Yevgeny Kiselyov of Ekho Moskvy radio wonders why the Kremlin is making such a fuss over NATO, and points out that this is creating tensions between many Russian elites (who may enjoy frequent travels to the West) and the government.
Since the country’s presidential elections are over, what purpose would it serve now to continue frightening voters about a fifth column and supposed enemies who have encircled Russia because they do not want to see it get up off its knees? The average Russian actually cares little about NATO expansion. But if you stop him on the street and ask him, “Are you for or against Ukraine joining NATO?” he will probably answer “against.” That is how he has been taught to think. This is not surprising considering that state propaganda has hammered into his head for decades that NATO is an aggressive bloc that once menaced the Soviet Union and now threatens Russia? But if you were to ask him to list his fears and concerns, I would guess that NATO membership for Kiev and Tbilisi would never enter his mind. Instead, he would mention inflation, rampant corruption, abuse of power by the police, a lack of justice, traffic jams and a host of other issues without ever mentioning NATO.
Russians have already heard Putin cry wolf with regard to NATO’s eastward expansion. The former Warsaw Pact countries of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary all joined the alliance without any terrible consequences for Russia. Following that, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria joined its ranks, bringing NATO up to Russia’s border. Nothing frightening came of that either.During a recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin made an extremely important statement. “Under modern conditions, when there is no longer confrontation between two hostile systems, an endless expansion of the military and political alliance is not only impractical, but counterproductive,” he said.In other words, Putin admitted that NATO did not represent a military threat to Russia. What is actually bothering him then? His further comments provide the answer: “It would seem that attempts are being made to create an organization to take the place of the United Nations. NATO is already going beyond the scope of its mandate. We have nothing against helping Afghanistan, but … this is not a NATO problem.”So that is the chip Putin been carrying around on his shoulder. He is worried that the entire framework of international relations is changing — that alongside the United Nations, where Russia enjoys the privilege of being a permanent Security Council member with veto power, NATO is rivaling its global influence. And because this organization requires member countries to observe basic democratic values and procedures, Moscow might find itself on the sidelines.