Russia, West and Endless Game of “Containment”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Alireza Noori
Ph.D. Candidate, Saint Petersburg State University & Expert on Russia Affairs

Involvement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine has started a new stage in the confrontation between Russia and the West, which in turn, can help the crisis to develop into more serious dimensions. The involvement has become clearer and better defined as a result of several developments, which include: a letter by British Prime Minister David Cameron to heads of state of NATO member countries advising them to make a revision of their long-term relations with Russia;  a proposal by the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for the membership of his country in the NATO; the emphasis put by US President Barack Obama in his latest visit to Estonia that the NATO is committed to protecting the security of its allies in Eastern European and the Baltic region in the face of Russia; Obama’s clear announcement that the NATO will never recognize annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia; his call on the NATO member states to support and help the government in Ukraine; as well as the approval of a plan to establish a rapid reaction force whose most important mission will be to support NATO member states in Eastern Europe against a possible invasion by Russia.

The main excuse used to trigger these developments was the intensification of military tensions in eastern parts of Ukraine and the emphasis put by Kiev, Brussels and Washington on Moscow’s direct military intervention in those regions. Of course, on a large scale, the Western states have already warned against possible continuation and escalation of a military and aggressive approach in Russia’s foreign policy, and consider it an even bigger threat. In line with these developments, many Western officials, including Secretary General of the NATO Andres Fogh Rasmussen and US President Obama have stressed that Russia’s policy toward Ukraine is a major threat to security and peace in the entire Europe.

Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, there have been, and still are, many analysts in the West that bank on Russia’s potentials and capacities to influence regional and international arrangements in order to argue that Moscow feels a great sense of nostalgia to return to its “big power” position of the past. They believed that as a lasting identity-related principle, this feeling will play a major role in setting goals and determining foreign policy behavior of Russia in post-Soviet Union era as a result of which, the Kremlin will use any opportunity in order to reach its goals.

They have noted that efforts made by Russia to realize its nostalgic goals would pose a threat to superior position of the West in the international system, advising the Western leaders that all available means should be taken advantage of in order to contain Russia’s ambitions. At the present juncture, the measure taken by Moscow to annex the Crimean Peninsula has been used as a good ground for proponents of this analysis to confirm their views. This is especially true about the Republican politicians in the United States, who are insisting on their allegations against the Russian government, accusing the administration of Barack Obama and major European powers of oversight in the face of the “Russian threat.”

On the contrary, Russians are of the opinion that the West is just aggrandizing these mentalities in order to promote its own expansionist policies. Therefore, since the West sees Russia as a strong obstacle on the way of realizing its goals, it has been pursuing a “new containment” policy which is similar in nature to the policy that the West followed during the Cold War era. Of course, the outward appearance of the West’s policy has changed and now, its most important goal is to geopolitical containment of Russia within its geographical borders.

They argue that recent measures taken by the Western countries including the war against Yugoslavia and plans for the eastward expansion of the NATO, establishment of a missile defense shield in Europe and efforts made to increase the Western countries’ influence in the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States, including through the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, are various components of the West’s anti-Russia policy. In the meantime, attracting new allies from the regions considered by Russia as its “near abroad” and gaining foothold in this vital region which is considered Russia’s backyard are among the most important mechanisms used to promote the “containment” policy which has been, and still is, pursued by the European Union in a “soft” manner and by the NATO in a “hard” manner.

At the same time, most Russian analysts believe that membership in the NATO and the European Union will be of no benefit to countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltic region. They argue that the expansion of the NATO only seeks to create a geopolitical anti-Russian belt along the borders of Russia because all new countries becoming a member of the NATO have been assigned anti-Russian plans to carry out. They say it was for this reason that Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland proposed to other member states of the NATO to consider deployment of the European anti-missile defense shield system directly against Russia.

The end result of the confrontation between these ideas and measures has been emergence of tensions at different levels and with different depths the most recent of which has been the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. As said before, with the involvement of the NATO, the crisis has evolved into new dimensions. It was under the same conditions that the Russian President Vladimir Putin reached the conclusion that his country should show a reaction. He believed that if the West managed to go on with its aggressive policy against his country, the strategic balance would tip in favor of the Western countries and in an irreversible manner while, on the contrary, strategic vulnerabilities of Russia will greatly increase.

Moscow pays due attention to the important fact that if Ukraine is allowed to relocate itself within the framework determined by Western political structures, that state of affairs will rapidly spread to other regional countries in a domino-like fashion. On the one hand, the Western states would be encouraged to go on with their policies to boost their influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States. On the other hand, countries that are inclined toward the West in this region, especially Georgia, will become more resolute in their decision to joint Western institutions. The realization of such conditions will practically tighten the noose of “containment” around Russia and will force Moscow to back down on its policies.

In the light of the aforesaid facts, the crisis in Ukraine and efforts made by the West to use various pressure tools against Russia, have led to more profound understanding of the West’s aggressive policy. Proposition of new viewpoints about the necessity of making new alliances at international level, bolstering national economy, revising the military doctrine of Russia and further strengthening of its military might, including in the field of nuclear deterrence, have been major reactions shown by Moscow to the escalation of threats posed to the country as a result of the West’s containment policy.

In the meantime, the alignment of the European countries with the United States for the promotion of the containment strategy, which has been already manifest in various kinds of pressures that Berlin and Paris have been putting on Moscow, is a noteworthy point to which Russia has admitted with disgruntlement. In the case of previous challenges between Moscow and Washington, countries like Germany and France mostly acted as mediators in order to reduce the tension. In some cases, Russia even used those countries as leverage to its own benefit. At present, the Kremlin has been largely dismayed by high coordination that has existed among those countries throughout the entire time that tensions have been escalating between the West and Russia, on the one hand, and Russia’s inability to bank on their differences, on the other hand.

Key Words: Russia, West, Containment, NATO, Petro Poroshenko, David Cameron, Andres Fogh Rasmussen, Crimean Peninsula, US, Cold War Era, Vladimir Putin, Military Doctrine of Russia, Noori

More by Alireza Noori:

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*Geopolitical Conflict and “Zero-Sum” Game of Russia and West in Ukraine:

*Photo Credit: IRIB

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