Commentary Magazine


Topic: Finland

Putin’s NATO Justification

To justify the unjustifiable–Russia’s aggression against Ukraine–Vladimir Putin has concocted a narrative of resentment built upon the myth that the U.S. supposedly humiliated Russia after the end of the Cold War. This ignores the obvious reality, which is that no one ever treated Russia the way Germany was treated after World War I. Far from demanding reparations or territorial concessions or imposing limits on Russia’s ability to defend itself, the West poured in billions in aid–money which was largely wasted because of the corruption of Putin and his ilk. 

True, the Russian Empire shrank considerably after 1991 but this was not because of a diktat imposed by Washington. It was because most of the subservient republics under Moscow’s thumb–from Ukraine to Uzbekistan–chose to go their own way. Washington couldn’t have stopped them if it had tried, and George H.W. Bush did try to discourage Ukrainian independence with his famous “Chicken Kiev” speech.

The one action that the West did take after the Soviet Union’s collapse that Putin can label as provocative was the expansion of NATO to Eastern Europe. This was opposed by some at the time as a needless aggravation of Russia. That argument is now being heard anew not only from Putin but from those in the West eager to rationalize his aggression. 

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To justify the unjustifiable–Russia’s aggression against Ukraine–Vladimir Putin has concocted a narrative of resentment built upon the myth that the U.S. supposedly humiliated Russia after the end of the Cold War. This ignores the obvious reality, which is that no one ever treated Russia the way Germany was treated after World War I. Far from demanding reparations or territorial concessions or imposing limits on Russia’s ability to defend itself, the West poured in billions in aid–money which was largely wasted because of the corruption of Putin and his ilk. 

True, the Russian Empire shrank considerably after 1991 but this was not because of a diktat imposed by Washington. It was because most of the subservient republics under Moscow’s thumb–from Ukraine to Uzbekistan–chose to go their own way. Washington couldn’t have stopped them if it had tried, and George H.W. Bush did try to discourage Ukrainian independence with his famous “Chicken Kiev” speech.

The one action that the West did take after the Soviet Union’s collapse that Putin can label as provocative was the expansion of NATO to Eastern Europe. This was opposed by some at the time as a needless aggravation of Russia. That argument is now being heard anew not only from Putin but from those in the West eager to rationalize his aggression. 

But it is disingenuous to suggest that Putin’s desire to reassemble the Russian empire is fueled by fear of NATO, a purely defensive alliance. Only someone who has been binge-watching RT (formerly Russia Today)–the Kremlin’s propaganda organ–could possibly imagine that, absent NATO’s expansion, Putin would be behaving in a more neighborly fashion toward Georgia, Ukraine, or other neighboring states that he still considers to be Russian satrapies. 

NATO expansion may be an excuse for Russian aggression but it is not its cause. Actually, NATO expansion has been a great force for peace and stability, helping to lock in the democratic gains in Eastern Europe and to impose limitations on Russian bullying. 

Far from backing away from NATO, the U.S. and its allies should double down. Ukraine and Georgia may not be ready for membership, but Sweden and Finland could easily be absorbed into the alliance as Swedish commentator Jan Joel Andersson argues in Foreign Affairs. “From a military standpoint, Sweden and Finland would add technologically sophisticated and well-equipped armed forces to the alliance,” he argues, and “it would bring the NATO border ever closer to Russia, demonstrating that military aggression in Europe carries major geopolitical consequences.” 

Such a bold step makes eminent sense to counter Russian aggression and to signal that the West will not accept Putin’s attempts to blame NATO for his own misconduct.

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Procrastination on Iran

At a weekend retreat in Finland, the foreign ministers of the EU met alongside the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Among the topics discussed was Iran. And among the conclusions emerging from the gathering, there is the admission by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, that there is little chance that new sanctions will be passed by the UN Security Council before June. Citing objections from China and Russia, Kouchner said: “We are … talking and talking, trying to get an agreement by negotiation and at the same time working on sanctions. I believe that yes, before June it will be possible, but I’m not so sure.”

Nor is there certainty about the alternative – which, according to the news report, would be unilateral sanctions by the EU and the U.S.

Clearly, there are obstacles on the road to unilateral sanctions – philosophically, many EU countries oppose unilateralism and wish to proceed only after the UN has given the green light. Then, there is the skepticism about sanctions that are not binding on some of Iran’s main trading partners because such measures would fail to bite.

In short, sanctions, even limited ones, are a long way away, and it does not offer any succor to know that EU ministers are “talking about it.”

The fact of the matter is, the last time sanctions were approved was in March 2008, when UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was approved. That was two years ago. Then there was a U.S. presidential election. Then there was a U.S. policy review. Then there were Iranian presidential elections that nobody wished to interfere with. Then there was a summer holiday that nobody wished to spoil. Then there was a U.S. effort to engage the Iranian regime that nobody wished to undermine. Then there was a failed nuclear deal that everyone thought was a win-win situation. Then there was an end-of-the-year deadline that came and went without any Plan B ready to roll out on Jan. 1. Then there was the talking to convince China and Russia (to say nothing of Turkey, which meanwhile became a member of the Security Council), and now there is more talking for Plan C in case Plan B fails. What will the next reason for delay be?

The bottom line is that these are excuses, pretexts, and little else.

There is abundant evidence of Iranian mischief. There is nothing new by now about Iran’s policy of stalling talks. Russian and Chinese interests remain unchanged. The available options for sanctions have been dissected, debated, weighed, assessed, and are known.

It therefore comes down to the following: do the U.S. and the EU wish to stop Iran’s nuclear quest? If so, are they prepared to pay the political price required to make, at least, an honest and worthy effort? Are they willing to face up to the reality that there is simply no international backing for the kind of policies needed to stop Iran now and to avoid conflict in the Persian Gulf later?

If the answer to these questions is yes, there is no need to wait for June. Otherwise, we know what a June deadline means – it means more stalling, more temporizing, more talking, and more procrastinating.

At a weekend retreat in Finland, the foreign ministers of the EU met alongside the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Among the topics discussed was Iran. And among the conclusions emerging from the gathering, there is the admission by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, that there is little chance that new sanctions will be passed by the UN Security Council before June. Citing objections from China and Russia, Kouchner said: “We are … talking and talking, trying to get an agreement by negotiation and at the same time working on sanctions. I believe that yes, before June it will be possible, but I’m not so sure.”

Nor is there certainty about the alternative – which, according to the news report, would be unilateral sanctions by the EU and the U.S.

Clearly, there are obstacles on the road to unilateral sanctions – philosophically, many EU countries oppose unilateralism and wish to proceed only after the UN has given the green light. Then, there is the skepticism about sanctions that are not binding on some of Iran’s main trading partners because such measures would fail to bite.

In short, sanctions, even limited ones, are a long way away, and it does not offer any succor to know that EU ministers are “talking about it.”

The fact of the matter is, the last time sanctions were approved was in March 2008, when UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was approved. That was two years ago. Then there was a U.S. presidential election. Then there was a U.S. policy review. Then there were Iranian presidential elections that nobody wished to interfere with. Then there was a summer holiday that nobody wished to spoil. Then there was a U.S. effort to engage the Iranian regime that nobody wished to undermine. Then there was a failed nuclear deal that everyone thought was a win-win situation. Then there was an end-of-the-year deadline that came and went without any Plan B ready to roll out on Jan. 1. Then there was the talking to convince China and Russia (to say nothing of Turkey, which meanwhile became a member of the Security Council), and now there is more talking for Plan C in case Plan B fails. What will the next reason for delay be?

The bottom line is that these are excuses, pretexts, and little else.

There is abundant evidence of Iranian mischief. There is nothing new by now about Iran’s policy of stalling talks. Russian and Chinese interests remain unchanged. The available options for sanctions have been dissected, debated, weighed, assessed, and are known.

It therefore comes down to the following: do the U.S. and the EU wish to stop Iran’s nuclear quest? If so, are they prepared to pay the political price required to make, at least, an honest and worthy effort? Are they willing to face up to the reality that there is simply no international backing for the kind of policies needed to stop Iran now and to avoid conflict in the Persian Gulf later?

If the answer to these questions is yes, there is no need to wait for June. Otherwise, we know what a June deadline means – it means more stalling, more temporizing, more talking, and more procrastinating.

Read Less




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