High-level meetings held by the Nato powers and military exercises conducted at the same time, some in Poland for example, have resulted in expressions of concern by Russian political spokesmen as to whether the pre-1990 Nato-Warsaw Pact confrontation is being revived, even as the Warsaw Pact (named after the Polish capital) no longer exists. The Nato consultation scenario appears to have suggested to the Russian leadership that the Western powers have now firmed up, in their own policymaking, the view that the period of Cold War which ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is now being revived, following the events in the Ukraine that have effectively pushed that country into what used to be called the Western camp.
It would appear, and the recent Nato meetings suggest, that the major Western powers have decided that with Russia’s de facto intervention in the Ukraine, and continued military skirmishes there, Russia once against constitutes the major military, and therefore political, threat on the European continent; a situation they thought to have ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end, as it used to be called, of the communist world system.
What appears to be the case is, that the Russian post-Soviet leadership, essentially that led by President Putin, has not really come to terms with the formal dissolution of the Warsaw Pact-Nato of the Cold War era, and resents what, to it, is a deliberate Western attempt at militarization of countries in close proximity to itself. And indeed, that sentiment was obviously given new life, when it appeared that not only did the Ukrainian regime following the fall of then President Yanukovych, want to join the European Union, but that it would want to do what some of the ex-communist country leaderships had done, or were doing, which is to join the Nato system, and have access to its military resources.
From Putin’s perspective, this upsets an expectation, early after the dissolution of Soviet Union, that the Western powers would not wish to push their influence right up to the borders of post-Soviet − in effect capitalist − Russia; but that the new Russia would be allowed, as it were, the retention of a certain influence in the ex-Warsaw Pact countries, particularly those in relatively close proximity.
The disappointment of the Russian leadership at the apparent speed with which some of the former Warsaw Pact allies were, in its view, wanting to join what Russia now saw as the Western camp, was indicated in the effective Russian intervention in Georgia in 2008, and its recognition of two regions of that country as independent states – almost a preview of the Ukrainian situation. And now, there can be little doubt that the Russian leader believes that his diplomacy has failed to persuade the Nato powers that pro-Western armed forces on the borders of Russia are not acceptable to the post-Soviet leadership.
The meetings held among the Nato powers, now including twelve countries in Central Europe formerly allied with the former Soviet Union, suggest that the United States and Western Europe are, in effect, attempting to establish a new geopolitical diplomacy where Russia, given what the West sees as it revanchist inclinations, will effectively be inhibited by a diplomatic arrangement that puts Nato’s diplomacy and military preparedness at the disposal of the former Eastern Europe Warsaw Pact states.
This stance has obviously been perceived by Russia as a response to its attempt to inhibit what the West perceives as an attempt by that country to freeze the geopolitical status quo of the pre-1990 period, without a recognition of the historical relationship between countries like Ukraine (where Khrushchev ruled as Communist Party general secretary prior to his ascension to the top post in the Soviet Union), and indeed Georgia, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin.
These Western attempts are perceived as diminishing what might be called the political or diplomatic size of Russia, that for much of the post-1945 war, provided the country with its status as one of the world’s major great powers, and then with the onset of nuclear weapons, one of the duo of Superpowers.
For Russia, or at least it seems, for Putin, this is unacceptable. But it is unlikely that Putin stands alone in this perception of such a possible evolution of global relations; and though Russia is, today, obviously unable to tempt the ex-Warsaw Pact European states, he would appear to be trying to insist that, given traditional diplomatic perspectives among great powers, this suggestion of what he probably deems to be encirclement of Russia, will not permit any long-term stability on the European-wide continent.
It is, of course, unlikely that, in the present state of the country’s domestic political relations, Putin stands alone. In the Russian political space, the President seems to have gained substantial support for his policies relating to resistance to Western pressure in the face of his stance vis-à-vis Ukraine. The attempts to minimize his support by economic and other sanctions against Russia do not appear to have unduly damaged him, in the context of the now relatively open political system; and it seems to be the case that in spite of the sanctions exercised against the country, he retains credit for rescuing it from economic decline under the previous post-USSR presidents.
As the 2018 Russian presidential elections draw near, even given the geopolitical contentions between Russia and the Nato powers, Putin will be wanting to ensure that the economic system is such that the voters will be inclined to support his party and presidency; and while it is true that the present Western policy is to ensure that sanctions bite over a reasonable period, they will know that in today’s world, the isolation of Russia is not of the kind characteristic of the Cold War.
That, at least, is what Putin will want to believe. But he also knows that the post-Cold War reorganization of Europe will not remain static, and that a certain level of cooperation between a Russia which, unlike the better part of the twentieth century no longer reigns over a substantial negotiating Eastern European space of the pre-1990 period, and the major Nato powers, will be necessary for his country’s economic survival; and that that is so, even as it now seeks to extend its economic strength towards the Asian boundaries of the country and exploitation of that economic space with China.