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NATO – a growing thorn in Russia’s eyes

Since its founding in 1949, NATO has not stopped expanding to the east and once again made Russia uneasy when Finland and Sweden wanted to join.

After Russia launched its military campaign in Ukraine, Finland and Sweden quickly abandoned their long-held policy of neutrality and expressed their intention to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). .

If the applications for accession by Finland and Sweden are approved, NATOthe European and North American military alliance formed in 1949 to deal with the Soviet Union in Europe after World War II, is still expanding eastward after seven decades and increasingly close to Russia’s borders.

Today’s NATO has deep roots in the Treaty of Dunkirk, signed by Britain and France in 1947, to create a mutually supportive alliance against the threat of German remnants attacking in the aftermath of World War II.

A year later, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands entered into this security agreement with Britain and France, which led to the signing of the Treaty of Brussels in March 1948. “Western countries thought the Soviet Union was trying to make the countries of Central and Eastern Europe their satellites,” said Jim Townsend, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO under the Soviet Union. Barack Obama administration, said. “They shook hands and asked the US to join a new alliance.”

NATO was established under the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April 4, 1949, including 12 founding countries including the United States, Great Britain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway. and Portugal. Dwight Eisenhower, a retired American general and future president of the United States, was chosen as the first leader of NATO.

The NATO flag at headquarters in Brussels, Belgium in October 2021.  Photo: Reuters.

The NATO flag at headquarters in Brussels, Belgium in October 2021. Image: Reuters.

After the birth of NATO, the Soviet Union and seven Eastern European countries also established the Warsaw Pact in 1955 as a counterweight. During the Cold War, NATO admitted four more members, including Turkey, Greece, Germany and Spain, gradually expanding eastward.

After the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991 and the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist, NATO lost its balance. However, this military alliance did not dissolve, but continued to expand eastward, constantly admitting more members and moving closer and closer to the Russian border.

Over the next 20 years, all of Moscow’s former allies in the Warsaw Pact became NATO members. The alliance currently has a total of 30 members, some of which share a border with Russia.

America is currently the largest and most influential member of NATO. Washington contributes more to NATO’s defense budget than all other countries combined. The United States also spends more than 22% of NATO’s overall budget on jointly owned infrastructure and equipment. As a result, Washington has the largest say in the transatlantic alliance.

At its core, NATO operates as a collective security alliance, enshrined in Article 5 of the Charter, which states that if any member of the alliance is attacked, it will be treated as an attack. attack the whole block.

NATO's Seven Decades of Advancement.  Graphics: Statista

NATO’s Seven Decades of Advancement. Graphics: Statista

In that case, each member would take actions it deems necessary to assist an ally under attack, to help “restore and maintain security in the North Atlantic”. Each country will determine its own form of support and coordination with other allies, not necessarily military support.

Article 5 is said to be very important to many smaller states, which are unable to defend themselves without allies. Iceland is one such country because it does not have a standing army.

Since its inception, NATO has only activated Article 5 once, after the attack Terrorism in America on September 11, 2001. The coalition then launched its first counterterrorism operation, supporting patrols of US airspace and sending forces to the Mediterranean to detect and prevent terrorist activity.

Relations between Russia and NATO have not always been tense. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union twice offered to join NATO, on the condition that the bloc stood neutral, but both were not accepted.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia’s proposal to join again was made in 1991, but NATO refused, arguing that Moscow should join the bloc’s Peace Partnership program in 1994.

In 1999, when the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were admitted to NATO, many people thought about the scenario that Russia would become the next member of the bloc. When he Vladimir Putin Taking office in 2002, Russia considered joining NATO for the fourth time, as Moscow and the West increased cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

However, NATO still considers Russia a threat and does not accept Moscow’s “full membership”. In 2004, NATO admitted the three Baltic republics of the former Soviet Union, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as the former Warsaw Pact countries of Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania.

When NATO’s eastward expansion momentum became apparent, the military alliance became a “thorn” in Russia’s eyes, causing relations between the two sides to deteriorate further.

NATO soldiers take part in the Crystal Arrows exercise in Adazi, Latvia, in March 2021.  Photo: Reuters.

NATO soldiers take part in the Crystal Arrows exercise in Adazi, Latvia, in March 2021. Image: Reuters.

In August 2008, Russia responded to NATO’s look east strategy with a military intervention in Georgia under the pretext of protecting the two self-declared separatist republics, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This causes bilateral cooperation within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council to be suspended.

Actual cooperation between NATO and Russia ended completely in 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea, although military and political channels of communication were maintained.

Russia has repeatedly stated that its look east policy as well as its willingness to admit new members of NATO is a security threat. Washington and its allies deny the allegation, saying that no NATO country has threatened to use force against Russia.

However, President Putin wants NATO to withdraw its military presence in Eastern European countries, end regular exercises in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, countries that were once part of the Soviet Union and share borders with Russia.

Putin objected to NATO’s placement of the Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Romania, a former Soviet satellite state, as well as a similar base being developed in Poland, saying they could fire missiles. Fire attack threatens Russian security.

Moscow also vehemently opposes Russia’s desire to join NATO Ukraine, expressed concern that if admitted to this country, NATO would establish a base and deploy weapons close to Russia’s armpit. “By creating a threat to Russia, Ukraine also poses a threat to itself,” Putin declared in February, before launching a military operation in the neighboring country.

The current concern of the Russian President is that Finland and Sweden, two Nordic countries that once maintained a policy of no military alliance, now want to become NATO members.

“We have repeatedly asserted that NATO is an instrument aimed at confrontation and that expanding this alliance will not bring stability to Europe,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on April 11.

Acceptance of Sweden and Finland joining NATO, a process that can take up to a year to complete, will cause the Western military alliance to expand by nearly 1,300 km of military borders with Russia, and mark a profound change in the war landscape. security strategy in Europe.

“At that time, the NATO thorn in Russia’s eyes will be so great that Moscow will have to take some action,” said Dmitry Suslov, an expert at the National Research University in Moscow.

According to Suslov, the least that Russia can do is to strengthen its military presence along the Finnish border, because Helsinki is no longer considered a “friendly side”. Russia may also strengthen its navy in the Baltic Sea, which Moscow says will become a “NATO pond” after Sweden and Finland join.

If the US or UK establishes military bases in Finland, Russia will “have no choice but to deploy tactical nuclear weapons that can target those bases”, Suslov warned.

But Finland does not appear to be concerned about this scenario. “We are used to the fact that Russia is always right next to us,” said General Pekka Toveri, a former director of Finnish military intelligence. “Most Finns aren’t too worried about that either.”

Thanh Tam (According to DW, NPR, NY Times, WP)

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