NATO seen from Russia: strong threat, weak alliance

From this perspective, it seems simplistic to sum up the focus of Russian defense policy on NATO to the instrumentalization of a deliberately exaggerated external threat with the aim of consolidating the regime. Although this analysis reflects some truth, Moscow’s posture also corresponds to a strong sense of frustration stemming from the perception that NATO’s post-Cold War “harmful” developments have pushed it to the margins of a revamped European security system of which it intended to be a stakeholder and an active part. They are read as the fruit of its weakness in the 1990s, which Western countries would have sought to take advantage of.

Also, from now on, the Kremlin observes with interest the crises which complicate the life of the Alliance, and justify, in its eyes, its assessment, which wants NATO to be an anachronism. Some Russian political scientists note that with enlargement “heterogeneity” has grown within it, hampering the achievement of agreements and the mobilization of resources. For others, the interventions in Afghanistan and Libya have undermined the credibility of “expeditionary” NATO, signing the failure of the United States to give NATO the status of a security organization with a global vocation. Russian diplomacy has, in essence, judged that President Emmanuel Macron spoke gold when he diagnosed the “brain death” of NATO in the face of Turkey’s operations in northern Syria (The EconomistNovember 7, 2019).

The concern aroused in Moscow by the election of Joe Biden, claiming to want to revive traditional alliances, eased when the United States found itself accused of having let go of European allies by withdrawing hastily and without consultation from Afghanistan at the end of August 2021 or by creating the AUKUS tripartite security pact (bringing together Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States) the following September.

On this subject, the newspaper Kommersant’ headlined, September 23, 2021: “The Atlantic Alliance drowned by the Pacific Ocean.” This article, commenting on the cancellation of the contract for the sale of French submarines to Australia, quoted a Russian expert believing that Donald Trump himself would not have dared to inflict such a snub on France and posed, more generally, the question of the solidity of the transatlantic alliance in the face of the clear American desire to reorient the efforts of its partners on the Chinese challenge.

And, for some Russian political scientists, even an American administration friendlier to European allies than Trump’s will not solve a “fundamental problem” for NATO, which is that “the time for military-political alliances strictly speaking of the Cold War is outdated. They are replaced by flexible situational alliances, ad hocfor the resolution of this or that problem” (Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian Council for International Affairs, quoted in Kommersant’, February 18, 2021). A reading grid that these same experts will in all likelihood apply to the AUKUS episode.

There is little doubt that Russia will not hesitate to help entrench the difficulties of the Atlantic Alliance if it can. It is already doing this, by developing its partnership with Turkey, by cultivating the energy dependence of certain NATO members on it, and even by continuing to strengthen its strategic relationship with China.

NATO seen from Russia: strong threat, weak alliance