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An Existential Threat to Europe’s Security Architecture?

What happens next in Ukraine depends on the West’s readiness for dialogue, says Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

By , Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov speaks in San Francisco on Nov. 29, 2017.
Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov speaks in San Francisco on Nov. 29, 2017.
Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov speaks in San Francisco on Nov. 29, 2017.

To understand Russia, you have to understand our history. Over the centuries, our country has suffered attacks from all directions. We had to become a warrior nation defending our homeland.

The gravest wounds of the invasion of the Nazis and their henchmen into the Soviet Union have not yet healed in the memory of the Russian people. We know the cost of human sacrifice, having laid down 27 million lives on the altar of victory, not only for our own sake but also for the liberation of the entirety of Europe from the Nazi plague.

During the Cold War, Western countries branded the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and a source of constant international tension. So, when it ceased to exist, some kind of a golden age of universal love and friendship was expected to follow.

To understand Russia, you have to understand our history. Over the centuries, our country has suffered attacks from all directions. We had to become a warrior nation defending our homeland.

The gravest wounds of the invasion of the Nazis and their henchmen into the Soviet Union have not yet healed in the memory of the Russian people. We know the cost of human sacrifice, having laid down 27 million lives on the altar of victory, not only for our own sake but also for the liberation of the entirety of Europe from the Nazi plague.

During the Cold War, Western countries branded the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and a source of constant international tension. So, when it ceased to exist, some kind of a golden age of universal love and friendship was expected to follow.

However, this did not happen. Romantic illusions were dispelled. The United States immediately began to create a new world order with Russia placed at the outskirts. When the unification of Germany was being prepared, we were assured that NATO did not plan to move eastward. When such a movement inevitably started in 1999, our counterparts claimed that these assurances were just nice friendly conversations between then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Mikhail Gorbachev without any assumed legal obligations.

We have witnessed five waves of NATO expansion since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. At various events at NATO headquarters in Brussels since 2005, Russian representatives have been told that the main threat to the alliance comes from the south—where Iran is located. To our simple question “Then why are you moving east toward Russia’s borders?” we have never received any clear answer.

In recent years, NATO’s military activity has considerably intensified. About 40 major military exercises are held annually in close proximity to Russian territory. The United States has significantly increased its strategic flights along Russian borders, during which it trains cruise missile launches at targets inside Russia. We have tracked an upsurge of naval activities of the alliance in the Black and Baltic seas. To put matters into perspective, according to the latest assessments of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the combined military expenditures of NATO countries exceed Russia’s defense budget by at least 25 times.

Now NATO’s agenda is focused on drawing Ukraine and Georgia into its membership. With the “crawling” of the alliance into Ukraine’s territory, the threat to Russia’s security is increasing sharply, as missile systems with minimum flight time to our country and other destabilizing weapons can be deployed there.

We must add here the incessant dismantling of the collective security system established after World War II. Despite our appeals, the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Treaty on Open Skies. Why? What did Washington gain?

The result of the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty was Russia’s forced decision to develop hypersonic weapons that can penetrate any missile defense system, in order to maintain strategic stability. Now they keep telling us that Russian weapons are creating a dangerous situation. This is despite the fact that “defensive” American MK 41 launchers, which are located in Romania and are to be deployed in Poland, can be adapted for launching offensive Tomahawk strike missiles. When we express concern about this, we are told, in effect: “Just trust us.”

In other words, U.S. policy toward our country looks like what is known as “compressing a spring.” Either it breaks or hits back. What should we do in such circumstances? Disregard them? Remove our troops deep into Russia, beyond the Urals?

As for the barrage of criticism from NATO countries regarding Russian “aggression” against Ukraine and Georgia, it is quite predictable. Our actions disrupted plans of further encroachment on Russian borders. 

The situation is extremely dangerous. No one should doubt our determination to defend our security. Everything has its limits. If our partners keep constructing military-strategic realities imperiling the existence of our country, we will be forced to create similar vulnerabilities for them. We have come to the point when we have no room to retreat. Military exploration of Ukraine by NATO member states is an existential threat for Russia.

Urgent action is needed. The principle of equal and indivisible security must be restored. This means that no single state has the right to strengthen its security at the expense of others. With political will, this can be achieved through the development of serious long-term and legally binding security guarantees.

We want to be confident in the future, and for this we need commitments from the United States and other NATO countries not to further expand the alliance and not to deploy weapons systems that pose a threat to Russia on the territories of neighboring countries, both members and nonmembers of NATO.

It is important that Washington joins the Russian unilateral moratorium on the deployment of ground-based intermediate-range missiles. Our proposals to withdraw exercise areas from the Russia-NATO contact line as well as those aimed at increasing the predictability of actions and reducing dangerous military activities require serious consideration.

Russia’s draft agreements on security guarantees have been published with a view to avoiding dishonest speculation. They do not infringe on the security of the United States and its NATO allies. On the contrary, they create conditions for de-escalation in Europe, restoration of trust, and intensification of interaction in order to solve global problems, such as the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, rebuilding of national economies, and settlement of serious issues regarding climate change.

European security is now at a crossroads. The way in which events will develop further depends on the readiness of our Western colleagues for substantive dialogue, not delaying tactics and obfuscation. As Russian President Vladimir Putin said, we are not demanding any special exclusive terms for ourselves. The Russian initiative to conclude legally binding agreements on security guarantees is aimed at ensuring equal and reliable security for all. 

Anatoly Antonov is Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

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