus just got much pessimistic.
Moscow has numerous steps it can take to counter the changing strategic situation should the West refuse to take into account Russian security concerns. I have noted them elsewhere, and some of them will be taken if the West continues to place troops in former Soviet republics in violation of the NATO-Russian Council Founding Act not to mention the breaking of the 1990-1991 promises made by the West that NATO would not expand an inch beyond reunited Germany. The security situation of the new and old NATO members, non-members like Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus and of course Russia will worsen, and tensions will continue to rise as Donbass and Transdnistria fester. There is no way out but stopping NATO expansion or the establishment of a NATO-compliant regime in Moscow. The latter is not possible at all before 2024 and extremely unlikely after 2024.
APPENDIX: CARNEGIE INTERVIEW WITH DMITRII TRENIN, Excerpt:
DMITRII TRENIN: No degree of NATO expansion, including to incorporate Ukraine, will threaten the military balance and deterrence stability. The United States won’t gain a serious strategic advantage over the Russian Federation by deploying missiles close to [the Ukrainian city of] Kharkiv.
WHAT ABOUT ALL THE STATEMENTS ABOUT SHORTENED FLIGHT TIME: 5–7 MINUTES FOR A MISSILE TO REACH MOSCOW?
TRENIN: They don’t contradict what I have said. Because what’s going to happen in that situation? Russia will deploy its hypersonic missiles—say, Zirkon—on its submarines that will cruise along the U.S. coast, thereby ensuring the same flight time to reach the most important American targets. Deterrence will be preserved, albeit at a higher and more dangerous level. Nor can a U.S. army brigade in Poland or a NATO battalion in the Baltic seriously diminish Russia’s security. The only aspect that could be of serious concern to Russia is the missile defense elements in Romania and Poland. Nothing else poses a significant threat. (https://carnegiemoscow.org/commentary/86304)
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, www.cetisresearch.org.
Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021) He has authored four well-received books: Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media. Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.