Fifteen years after Munich, Putin is driven by the same fears
While the world has changed dramatically over the past 15 years, Russia’s fears and goals have largely remained the same.
Russian President Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich PutinOvernight Defense & National Security — WH: Russia could invade Ukraine ‘anytime’ Five things to know as US warns Russia could invade Ukraine ‘anytime now’The 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference, delivered on Thursday 15 years ago, was the first moment We stern leaders were forced to address Russian concerns head-on. These same concerns motivated Russia’s violation of Georgian and Ukrainian sovereignty in 2008 and 2014 and continue today to fuel Russia’s buildup and pressure on its border with Ukraine.
One of the most memorable elements of Putin’s 2007 speech was his condemnation of NATO’s policy of eastward expansion, towards which he and his government had previously oscillated between hostility and tolerance. Putin wondered if NATO enlargement was aimed at Russia and if the We st sought to box in the nation.
Between the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Putin’s Munich speech, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria and even the three former Soviet Baltic states (Lithuania , Latvia and Estonia) have joined the alliance. These countries sought to join NATO for various reasons, but all had an interest in insulating themselves from a recent history of Russian or Soviet domination. Moscow’s perception of the alliance was disconnected from the policy of the George W. Bush administration regarding NATO expansion, which argued that NATO could serve as a catalyst for European unity and the integration of former Warsaw Pact countries into the fabric of the European political system. Obama administration policy has also underscored the value of NATO as a stabilizing force in Europe and has argued that European countries should independently seek membership in the alliance of their choice.
Despite US insistence that the value of NATO expansion lay in payments unrelated to the alliance’s relationship with Russia, Moscow would only become more convinced of a NATO threat. over time. About a year after Putin’s speech, NATO declared that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually join the alliance. Putin and other Russian officials strongly condemned the decision, which they saw as a validation of their fears. Russia then invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 at times when Russian leaders felt confident enough to act on what Putin had outlined in Munich, reducing the chances of joining NATO.
Russia’s “security proposals”, which were presented to the United States in December 2021, demand the unambiguous rejection of any future eastward expansion of NATO as well as the withdrawal of NATO deployments in Eastern Europe. Putin’s persistent accusations that Ukraine is merely an “instrument” of NATO to contain Russia, even if Ukraine remains a long way from joining NATO, show how Putin’s expressed fears in Munich continue to guide Moscow’s foreign policy.
While today’s world can less and less be defined as a unipolar system, the world of 2007 was still the post-Cold War unipolar world. In Munich, Putin called a unipolar arrangement of world affairs “unacceptable”, condemned the promotion of American democracy abroad and the “unrestrained” use of force by Americans. He also used the speech to condemn the US deployment of missile defense systems in Europe, which has been a constant irritant in Moscow’s relations with Washington, as well as the 2002 US withdrawal from the anti-missile treaty. -ballistic.
The events of the following years seemed to confirm Putin’s fears. He reacted particularly strongly to events such as the assassination of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi by We srebels supported by the terns and questioned the right of the United States and NATO to intervene so directly. Russian support for embattled autocrats such as Bashar Assad in Syria and Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus has shown how uncomfortable the Kremlin is with real and imagined American pressure on autocratic regimes.
The Russian government continues to fear a so-called color revolution unfolding in its own country modeled on the Maidan revolution in Ukraine in 2014, which Kremlin officials such as presidential adviser Sergei Glazyev have claimed without saying. evidence of having received American financial support and weapons. Putin’s statements that such color revolutions would not be allowed in member countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization – a Russian-led alliance that was used to quell unrest in Kazakhstan in January – show that Moscow has the same fears as 15 years ago and is willing to use force to subdue them.
Armed with this knowledge, US policymakers must act to ensure Europe’s future stability in the face of future Russian challenges. Policymakers should operate on the assumption that Putin’s views in Munich are deeply embedded in Russia’s foreign outlook, but that the edge of Russian foreign policy can be blunted by deterrence and negotiation, if necessary. Excellent proposals already exist for taking a realistic approach to Russia or for identifying useful new tools to repel Russian aggression.
Short term, We sPolicymakers must be prepared to work with Russia to develop safeguards about what NATO will and will not do in We sUkraine and Georgia, while showing its readiness to impose severe economic sanctions on Russia if it further disrupts European stability through offensive action against Ukraine. This must be followed in the medium and long term by serious dialogue in areas where we have mutual interests, such as the development of a new strategic arms control architecture built with new vectors and missile defense issues at the spirit.
US policy that is perpetually reactive to long-standing trends in Russian foreign policy will struggle to take the lead in forestalling future challenges to European stability.
We sley culpe is a research fellow at the Center for Presidential and Congressional Studies focused on Russia and Eurasia. He can be found on Twitter @We sleyJCulp.