Russia needs to enact a “good neighbor” policy
Ex-Warsaw Pact (and other) nations’ interest in joining NATO did not occur in a vacuum: they have good reasons to look on Russia with apprehension.
Much has been made of the “Eastward expansion” of NATO, and Russia’s consequent feelings of being boxed in by a rival military alliance. As I have commented previously and elsewhere, I am not entirely without sympathy, in principle. We would obviously not be happy if Mexico had joined a China-based military alliance, and Canada was putting out feelers in that direction!
But here is the thing: the desire of formerly Soviet or Warsaw Pact states, like Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland – or, for that matter, Georgia and Ukraine – to join NATO did not occur in a vacuum, and it did not occur in response to either strong-arming or bribery by NATO. These formerly Soviet-dominated states simply found the prospect of joining NATO a much more attractive one than the alternative, which was and is potential subjugation by Russia.
What is happening in Ukraine makes that all too clear, as both Sweden and Finland have realized – the fact that these states, which remained neutral during the Cold War, are now seriously considering NATO membership should give Russia reason for pause and a certain amount of self-examination. Not that I’m going to hold my breath. But this is not the first time Russia has acted in a belligerent and aggressive manner toward its neighbors. As one commentator (Martin Porter, in a Quora response) has astutely pointed out,
Warsaw Pact nations were invaded twice during the Cold War, each time by the Soviet Union... There were also some more minor military incursions. The Warsaw Pact remains the only military alliance to invade itself. After that the participating countries figured they had more to fear from Moscow than NATO, which they all joined as soon as they could.
Another respondent notes, just as accurately,
Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania… all used to be in a NATO-like alliance – with no choice in the matter. After the dissolution of that alliance, which was named the Warsaw Pact… they all joined NATO. Why?
For protection against Russia doing to them exactly what it is currently doing to Ukraine!
Nobody trusts Russia. And I do mean nobody. Not even their semi-puppet semi-ally Belarus trusts them. Sure as h___ China doesn’t trust them. They’ll do business with Russia, but they’ll never trust them.
And finally (for our purposes), this:
They’ve tried to [form a NATO-like alliance], but only Belarus wanted to join. Well, I say “Belarus”, it was Lukashenko. No one really knows what the legal President of Belarus thinks—last I heard she was in Lithuania.
Russia still hasn’t grasped this entire “friend” concept, it seems. They still seem to think it means “people we’ve bullied into submission”.
That has certainly been the history.
Finland, mentioned above, was attacked by Soviet Russia, and fought a bloody Winter War with them from November of 1939 to March of 1940. History.com notes that
The treaty ending the Winter War forced Finland to cede 11 percent of its territory to the Soviet Union, yet the country maintained its independence and later squared off against Russia a second time during World War II. For the Soviets, meanwhile, victory came at a heavy cost. During just three months of fighting, their forces suffered over 300,000 casualties compared to around 65,000 for the Finns.
Less than a decade earlier, Ukraine – which had fought against the Bolsheviks for three years before being forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1921 – was decimated by the Holodomor, or “Terror-Famine,” following protests against the forced collectivization of agriculture under the Soviet regime. Following the end of WW II, the “Russification” of the Donbas region accelerated – meaning that the Russian and pro-Russian majority there is both recent, and a Soviet-era construct.
Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine regained its independence, but the Donbas has remained a source of conflict; the Greek Reporter notes that “in the 1991 referendum on Ukrainian independence, 83.9% of voters in Donetsk and 83.6% in Luhansk supported independence from the Soviet Union. In October of 1991 a congress of southeastern deputies from all levels of government took place in Donetsk, where delegates demanded federalization.”
However, conditions – economic and sociopolitical – deteriorated thereafter. The circumstances are complex, and there is plenty of blame to go around; but suffice it to say that both covert and overt support (and, it seems fair to say, pot-stirring) by Russia for the separatists – that they basically created in the first place – has not helped the situation.
Active fighting (with substantial, if unacknowledged, participation by Russian military and paramilitary operatives, the so-called “little green men”) broke out in 2014, the time of the Euromaidan and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and eventually led to Putin’s “recognition” of the “independence” of Donetsk and Luhansk this year (2022), followed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
To back up a bit, in addition to the invasion of Hungary in 1956, the Soviet Union invaded yet another Warsaw Pact nation in August of 1968: Czechoslovakia, in response to the “Prague Spring” – a period of political liberalization and mass protest following the election of a reformist, Alexander Dubček, as First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party. He attempted to to grant additional rights to the citizens of Czechoslovakia in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and democratization.
The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel. That was too much for the Soviets who, after failed negotiations, sent more than half a million Warsaw Pact troops and tanks to occupy the country: reportedly 650,000 men equipped with the most modern and sophisticated weapons in the Soviet military of the time. Nonetheless, Wikipedia notes,
Resistance was mounted throughout the country, involving attempted fraternization, sabotage of street signs, defiance of curfews, etc. While the Soviet military had predicted that it would take four days to subdue the country, the resistance held out for eight months until diplomatic maneuvers finally circumvented it. [emphasis added] It became a high-profile example of civilian-based defense; there were sporadic acts of violence and several protest suicides by self-immolation… but no military resistance.
Actually, these are just the major, full-scale invasions. The Soviet Union also sent tanks into the streets of East Germany to put down an attempted uprising in 1953, and Georgia in 1989, and attempted (with less success) the same in the Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) in 1990 and 1991, but were somewhat restrained at that time by Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika, and ongoing dialogue with the West.
The post-Soviet Russian Federation intervened in Georgia in 1991, in support of separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, although it couched its operations in terms of “peacekeeping.” It also intervened in Azerbaijan in 1991, and Moldova (where it first developed a strategy of Russian military invasion to defend the rights of Russian speakers in former Soviet republics) and Tajikistan in 1992.
It launched a much more overt and aggressive invasion of Georgia in 2008, leading to the outright occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite heavy losses that partially foreshadowed what has happened in Ukraine. While Georgia was counting on NATO/US support that was not forthcoming, it is certainly possible that this conflict alerted the West to the fact that Russia was on the move, and that NATO might have to respond more aggressively to future Russian interventions.
And that brings us back Ukraine, and to the annexation of Crimea and paramilitary / proxy pseudo-occupation of the Donbas by the “little green men” in support of pro-Russian separatists, in 2014.
All of the examples above were post-Soviet states that had either been part of the Soviet Union, or of its Warsaw Pact “allies.” The point of all of this is that the willingness, even eagerness, of former Warsaw Pact or Soviet states to join NATO should come as no surprise to anyone – least of all, Russia. The Russian Federation, like the USSR before it, has simply not exhibited its willingness to be a good neighbor to states it considers to be part of its “near abroad” / sphere of influence / buffer zone (see “Russkiy Mir”). 1
To repeat the comment I quoted above, “Russia still hasn’t grasped this entire ‘friend’ concept, it seems. They still seem to think it means ‘people we’ve bullied into submission.’” Or, as another commentator pointed out, in a piece I read earlier in this conflict, the fact that so many formerly Soviet states (and now, even formerly-neutral states like Sweden and Finland) are eager to join NATO should induce Russia to reconsider how it does business with its neighbors. Unfortunately, past history makes that appear all too unlikely.
Unless, that is, they get sufficiently bloodied in Ukraine to finally get the point across. Maybe…
Though in the context of Russkiy Mir, which can be translated “Russian world,” “Russian peace,” or “Russian order” – and which some Orthodox Christian leaders have condemned as a heresy even as Patriarch Kiril of the Moscow Patriarchate embraces it – it should be kept in mind that, in the words of Rod Dreher,
“Putin is an authoritarian who uses Western decadence in the same way the Soviet regime did: to justify its own repression. Nevertheless, that decadence really is there” (emphasis in the original), and that “To my eyes, we are decadent, and ruled by an elite that despises our own history, traditions, and the unwoke deplorables among us… an elite who think of many of us as savages: racist, transphobic bigots who must be brought to heel.”
I think Dreher is squarely on-target, here, unfortunately; and the Russo-Ukraine war has not changed that. Abhoring and opposing the actions of Russia in Ukraine, or supporting the courageous Ukrainian people in their fight for self-determination, national independence, and sovereignty, does not mean buying into the “woke” Left-wing agenda which continues to dominate Western elites! Not remotely.
Indeed, one of my frustrations with Putin in this war – beyond the human tragedy and devastation of material culture it has wrought – is that he has provided considerable ammunition for the woke crowd, who can now argue that anyone who favors moral and cultural traditionalism and disagrees with Left-wing sociopolitical ideology is therefore by definition “Putinesque”! Thanks for nothing, Vlad…