Putin trampled on NATO, Ukraine and Russian agreements after the Cold War

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When the Soviet Union collapsed three decades ago, the European security architecture suddenly became uncertain, its future on the line. After all, much of the post-war balance of power in Europe – and the world – rested on the frozen pillars of the Cold War, pillars which in 1991 suddenly melted. It did not take long, however, for the euphoria of freedom in the former Soviet bloc to translate into a series of diplomatic agreements enshrining a vision of cooperation, democracy and respect for independent states.

These same agreements are now in ruins, trampled on by Russia’s anti-democratic turn and President Vladimir Putin’s determination to strengthen the Kremlin’s influence over its increasingly democratic neighbors.

With tens of thousands of Russian forces now massed near the Russian-Ukrainian border and Putin making impossible demands on the West, the agreements of the 1990s are a stark reminder of how and to what extent expectations of those years turned out to be wrong. Putin’s point is unreliable. while respecting the commitments of his country.

Having already annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine, Putin now claims that Kiev’s very efforts to defend itself justify Russian aggression. Its maximalist demands include that NATO not only ban Ukraine from joining the alliance, but also pledge to refrain from expanding east, whatever the wishes of independent countries – wishes that Russia was committed to abide by. Above all, Putin also demands that NATO does not essentially help Russia’s neighbors defend themselves against an obviously aggressive Moscow, calling, for example, the positioning of missile defense systems on Ukrainian soil as a red line.

It’s a dizzying change from the lofty ideals that for a time seemed within reach.

When the hammer and sickle were last lowered from the Kremlin, Ukraine was home to the world’s third nuclear arsenal. In those heady days, world leaders dared to dream of permanent peace and ever-expanding democracy.

Below the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security promises from Russia and other signatories, including the United States. Moscow pledged to “respect the independence and sovereignty as well as the existing borders of Ukraine”. The United States and the United Kingdom, for their part, pledged to “seek immediate action from the United Nations Security Council to provide assistance to Ukraine” in the event that “Ukraine becomes the victim of a aggression ”. Identical Budapest memoranda were signed by Belarus and Kazakhstan, other former Soviet states from the defunct USSR in possession of nuclear arsenals.

To read the NATO-Russia agreement of 1997 today is to revisit a period of hope and optimism. It’s also a disheartening reminder of how Russia’s democratic promise has been betrayed by its current leader.

Ukraine suspended its part of the deal, transferring thousands of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons to Russia and dismantling its vast nuclear military infrastructure.

While then Russian President Boris Yelstin was still in power, Russia and Ukraine were making progress towards building democracy in their respective countries. Embracing parallel political aspirations, Moscow and Kiev have formalized their goal of staying on good terms with each other. In April 1997, they signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership, reiterating their mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The treaty was renewed automatically every 10 years, but after Russia captured Crimea in 2014, Ukraine decided to let the treaty expire, which had been rendered useless by Russia’s actions. It officially ended in 2019.

Then there was the agreement that Russia signed with NATO, also in 1997, the full name of which is the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation. Russia.

To read the Founding Act today is to revisit a time of hope and optimism. It’s also a disheartening reminder of how Russia’s democratic promise was betrayed by its current leader, who would not come to power until three years later.

You can feel the excitement in Official summary of the NATO agreement. “The cold war,” he said, “has been replaced by the promise of closer cooperation between former adversaries.” The Founding Act, he explains, “is the expression of a lasting commitment… to build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area”. The contrast to the current acrimony could not be sharper.

The hopeful tone is found in the same way in the text of the agreement, which is now blatantly raped by Moscow.

The parties declare their intention to “build together a lasting and inclusive peace … on the principles of democracy and cooperative security”. They further agree to work together on the basis of common values ​​and principles, including “recognition of the vital role that democracy, political pluralism, the rule of law and respect for human and civil liberties” play in development. prosperity and security. .

They agree to “refrain from resorting to the threat or use of force against each other as well as against any other State, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity or its political independence”. And they undertake to respect the “inherent right of all States to choose the means of ensuring their own security, the inviolability of borders and the right of peoples to self-determination”.

Now it all looks like a catalog of Moscow’s violations against Kiev. Ukraine’s territorial integrity has been shattered in Crimea, and Russia’s involvement in the Donbass is difficult to reconcile with its commitments to Ukraine and NATO. The demand that NATO exclude any further expansion runs counter to Russia’s recognition in the Founding Act of the right of every state to choose the means of ensuring its security.

Putin now claims his demands and increasingly aggressive posture are a response to the West’s actions, but this is manipulative tactical rhetoric detached from reality. Ukraine has requested more weapons from NATO due to the Russian threat. That he wants to join NATO when his neighbor has swallowed up part of its territory is hardly surprising.

This is far from Putin’s first attempt to distort the reality of the situation in Ukraine. In 2014, after first denying Russia’s presence in Crimea, then declaring he did not intend to annex the territory, Putin deployed a multitude of rhetorical contortions to justify the seizure. He claimed that he was defending the rights and wishes of Russian speakers there, and that the Ukrainian state which signed the Budapest memorandum no longer existed after the pro-democracy Maidan revolution.

Now that Russia is violating agreements such as the Founding Act and the Budapest Memorandum which are still technically in force, some have argued that it is time for the West to declare them null and void, removing the constraints they impose on NATO to protect its most vulnerable members, that is to say those closest to Russia’s borders, in particular the Baltic States. Among other provisions, the Founding Act limits the number of troops that NATO can station in Eastern European member states, all of which are former Soviet republics or satellite states that joined the alliance after the dissolution of the Alliance. the USSR.

The collapse of the accords signed by Moscow in the 1990s is perhaps the most dramatic proof of the fallout from the undemocratic wave sweeping the world, a reminder that less democracy tends to mean less peace. The euphoria of 30 years ago has now been replaced by mounting tensions and the looming threat of a new war in Europe.

Frida Ghitis is a columnist for world affairs. A former producer and CNN correspondent, she is a regular contributor to CNN and the Washington Post. His WPR column appears every Thursday. Follow her on Twitter at @fridaghitis.


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