The recent NATO summit in Warsaw brought to the fore Russian society’s deep concerns about the goals and intentions of the military bloc. Across the political spectrum, anti-NATO sentiment is in full display.
U.S. President Barack Obama during the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 9, 2016. Photo: AP
At NATO’s Warsaw summit on July 8-9, the “Russian threat” became a primary topic of discussion, especially in the context of Russian military aggression against the Baltic States or Eastern Europe. At the same time that the West is ratcheting up its rhetoric about its neighbor to the east, the Russian media and the governing elite are raising the nation’s anti-NATO sentiment to another level.
The Russian consensus against NATO
Of course, a broad anti-NATO consensus has existed in Russian society for decades. During the Cold War era, it was the NATO bloc that was viewed as the main military-political opponent of the Soviet Union. During the many decades after 1949, generations of Soviet citizens, from the time they first attended school, were raised in that spirit.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the situation did not change much. Even if there was a “honeymoon” in relations between Russia and the West under Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin, already starting in the mid-1990s both the government and the main political parties looked at NATO with suspicion and even dread. In today’s Russia, there is a palpable consensus both in the public opinion and between the government and opposition that NATO is a military and political alliance that poses the greatest threat to the interests and sovereignty of Russia. From this perspective, NATO is under the total political and military hegemony of the U.S.; accordingly, the organization acts primarily in the interests of Washington.
To Russia, the West’s interventions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq are proof that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has preserved its aggressive military bent. Besides, Moscow is wary of the Alliance’s constant expansion to the East and the moving of NATO infrastructure towards Russia’s borders. The Kremlin sees this as an open threat to Russian national interests — a view that is shared by many ordinary Russians, regardless of political affiliation or ideology. Finally, it is a popular stereotype in Russia that the U.S. and its NATO allies have been the primary instigators of the “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet space.
Campaign against NATO is in the interests of United Russia
If, during the period of Yeltsin’s presidency, Russia’s political opposition more effectively exploited the anti-NATO theme, in recent years the image of the “enemy from the West” has been skillfully played by the government itself and the ruling political party, United Russia.
Long before NATO’s Warsaw summit, the leaders of the United Russia party raised the issue of new challenges to Russia’s safety in connection with the forthcoming decision by NATO to deploy four stationary battalions in the Baltic States and Poland.
For instance, United Russia representative Alexey Pushkov, the head of the State Duma’s foreign policy committee, viewed this decision by NATO as an “alarming symptom.” Another United Russia party member, Sergey Zheleznyak, deputy chairman of the State Duma, accused the Baltic States and Poland of “groundless aggressive rhetoric” with respect to Russia.
Of course, one can hardly speak of the political independence of United Russia. That party is a political instrument of the executive power, and although Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is its ostensible leader, it is no secret to Russian observers that President Vladimir Putin can be considered its real leader.
And, yet, despite all this, the anti-NATO sentiment is not as strong in United Russia as it might be. After all, the current Foreign Policy Concept of Russia mentions a “strategic commonality of purposes with all the countries of the Euro-Atlantic region including the member countries of NATO in maintaining peace and stability, and counteracting common safety threats.”
Parliamentary opposition against NATO
Russia’s leading opposition parties are also outspoken and blunt about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Just a few weeks ago, these parties held a march in Moscow against NATO's policies.
“All through the years of its existence, NATO has been a pillar of the U.S.A.’s domination in Europe, the main instrument of its policy of creating military tension in the world and provoking an arms race,” said the resolution of the meeting that culminated the march of the opposition parties. Meanwhile, the resolution of a Communist political meeting stated that the party “condemned the activity of NATO as an aggressive military-political bloc aimed against Russia and all the freedom-loving peoples of the world.”
The Just Russia party took up the baton. Its leader, Sergey Mironov, who is a complete supporter of the Kremlin’s foreign policy, claims that “NATO continues its expansion towards the East in disregard of the national interests of Russia,” trying to immerse the world in a Cold War atmosphere. Recently, Mironov qualified NATO as “the key, number one threat to the safety and sovereignty of Russia.”
Similar, and even harder rhetoric, is found in the right-wing, nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), whose veteran leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky forecasts the destruction of NATO. The Liberal Democrats conclude that “only the enhancing of military might and tough militarist propaganda can throw cold water on” NATO.
Undoubtedly, the practical decisions by NATO at the Warsaw summit will only strengthen the critical attitude of Russia’s key political forces to NATO. In this atmosphere of mutual suspicion and distrust, it is only the politicians outside of the governing system in Russia (liberals and the alternative left) that ask the following logical but complicated questions:
If the Kremlin’s policy is so peaceful and NATO is an embodiment of aggression and militarism, then why are almost all the East European countries and even Russia's traditional allies (such as Montenegro) striving to get into NATO? Why is it that peaceful countries such as Finland and Sweden have intensified their military-technical relations with NATO recently?
Those are questions that neither the members of the Russian government nor the parliamentary opposition can give answers to.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.