NATO has Blinked First

by | Oct 5, 2022


It is rare to hear politicians mention God but even rarer to hear them mentioning Satan. Yet the Russian president did both in a solemn speech in the Kremlin on 30 September. He described as ‘pure Satanism’ the ‘anti-religion’ which, he said, now grips the West and which it wants to spread around the world. He in particular mentioned ‘woke’ perversions such as gender reassignment surgery offered to children.

The accusation of Satanism demonstrates the sheer level of anger in Moscow. Putin’s speech was a resounding declaration to the West that relations with Russia are now over. This comes from the mouth of a man who, like his Foreign Minister, has been studiously referring to ‘our European partners’ and ‘our American partners’ for decades. Not any more. Russia wants to end what it sees as Western dictatorship – and the West wants to end what it sees as Russian dictatorship.

The speech was given at the occasion of the annexation of four Ukrainian regions. The annexation represents a severe escalation of the conflict which Russia started six months ago. Like an attack in chess, Russia has, with its invasion, seized the initiative, having been on the back foot since 2014 and during the eight years in which it stood by as Ukrainian forces, with Western backing, tried to re-take the Donbass by force and harassed and killed thousands of their own civilians in the process.

In response to the annexations, Ukraine applied to join NATO. Zelensky, flanked by two officials whom one would not want to meet at night in a dark alley, did a little stunt in front of the cameras in which they supposedly signed an application for rapid NATO accession. Zelensky then later approved a law ruling out negotiations with Russia – a law which binds himself. It was another stunt because obviously such a law can be rescinded or ignored.

The application to join NATO is also an escalation. No one since the spring has proposed any de-escalation. On the contrary, first Britain then the EU (and of course the US) have told the Ukrainians to war not jaw. Putin’s speech was also a long explanation of why Russia cannot negotiate: the West is in the grip of Satanism and all it wants is to dominate or destroy Russia. 

It is obvious that all wars end in negotiation, or at least in non-military verbal defeats such as at Versailles, but it is also obvious that there can be wars in which the military aspect is pursued in parallel with the diplomatic, as the Russians tried to do during the first weeks of the conflict, when talks with Kiev took place first in Belarus and then in Turkey. No longer, at least not for the time being.

But has NATO blinked first in its standoff against Russian annexation and mobilisation? On 2 October, nine Central and Eastern European states (Poland, Romania, the three Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Montenegro and Macedonia) issued a statement condemning Russian aggression and reaffirming the 2008 decision to offer NATO membership to Ukraine. 

This appeared to be a positive response to Ukraine’s ‘application letter’ but in fact it did not mention any accelerated accession. So there was already some ambiguity. Worse, no sooner had this declaration been issued than the Bulgarian president indicated publicly that he had not signed the document because he wanted peace first, before any discussion about NATO membership. His statement is in flagrant contradiction with EU and NATO policy, which is that Ukraine must win militarily. (Josep Borell said that the war had to be won on the battlefield; Ursula von der Leyen that if the fighting stops, Ukraine will cease to exist.)

President Radev went further. He said that while Bulgaria had been a party to the 2008 decision to open the door to Ukraine, that decision had been taken in an entirely different security environment. (There were no Russian troops in Ukraine then.) This implies that it may no longer be valid. His statement concluded: “Military actions on the territory of Ukraine today require that its membership in the Alliance … not lead to a risk of the direct involvement of NATO countries in the war.” Yet direct involvement of NATO countries in the war is precisely what Ukraine wants, because it has everything else already. One assumes that Poland and the other states want it too.

This clear split within NATO comes against the background of silence from the big countries in the alliance – the US, the UK, Turkey, France and Germany. They have not commented on Zelensky’s request. Given that all of these countries, and all of NATO, have ruled out direct military confrontation between NATO and Russia, and given that some of these countries (Turkey certainly, maybe France) would be highly unlikely to agree to Ukraine’s admission, it is obvious that Zelensky’s little photo-op NATO application has fallen on deaf ears.

The West says it will not ‘recognise’ the annexations. What it means is that it will not accept them. But if it believes that these territories can be recovered with the continued arming of Ukraine alone, that is fantasy. The tiny gains made recently by Ukrainian forces, which are trumpeted in the media as if Zelensky were Field Marshal Rommel, are mere pinpricks in the giant territory Russia has conquered. The most that NATO can hope for is that Ukrainians are prepared to die over the years to come in a prolonged insurrection, harassing Russian forces on the border and perhaps inside the territories. This is what the US Chief of Staff, General Milley, threatened the Russians with before February. But NATO membership is a fantasy.

Meanwhile, Russia has not only seized the initiative, put Ukraine and the West on the back foot, increased its population by five or six million people, gained control of the industrial heartland of Eastern Ukraine, increased its control of the famously rich agricultural ‘black soil’ of Ukraine, increased its territory by the equivalent of half the size of the United Kingdom, turned the Azov sea into a Russian lake, mobilised 300,000 reservists which is far more than the entire Ukrainian army – and seen NATO blink first.

Reprinted with permission from Forum for Democracy.

John Laughland is Director of Forum for Democracy International and a Visiting Fellow at Mathias Corvinus College in Budapest, Hungary. He is a Member of the Academic Board of the Ron Paul Institute. 


  • John Laughland

    John Laughland is a British eurosceptic conservative academic and author who writes on international affairs and political philosophy.

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