NATO-Russia crisis: much ado about nothing

(To Gino Lanzara)
21/10/21

Politics and interests continue to run regardless of pandemics; this is the case of the rupture of relations between NATO and Russia, an event that would have displaced the same Doctor Strangelove, given that at the base of every liaison, especially if tumultuous, there is in any case a beginning made up of courtships and advances.

The accusation is serious: eight diplomats are accused of being undeclared intelligence agents; at the origin of the decision there would be revelations on the alleged Russian involvement, dating back to 2014, in the explosion of an ammunition depot in the city of Vrbetice1 which caused two deaths. As in any report, that each of the partners has to complain seems to be evident, given that, moreover, since the summer of 2019 no more meetings of the NRC have been called due to the lack of participation of the Kremlin which instead protested for the numerous exercises that the Alliance carried out near the Russian border, notations which were also mirrored by SG NATO Stoltenberg who invoked special attention to avoid misunderstandings and accidents2.

Hard, As usual, understand who could be more or less right, also in light of a NATO report of December 2020, in which Russia was identified as the "Main military threat" until 2030, which prompted NATO itself to aim for a strengthening of its capacity to contain Russia.

On the other hand, Moscow, which, like Washington, has to face heavy internal problems, has deemed it appropriate to reiterate how the NATO expansion towards Eastern Europe, experienced as the cause of an encirclement syndrome, represents one of the most worrying threats to its security, another element that persuaded Putin not to grant any logistical support to the Americans in the Central Asian area after the withdrawal from Kabul. Moreover, Russia, which fears an uncontrolled exodus and a harbinger of terrorist instances, does not have sufficient strength to push an independent strategy to be applied in Afghanistan, and must accept the Sino-Pakistani scrutiny, with an eye on India, Iran and Turkey.

It should be considered that international dynamics are characterized by an aggressive multipolarity, perhaps by a bipolarism projected into the future, but certainly with a continuous and multiform conflict that generates a form of cold peace, with China representing such a novelty as to require unprecedented strategies. transatlantic.

If it is true that NATO has stigmatized a Russian trend that has highlighted a constant attack on the security of the Euro-Atlantic region and the stability of the borders, it is equally true that Moscow has repeatedly denounced Western assertiveness such as to perceive a progressive thinning of the strip of security in central Europe. The paraphernalia is the usual: multisectoral military strengthening, innovative military capabilities, diversification of the nuclear arsenal, provocative activities3, including unannounced exercises near the borders of the Alliance, not to mention strengthening the deployment in Crimea, arms sales4, repeated violations of the air space on the Baltic and hybrid activities carried out through proxies also via cyber with latent disinformation campaigns and harmful IT activities.

Unlike the previous administration, President Biden also took a stand apparently net, not diplomatically defining a killer the Russian president, and by this he intends to reassure the hesitant European allies; this is certainly not easy, given the unsuccessful Afghan expedition that led Russia, fearful of destabilization in its own courtyard, to join the initiatives of the Great Helmsman of Beijing5 in dealing with the Taliban leadership.

To the Americans the burden of sipping the bitter taste of the Donbass and swallowing the indigestible bite of the Nord Stream 2. Even NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg wanted to underline how "A strong NATO is good for Europe and America", adding that the current relations with Russia, since the end of the Cold War, are however to be considered to the minimum terms, and will remain so until we return to business as usual agreed at the time with Moscow which, however, continues to be perceived as unequal partner.

At present, China has not replaced Russia as the number one threat; as long as the American and Atlantic narrative represent Bear and Dragon as a single bloc, politically each actor will be able to feel satisfied. Therefore, NATO will presumably respond to the deterioration of the security context in defense of both the States most recently joined the Alliance and those that strategically aspire to access it, implementing its deterrence, not excluding the advanced presence in the eastern portion of Europe to counter aggressive postures aimed at forms of strategic intimidation. A rationally understandable intent, but hardly digestible on the part of those who, having crumbled an empire for the second time, set themselves the goal of regaining it or, at least, of continuing to security belt, a belt whose importance is independent of any transparency requirement.

On the sidelines of the responsible Atlantic official status, an indispensable consideration concerns the role of American political multilateralism for which NATO and the EU rise to the indispensable role of elements necessary for maintaining the global balance of power in Washington, despite the case of the Nord Stream 2 demonstrated how it is not always possible for European hegemons to set aside collaborations and economic interests with partners such as China or Russia, such as the energy affair and the transport of gas from the east teaches.

But the irreversible tendencies also belong to Russia and therefore the announcement by Foreign Minister Lavrov about the suspension of the work of the Russian permanent mission at the NATO HQ in Brussels, cannot leave much surprise, especially if consequent to the revocation of the accreditation of eight employees of the mission established at the Alliance, because they are accused of espionage. After all, the Skripal affaire6 with the novichok7, and before that Litvinenko with the polonium, teach how Russia continues to privilege the criterion of reciprocity.

NATO's strategic choice is therefore aimed at promoting European integration and assessing whether, and how, to influence the Russian military political trend, improving the understanding of Western vulnerabilities thanks to an assessment of which countries are most sensitive to forms of economic coercion. , political and Russian military. Of course, this should not preclude understanding what constitutes a deterrent to the concrete threats NATO members and partners face.

At present it seems plausible that, at least partially, the Kremlin is trying to induce the West into a confrontation capable of demonstrating hegemonic status, directly in opposition to NATO; it might perhaps be opportune to begin to avoid considering Russia in incongruent and zero-sum terms, considering a coexistence based on a competitive and systemic rivalry and not necessarily on conflict, on a confrontation not only military but ideological that leads to consider the commercial aspects which are strategic elements and which in any case allow for targeted cooperation that does not, however, put at risk emerging and disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, which remain a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for NATO and at the mercy (unfortunately) of the pitfalls of Beijing.

But here speaking of NATO is equivalent to speaking of a large company, with shareholders; the fragmented minority, Europe, does not possess integrated military capabilities and is in fact continuing to entrust the Alliance with the task of its defense, entrusting itself to the majority American partner.

In a context that sees a constant weakening of military capabilities, Europe runs the risk of becoming a sort of soft power of NATO, a power made up of politics, street mobilizations, but not kinetic actions: the paradox of a military alliance without an army.

But does NATO still serve the US, holders with Russia of the largest nuclear arsenals?

The problem is not the Alliance itself, but rather the defensive relationship between Europe and the United States, based on a threat that, since the fall of the USSR, should be reshaped and updated, also in the light of the examples brought by the Syrian affair, where the US has shown willingness to use air force alone by reminding everyone that the focus of their interests has shifted to the South China Sea. Then there remain the asymmetrical activities of all time, namely espionage and covert actions, which have left their burning mark in more than one Western location, but which have trapped Russia in its own past rhetoric, forcing it into predictable and reciprocal actions.

In conclusion, keeping rhetoric in style aside for the moment cold War, the exact political intent behind NATO's decision remains to be understood, also because if strict heuristic principles were adopted, most of the cultural offices of the embassies would most likely have already been closed.

A hypothesis could lead to consider the act as it is notice to European allies who, as a result of the application of a concept of sovereignty with variable geometry according to the moment (Germans and French teach), must now be referred to a stable discipline that does not contemplate easy direct relations with Moscow and for which the USA does not intend to leave channels accessible.

Now the lit match is in the hands of the Kremlin, which has to find alternative ways with European counterparts who have no way of managing d'emblée a relationship pressed by interests from the east and loyalty from the west; a problem that cannot foresee bilateral political solutions because they are based on relations declared invalid by the famous majority shareholder.

Given that China is considered a separate dossier and not part of an axis, it is evident that the Americans considered the move to carry risks acceptable to them, but without taking into account the risks falling on the allies, especially the French, already burned by the AUKUS agreement. What's new in this? None. Ways out? None.

The hegemon is such because he has the strength to command, and the only policy that can be pursued is that which requires betting on the winning horse, which makes you earn less but allows you not to be left with empty pockets; also because, after all, in the hypothetical case of a new alliance, who could possibly guarantee a different treatment from the hegemon of the moment? Impossible: the hegemonic role played would be lost. According to the chronicles, what madman would bet, for example, on a gratuitous benevolence galloteutonics? Think about it for a moment, and feel your pockets for safety. You may not like it, but hearing a few coins is certainly more reassuring than holding the famous, burning, worn-out match.

1 Czech Republic

2 To remember the diplomatic incident that occurred on 23 June last, when the destroyer HMS Defender, departed from Odessa in southern Ukraine to Georgia, it passed through the territorial waters of Crimea, arousing the ire of Russia, which sent coast guards and military aircraft to force the Unit to change course. In addition to radio warnings and verbal threats, the Russians also fired some warning shots at a safe distance. The British replied that they would continue their conduct as it falls within the scope of international law. Subsequently, the Dutch unit HNLMS Evertsen accused Russia of creating dangerous situations with the threatening passage of various warplanes in the vicinity of the unit and off the coast of Crimea. According to Moscow, the passage of the HMS Defender was a British provocation

3 Russia creates new challenges when considering the development of permanent bases in Syria, Libya and Sudan and its involvement in Turkey's missile defense. These implications go well beyond the Mediterranean basin itself and also affect the Black Sea, Western Europe and Africa.

4 With the S 400s to Turkey, Russia entered one of the NATO air forces, determining the need to calibrate the entire Turkish aeronautical inventory, making it difficult to maintain equipment produced in the USA and allowing access for personnel. Russian. Russia then effectively prevented the deployment of Patriot missiles on its southern flank. With the non-arrival of the F35s, the possible deployment of NATO stealth fighters in the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean has been reduced. 

5 Substantial Russian recognition of Beijing's right to Taiwan, which is a prelude to the consequent Chinese recognition of possession of Crimea

6 It should be remembered that in London Scotland Yard indicted a third former Gru agent for the attempted murder of Skripal. Denis Sergeev, undercover Sergey Fedotov, was part of Unit 29155, linked to the explosion in the Czech Republic.

7 Nerve agent

Photo: NATO / US Army / Kremlin / State Council of the People's Republic of China