Mr. Hank Davis and I respectfully disagree on whether the U.S. under the Biden administration has been negligent in not addressing Russia’s concerns over NATO expansion to Russia’s western border. In my March 31 EA commentary, I took issue with his earlier opinion that had the Biden administration listened to Russia’s concerns over NATO expansion to Russia’s western border it “might” have prevented the war. In the April 14 EA, Mr. Davis’s rebuttal essentially restated his prior position.
My disagreement was that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was not caused by a fear of a belligerent “NATO per se,” but out of fear of the democracy governing NATO’s member states; democracy is a threat to his absolute power. I argued that each of those eastern NATO member states have historically painful experiences of brutal subjugation by an autocratic Russia both before and after World War II. Thus, the impetus for their membership in NATO is based on that experience. These former Warsaw Pact nations intrinsically know conquest of Ukraine by Putin means they are next!
Mr. Davis cites the former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger’s and Robert Gates’ laments over NATO’s seemingly belligerent expansion. There can be no argument as to the sincerity of their concerns. But, they are the opinions of two Cold War warriors. Let’s hear from an East European leader.
In February 1994, before a crowd in the ballroom of the Hamburg (Germany) Town Hall, President Lennart Meri of Estonia praised the values of the democratic world. “The freedom of every individual, the freedom of economy and trade, as well as the freedom of the mind, of culture and science, are inseparably interconnected — the Estonian people never abandoned their faith in this freedom during the decades of totalitarian [Russian] oppression.” Most importantly he warned that freedom in Estonia, and in Europe would soon be under threat from Russian imperialism that was gaining voice again in the Russia of Boris Yeltsin. The West, Meri said, “should make it emphatically clear … that another imperialist expansion will not stand a chance.” At that, the Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg got up and walked out. His name — Vladimir Putin!
The quotes in the above paragraph are from an essay in the May 2022 issue of the Atlantic titled “There is No Liberal Order” by Anne Applebaum (p. 9), staff writer for the Atlantic, historian and expert on authoritarianism’s deadly lure. President Meri 28 years ago foresaw exactly what the world is seeing in Ukraine — Putin, the enemy of democracy — and what I should have included in my original essay, the purveyor of restoring the Russian empire. NATO is merely his effigy.