NATO boss responds to Moscow on bloc’s expansion
NATO “has never promised not to expand,” the bloc’s Secretary General said on Thursday.
Jens Stoltenberg was responding to security proposals recently made by Russia.
The Norwegian insisted that the bloc’s founding treaty states that any European nation may join it. However, did not mention that its dominant member, the US, and secondary powers, such as Germany, France and Britain, are said to have delivered assurances in the 1990s to Moscow.
The NATO head was commenting, to Germany's dpa agency, on a set of proposals made by Moscow earlier in December that would see NATO agree to curb its territorial growth as a form of a security guarantee for Russia.
“We cannot question NATO’s right to protect and defend all allies, nor the basic principle that every nation has the right to choose its own path,” Stoltenberg said, defending the bloc’s policy of courting former Soviet states like Ukraine. Russia’s proposals sent to NATO and the US separately suggest that relevant officials commit to ruling out the bloc’s expansion into former Soviet republics.
Stoltenberg, however, pointed to the fact that such a commitment would contravene what he called a “fundamental principle of European security that Russia has signed up to.” The NATO secretary general referred to the right of every nation to “determine its own fate,” adding that it was included in both the 1975 Helsinki Accords and the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act.
NATO’s eastward expansion has been Moscow’s gravest concern and the top thorny issue in the bloc’s relations with Moscow. Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, believe that NATO informally promised Russia that it would not expand further to the east back in the 1990s.
Earlier on Thursday, Putin said during his annual year-end press conference that Moscow was “cheated” by NATO in a “vehement” and “blatant” way as it first swallowed former member states of the Eastern Bloc, which also used to be known as the Warsaw Pact, and then set its eyes on the former Soviet republics.
Stoltenberg denied such promises had ever been made and claimed that even the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev – the man most commonly associated with the verbal agreement between NATO and Moscow – agreed NATO expansion had never been raised before the reunification of Germany. However, US government documents, declassified in 2017, appear to confirm that assurances were given.
The NATO secretary general also accused Russia of attempts to create “spheres of influence” by dictating what “smaller nations” like Ukraine can or cannot do. “That … goes against everything that guaranteed peace and stability in Europe since the end of the Cold War,” he said.
Russia’s proposals came amid heightened tensions between Russia and the collective West over Moscow’s alleged plans to invade Ukraine. The notion of a looming “invasion,” which the Kremlin has dismissed as unfounded “hysteria,” has been actively touted by the western media and some western officials.