23:46 GMT03 August 2020
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    Russia-NATO Relations Reach a New Low (121)

    The ongoing military escalation against Russia may have consequences that nobody really wants. It's high time for the West to try and find a means to reduce tensions, instead of blowing the horn and accusing Russia of all mortal sins, before it's too late, a Swedish professor appealed before the NATO summit in Warsaw.

    Finland's President Sauli Niinisto and Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven (File)
    © REUTERS / Lehtikuva/Roni Rekomaa
    On July 8-9, NATO member states will gather at a major summit in Warsaw. The choice of venue is no coincidence. In recent years, Poland has, together with the Baltic states, pursued perhaps the hardest line against Russia of all NATO members, Stefan Hedlund, Professor of Eastern European Research at Uppsala University, noted in an opinion piece in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

    The Warsaw Summit will take place against the background of the most extensive military exercises Poland and the whole Baltic region has experienced ever since the Cold War. This has forced Russia to step up its training activities, which is perceived as "possible aggression." Therefore, there is no surprise in that the agenda for the Warsaw Summit will be dominated by demands for a return to the Cold War deterrence policy.

    Practical steps in this direction include a NATO force of four battalions and 4,000 men to be rotated through Poland and each of the Baltic states to put off "aggressive" Russia. What's even more important than the actual presence, however, is that it is no longer forbidden for NATO to plan military interventions. Many states, above all Germany, have earlier resisted such planning, which was considered likely to provoke Russia. Now this taboo is gone. Today, the only remaining question is how to place enough forces to ward off Putin's Russia.

    According to Hedlund, Vladimir Putin has proved to be a player willing to take big risks with a plan of restoring respect for Russia in international politics. However, his actions have been exclusively tactical, being rather responses to perceived threats. Together with the lack of both a coherent strategy and an understanding of what drives the counterparty on NATO's part, this tactical game may have dangerous consequences. Hedlund warned that the present-day risk of a nuclear escalation is larger than at any given moment since the early 1980s.

    "While the Russian side is driven by myths and conspiracy theories about the sinister ambitions of the West to destroy Russia, the West is largely motivated by the sense of moral superiority that manifests itself in arrogant lectures on universal values, as well as the clear message that Russia does no longer deserve to be in the "fine" rooms," Hedlund wrote.

    According to Hedlund, the crisis in Ukraine is a sad example of the dramatic lack of understanding. Although Russia from the very beginning made it clear that it was a serious conflict of interests, fraught with potentially very serious consequences, the Western politicians insisted on a conflict of values.

    The crisis in Ukraine was provoked by the Swedish-Polish ambition to include Kiev into the Eastern Partnership with the EU, notwithstanding the direct confrontation with Russia, Hedlund pointed out. Whereas Russia took steps to assert its interests, the Western response boiled down to endless moral condemnation, which further escalated the tensions. The West's stubborn adherence to values as the guideline for its relationship in Russia has led the relation into a blind alley, with the Russian public opinion being increasingly critical of the US and Europe.

    "There is nothing wrong with having values. They are good reasons why politicians are so keen about talking values as the basis of their own policies. Besides creating a simplistic worldview in black and white, where the opponent is always wrong, by definition, it also leaves room for a foreign policy, where politicians can outbid each other by claiming to be holier that the Pope," Hedlund wrote. "Should the worst happen, we can always console ourselves with the fact that our values were superior, and that we had morality on our side," he concluded sarcastically.

    Russia-NATO Relations Reach a New Low (121)


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