Thursday, February 1, 2018

Victoria Vdovychenko, on a plenary panel at the 2016 Just Governance for Human Security conference. © Initiatives of Change Switzerland


Victoria Vdovychenko reflects on the current state of the NATO-Russia relationship and its future. Victoria is an intercultural teacher and researcher, the founder of the Institute of Policy and Government, Ukraine and a regular contributor at Just Governance for Human Security.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not reflect those of Just Governance for Human Security or Initiatives of Change.

Introduction: Where are we?

“Building trust…Overcoming the current tensions… It’s a crucial time to enhance cooperation between the countries…” These days we hear these statements from major powers of the world. But what stands behind them? And is it really possible to talk about a new era of relations between NATO and Russia which are so intertwined?

Over the past 50 years, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been an umbrella providing over-whelming security guarantees for its partners. Since the end of the Cold War, it has undergone a fundamental shift in focus from purely a collective defense alliance to a collective security organization ready to fortify the overall security posture of the Euro-Atlantic area.

As regards NATO specifically, the changing international environment and emerging challenges have influenced a rethinking of the mission and redefining of NATO’s role in the XXI century. However, with the rise of new global players the world’s security landscape has changed and is constantly changing. This has resulted in increased instability in the Eastern Partnership region. The intensity of Russian activity in the world, especially in Ukraine, raises concerns that the agenda behind its actions is to further escalate the ongoing military and economic crisis. However, military and political pressure from NATO, EU and USA is not helping to deter Russia from venturing further into Ukraine’s territory, opening debate over the role and influence of NATO.

Existing dichotomy: Where have we come from?

The cornerstone of NATO-Russia relations lies in the theoretical approaches Alliance members used in order to analyze and predict its liaisons with the Russian Federation. Different perceptions related to security issues should have been taken into consideration, given that differences in strategic thinking have come from different security cultures. While Russia was on a trajectory towards a merciless approach to security policy, NATO tried to engage its former rival into a framework of cooperation. This was the time of the “end of one history” (communist) and “the beginning of a new one” with the supremacy of Western democracy and its institutions. The triumphant ideas of the US and EU presented the concept of mutual transformation, trying to modify Russia into a true democratic ally. In 2013 Western Europe assumed that Russia had already made its choice and that the EU could set out a schedule draft for its further development. 

At the same time cohesion between the transatlantic community and Russia also weakened. While the Alliance was supporting a trust-building process through the gradual increase and broadening of contacts between NATO members and Russian officials, the deep-rooted suspicions undermined all the previous affords. Firstly, it became evident during the fight with terrorism when President George W Bush launched “ad hoc” coalitions. After that, evidence from the Snowden and Wikileaks cases showed that this nation was “standing apart from others”.

Since the crisis in Ukraine began, many analysts have raised the question of whether Russian military actions are driven by strategic necessity or ad hoc strategic opportunism. The Crimea and Donbas crises became litmus tests ultimately showing that hopes for Russia to be changed politically and geopolitically are simply in vain, and revealing Russia’s policy to be consistently nuanced and dependent more on the hidden political actions inside the country.

Victoria Vdovychenko at the JGHS 2016 MarketBroken Trident: Where and when shall we go?

European leaders approached the end of 2017 without any particular security outcomes related to Eastern Europe, and with Russia producing only temporally support to its allies in the East. NATO and Western partners should accept the fact that Ukraine has reached a political, economic and military stalemate, out of which it won’t be able to come alone.

NATO’s unwillingness to confront Russia militarily in Ukraine is underpinned by the existing dichotomy: the Russia-Ukraine conflict can neither be solved with nor without Russia. This means, however, that we may again observe an ongoing and long-standing second Cold war with its peaking and freezing points. The only difference between the Soviet Cold War and a present one lies in the fact that the former abided by the rules of the game, which were unique for both co-equal partners. Nowadays, unfortunately, the complexity of the problem is that there are no common rules agreed by all sides and the partners are not equal at all. These issues present the major challenge and deceleration for further Russia-Ukraine conflict resolution, as well as renewing of NATO-Russia relations.

Concluding remarks:

The Minsk agreements established an uneasy and precarious truce which has frequently been violated. In this climate, NATO has the power to take some deliberate steps towards empowering its allies and demonstrating collective democratic will with further concerted actions. NATO should reassert its credibility and voice in the international community by developing new strategies for dealing with the hybrid security challenges imposed by Russia. In doing so, it will show solvent ways to deal with unconventional forms of warfare and by undertaking programs of rearmament it will rebuild its military capacity. But the key is that it is unlikely to do it alone. Therefore, NATO should send a clear message to its European allies in order to strengthen its security helmet against Russian aggression on the Eastern Ukraine. Finally, it might answer the rhetorical question raised after the NATO Wales Summit: what is the overall Western security strategy towards Russia and its Eastern partners?

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