Following a muted first reaction to Ukraine’s intent to seek a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the Bucharest summit, Foreign Minister Lavrov and other senior officials have reiterated strong opposition, stressing that Russia would view further eastward expansion as a potential military threat. NATO enlargement, particularly to Ukraine, remains “an emotional and neuralgic” issue for Russia, but strategic policy considerations also underlie strong opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. In Ukraine, these include fears that the issue could potentially split the country in two, leading to violence or even, some claim, civil war, which would force Russia to decide whether to intervene. Additionally, the GOR and experts continue to claim that Ukrainian NATO membership would have a major impact on Russia’s defense industry, Russian-Ukrainian family connections, and bilateral relations generally. In Georgia, the GOR fears continued instability and “provocative acts” in the separatist regions.
MFA: NATO Enlargement “Potential Military Threat to Russia”
During his annual review of Russia’s foreign policy January 22-23, Foreign Minister Lavrov stressed that Russia had to view continued eastward expansion of NATO, particularly to Ukraine and Georgia, as a potential military threat. While Russia might believe statements from the West that NATO was not directed against Russia, when one looked at recent military activities in NATO countries (establishment of U.S. forward operating locations, etc. they had to be evaluated not by stated intentions but by potential. Lavrov stressed that maintaining Russia’s “sphere of influence” in the neighborhood was anachronistic, and acknowledged that the U.S. and Europe had “legitimate interests” in the region. But, he argued, while countries were free to make their own decisions about their security and which political-military structures to join, they needed to keep in mind the impact on their neighbors.
Lavrov emphasized that Russia was convinced that enlargement was not based on security reasons, but was a legacy of the Cold War. He disputed arguments that NATO was an appropriate mechanism for helping to strengthen democratic governments. He said that Russia understood that NATO was in search of a new mission, but there was a growing tendency for new members to do and say whatever they wanted simply because they were under the NATO umbrella (e.g. attempts of some new member countries to “rewrite history and glorify fascists”).
During a press briefing January 22 in response to a question about Ukraine’s request for a MAP, the MFA said “a radical new expansion of NATO may bring about a serious political-military shift that will inevitably affect the security interests of Russia.” The spokesman went on to stress that Russia was bound with Ukraine by bilateral obligations set forth in the 1997 Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership in which both parties undertook to “refrain from participation in or support of any actions capable of prejudicing the security of the other Side.” The spokesman noted that Ukraine’s “likely integration into NATO would seriously complicate the many-sided Russian-Ukrainian relations,” and that Russia would “have to take appropriate measures.” The spokesman added that “one has the impression that the present Ukrainian leadership regards rapprochement with NATO largely as an alternative to good-neighborly ties with the Russian Federation.”
The GOR has made it clear that it would have to “seriously review” its entire relationship with Ukraine and Georgia in the event of NATO inviting them to join. This could include major impacts on energy, economic, and political-military engagement, with possible repercussions throughout the region and into Central and Western Europe. Russia would also likely revisit its own relationship with the Alliance and activities in the NATO-Russia Council, and consider further actions in the arms control arena, including the possibility of complete withdrawal from the CFE and INF Treaties, and more direct threats against U.S. missile defense plans.