Russia is right to end the illusion of dialogue and partnership when the reality is the other party is cynically offering to shake hands while trying to piss down your leg.
Russia told the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization to shove its faux diplomacy, thus ending about 30 years of post-Cold War talks and delegations which have achieved little to nothing in terms of normalizing relations.
Moscow may have slammed the door, but it’s not locked. Russia said that from now on it is up to NATO to take the first step in improving relations, thereby implying that sometime in the future Moscow would be open to pursuing a new relationship.
NATO expressed “regret” over Russia’s decision to cut diplomatic channels. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas asserted Russia was making already-fraught relations worse, plunging communications back into the icy recesses of the Cold War.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced this week that Russia was closing down its representative mission to NATO in the Belgian capital, Brussels, where the U.S.-led military alliance is headquartered. Russia also gave notice to NATO to close its information bureau in Moscow. Any further communication that is required can be conducted through the office of the Russian ambassador to Belgium.
Such paring down of communication links may seem a reckless move at a time of heightened tensions between NATO and Russia. Surely, it might be better to keep as many communication lines open as possible in order to prevent misunderstandings and miscalculations?
The truth is, however, that NATO’s ties with Russia have degenerated a long time ago to the abject level of an abusive relationship. Moscow is thus right to walk away, given the circumstances. To stick around only invites more contempt from the NATO side. That would be more dangerous.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia and NATO agreed to set up dialogue and partnership. That culminated in the Russia-NATO Founding Act of 1997. Delegations were hosted in the respective capitals.
But in contravention of earlier promises, the NATO alliance has expanded eastwards to include in its memberships several former Warsaw Pact countries that border Russian territory. NATO is eyeing former Soviet Republics Georgia and Ukraine to join the 30-member bloc which Moscow has denounced as a “red line” endangering its national security.
The relentless expansion of NATO around Russia’s western borders has greatly disturbed the strategic balance deterring nuclear war. Arguably, the situation is even more precarious than at the height of the former Cold War.
In addition, the United States has, in tandem, ditched nuclear arms controls treaties during its encroachment on Russian territory. The Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty was unilaterally abrogated by the U.S. in 2002, likewise the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty in 2019 and the Open Skies Treaty in 2020.
This all amounts to a gross repudiation by the United States and its allies of the Russia-NATO Founding Act.
To add insult to injury, all the while NATO has reduced communications with Russia to one-sided accusations of alleged Russian malign conduct. Moscow is accused of “threatening” Europe and Western democracies, of “invading Ukraine” and of “annexing Crimea” among other substantiated allegations, such as “shooting down” a Malaysian airliner, “assassinating” opponents with chemical weapons and blowing up ammo dumps in the Czech Republic. The evident pattern here is to pump out propaganda to antagonize.
If NATO conducted its relations with Russia as a proper partnership, the representative missions would be able to discuss allegations in reasoned debate with evidence and counter-evidence. As it is, NATO has not engaged even minimally with Russian representatives in recent years. Accusations are presented as a fait accompli without any due process for Russia to rebut. NATO’s communications with Russia are more akin to a medieval inquisition where the accused is forbidden from having due process and recourse to cross-examine the accusers.
The last straw for Russia was the expulsion earlier this month of eight Russian diplomats from its Brussels mission to NATO. Without any substantiation, NATO accused the Russian officials of being “undeclared spies” and promptly blackballed them.
The complete shutdown this week by Russia of its NATO mission in Brussels as well as of NATO’s bureau in Moscow was described by the Russian foreign ministry as “just retaliation”. Germany’s Heiko Maas would do well to take his head out of the sand and do some reflection on historical reality instead of absurdly blaming Russia for “making relations worse”. Was it Russia that backed the coup d’état in Kiev in 2014, for instance, that set off the Ukraine conflict? Is Russia installing missile systems on the Mexican border with the U.S.?
Blaming Russia for freezing the relationship is classic getting things back to front. Washington and its NATO allies are the ones who have been turning the dial on the thermostat always downwards, and arrogantly presuming there would be no icy consequences.
There has been no reciprocal communication from NATO for years, but rather only relentless Russophobia and baseless allegations. In addition to psychological warfare, the U.S./NATO hybrid war has involved mounting nuclear threats to Russia’s national security from the installation of new missile systems in Poland and Romania.
As Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigui pointed out this week, the flights of NATO warplanes near Russia’s borders have increased by 30 percent compared with last year. This week Russian jets were scrambled to ward off two U.S. B-1B nuclear capable bombers from Russia’s airspace in the Black Sea.
The reality is that Washington and its NATO allies have increasingly treated Russia with disrespectful, irrational attitude. For Russia to maintain a fake dialogue with an organization that has gone from supposed partnership to adversarial, and indeed overtly hostile – that in itself only invites further contempt. It is more dangerous to stay in such a relationship than to be out of it.
Far from jeopardizing security, Russia’s decision to walk away from NATO is the right one. It is right to end the illusion of dialogue and partnership when the reality is the other party is cynically offering to shake hands while trying to piss down your leg.