1. Mission creep: on NATO expansionism
Why did the North Atlantic Treaty Organization accept former Warsaw Pact states into the alliance?
The story so far: When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the purported reason behind this act of extraordinary territorial aggression was that the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) threatened at some undefined point in the future to allow Ukraine to join the grouping as a treaty ally and thus bring a formidable transatlantic security coalition within striking distance of Russia’s western borders — yet again. This justification offered by Russia as the reason for undertaking a ground war, including the brutal targeting with ordnance of civilian infrastructure and the expected devastation in terms of human casualty and property damage, has come under increasing scrutiny. In this context, understanding the history of NATO’s challenge to the security posture of Russia would help identify the roots of this conflict. It might also provide a clearer picture of what institutional arrangements and assurances the Kremlin could accept as sufficient to pull back its troops and weaponry and engage in dialogue with the administration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
What are the origins of NATO and why does it matter to Russia?
The self-declared mission of NATO when it emerged on April 4, 1949, had three prongs: “deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration.” Clearly the legacy of the Nazi scourge and World War II weighed heavily on the minds of the founding members of NATO. Although NATO claims that it is only “partially true” that its very creation was to counter the threat from the erstwhile Soviet Union, there was a strong emphasis on military cooperation and collective defence in its clauses. For example, Article 5 of the Treaty proclaims that “an armed attack against one or more of them… shall be considered an attack against them all” and that following such an attack, each ally would take “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force” in response.
The broader context at the time was that in 1955, a time when the Cold War was gaining momentum, the Soviet Union signed up socialist republics of Central and Eastern Europe to the Warsaw Pact, including Albania (which withdrew in 1968), Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. The Pact, essentially a political-military alliance, was viewed as a direct strategic counterweight to NATO, and its focus at the time was the fact that while East Germany was still part of the Soviet occupied-territory of Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany had joined NATO by May 1955, and Moscow began to worry about the consequences of a strengthened and rearmed West Germany at its border. As a unified, multilateral, political and military alliance, the Warsaw Pact was aimed at tying Eastern European capitals more closely to Moscow, which it effectively did for several decades through the worst hostilities of the Cold War. Indeed, the Pact even gave the Soviet Union the option to contain civil uprisings and dissent across the European satellite states, including in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Poland in 1980-1981.
All that began to unravel by the late 1980s, when the sheer downward pressure of inevitable economic slowdown in most Eastern European Pact allies reduced the potential for military cooperation to make any real difference strategically across the region. Thus, it hardly came as a surprise in September 1990 that East Germany quit the Pact to be reunified with West Germany, and soon Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland withdrew from all Warsaw Pact military exercises. The Pact was officially disbanded in early 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself.
What were the rounds of expansions carried out by NATO?
Even as the Soviet Union was dissolved into Russia and former Soviet republics, NATO, emboldened by circumstances and optimism that the global balance of power was tipping in its favour, embarked on a path of expansion. During the term in office of U.S. President Bill Clinton, NATO began, in successive rounds of negotiation and expansion, to pull former Warsaw Pact states into its membership. After reunification, while Germany retained membership of NATO, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined the alliance in 1999. But it did not end there — in 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia joined the treaty organisation. In 2009 Albania and Croatia signed on, in 2017 Montenegro entered the bloc and in 2020 it was North Macedonia’s turn.
Why is Russia sensitive to NATO expansion?
In 2008, in the week leading up to NATO’s Bucharest Conference, “NATO Allies welcomed Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership and agreed that these countries will become members of NATO.” They went on to announce a period of intensive engagement with both countries at a high political level to address the questions still outstanding regarding their Membership Action Plan applications.
This set off alarm bells in the Kremlin, because even the very concept of Ukraine, a nation considered to hold strong historic ties first to the Soviet Union and then Russia, was anathema. This development prompted Mr. Putin to warn erstwhile U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs William Burns that “no Russian leader could stand idly by in the face of steps toward NATO membership for Ukraine. That would be a hostile act toward Russia.” This was only among the more recent of a long list of actions by NATO leaders that Russia considers a political betrayal.
However, it is not necessarily the case that Russia is right to believe that — and to understand this, it is important to grapple with the history of NATO expansion and its consequences.
Did NATO violate a promise to avoid expansion?
An oft-quoted line in this line of enquiry is the comment by U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in February 1990, that “there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east.” While Moscow seized upon this comment to fuel its ostensible outrage at NATO expansion into the Baltic states region, it is a fact that in early 1990, the locus of the diplomacy for the Two Plus Four – including East and West Germany plus the United States, France, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom – agreement was whether a unified Germany would be part of NATO. Indeed, Mr. Baker’s aim in making that comment was to reassure Moscow that NATO command structures and troops would not be transferred to the territory of the former German Democratic Republic.
Yet it was a difficult time in Russian politics, domestically, because in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, there was a failure to institutionalise democratic practices, a stable market economy, and a robust law and order system. Facing all manner of chaos at home, erstwhile Russian President Boris Yeltsin began to interpret – many argue deliberately falsely – the Two Plus Four Treaty as a ban on NATO expansion east of Germany. He wrote to Mr. Clinton in September 1993, that Russia ruled out “the option of expanding NATO territory eastward.”
Through the 2000s, Mr. Putin carried on in this vein, speaking with increasing alarm and anger at NATO’s steady expansion into Eastern Europe, and saying in Munich in 2007 that “it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernisation of the alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust.”
In 2008, following NATO announcement of its intent to admit Georgia and Ukraine into its alliance, Russia invaded Georgia and took control of several of its territorial regions; and in 2014, with Ukraine drifting closer towards an economic alliance with the European Union, Russia marched into Ukraine and seized Crimea.
2. Naval exercise MILAN concludes in Visakhapatnam
The sea phase of the 11th edition saw the participation of 26 ships, one submarine and 21 aircraft from over 40 countries
Indian Navy’s largest multilateral exercise MILAN 2022, which saw the participation of over 40 countries, ended on Friday.
The sea phase of the 11th edition saw the participation of 26 ships, one submarine and 21 aircraft, the Navy said in a statement.
“A series of complex and advanced exercises were undertaken in all three dimensions of naval operations to enhance compatibility, interoperability, mutual understanding and maritime cooperation amongst the partner Navies,” the Navy said on Saturday. The closing ceremony was held in a unique format with the Commanding Officers of the participating ships arriving by helicopters and boats on board INS Jalashwa at anchorage, it stated.
The harbour phase was held from February 25 to 28 and the sea phase from March 1 to 4.
The sea phase commenced with a series of exercises to enhance the interoperability amongst the participating Navies, the statement said.
The first two days at sea included complex anti-air warfare drills with U.S. P-8A aircraft shepherding a strike of Indian fighter aircraft on a formation of warships of the participating Navies, the Navy said. “Weapon firing against low-flying air targets were conducted, which reflected the proficiency of the crews and high levels of interoperability.”
Held amid tensions
The exercise, held amid tensions between the West and Russia and the crisis in Ukraine, saw the warships of the Quad countries; France, Myanmar, South Korea, Vietnam and others practise completing drills. Russia, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia and others are participating in the exercise without ships. Cross-deck landing operations were carried out during the helicopter operations, while ships from the participating countries undertook the exercise of replenishment at sea.
The closing ceremony was presided over by Rear Admiral Sanjay Bhalla, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet. Starting with the participation of four countries, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand, in 1995, the exercise has since transitioned in terms of the number of participants and complexity of exercises. Earlier, the exercise was held at Port Blair but this edition was shifted to Visakhapatnam, as it offers more infrastructure as well as sea space for the exercise.
3. IAF decides to postpone Ex Vayu Shakti 2022
Due to developing situation: sources
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has decided to postpone its firepower demonstration, Ex Vayu Shakti, scheduled in the Pokhran ranges in Rajasthan on March 7 “due to the developing situation”, sources in the Air Force said on Saturday.
“Fresh dates shall be intimated subsequently,” said an IAF source.
Amid the deepening crisis in Ukraine, on Friday, the Defence Ministry announced that the 12th edition of the biennial DefExpo to be held in Gujarat for the first time has also been postponed “due to logistics problems being experienced by participants.”
The triennial Ex Vayu Shakti 2022, aimed at showcasing the capability of the IAF to conduct full spectrum operations, was to see the participation of 148 aircraft and helicopters, including 109 fighter aircraft, 24 helicopters, seven transport aircraft and four unmanned aerial vehicles.
The frontline aircraft in the IAF inventory, including the Russian SU-30MKI and MiG-29UPG fighters, the latest induction from France, the Rafale, as well as the Mirage 2000, the U.S.-origin C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft, AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and CH-47F Chiook heavy-lift helicopters, the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, Advanced Light Helicopter and the Light Combat Helicopter, were to demonstrate their capabilities at Vayu Shakti.
|1||Australia||Ex AUSTRA HIND, Ex AUSINDEX, EX PITCH BLACK|
|2||Bangladesh||Ex SAMPRITI, IN-BN CORPAT, IN-BN BILAT, IN-BN SF EXERCISE, TABLE TOP EX, SAMVEDNA|
|3||Brazil & South Africa||IBSAMAR|
|4||China||Ex HAND IN HAND|
|6||France||Ex SHAKTI, Ex VARUNA, GARUDA|
|7||Indonesia||Ex GARUDA SHAKTI, IND-INDO CORPAT IND-INDO BILAT|
|8||Israel||Ex BLUE FLAG|
|9||Japan||Ex DHARMA GUARDIAN, Ex JIMEX|
|12||Malaysia||Ex HARIMAU SHAKTI, Ex IN-RMN BILAT, HOP EX|
|13||Maldives||Ex EKUVERIN, EX EKATHA|
|14||Mongolia||Ex NOMADIC ELEPHANT|
|15||Myanmar||Ex IMBEX, IMCOR, IN-MN BILAT, TABLE TOP EX|
|16||Nepal||Ex SURYA KIRAN|
|17||Oman||Ex AL NAGAH, NASEEM-AL-BAHR, Ex EASTERN BRIDGE|
|18||Qatar||ZA’IR AL BAHR|
|19||Russia||EX INDRA, EX AVIAINDRA|
|21||Singapore||SIMBEX, JOINT MILITARY TRAINING|
|22||Sri Lanka||Ex MITRA SHAKTI, SLINEX, IN-SLN SF Ex, SAMVEDNA|
|23||Thailand||Ex MAITREE, INDO-THAI CORPAT, Ex SIAM BHARAT|
|25||UK||Ex AJEY WARRIOR, KONKAN, INDRADHANUSH|
|26||USA||Ex YUDHABHAYAS, Ex VAJRA PRAHAR, SPITTING COBRA, SANGAM (IN-USN EOD Ex), RED FLAG, Ex COPE INDIA|
|28||Vietnam||VINBAX, IN-VPN BILAT|
|31||Multilateral||SCO – PEACE MISSION|