ANALYSIS - Russia’s reaction to NATO’s Madrid summit remains limited

As Russian actions unite western organizations, their moves also reinforce counter-unity measures between Moscow and Beijing

Prof. Dr. Ilyas Kemaloglu  | 04.07.2022 - Update : 04.07.2022
ANALYSIS - Russia’s reaction to NATO’s Madrid summit remains limited

The writer teaches history at Marmara University.


One of the important and interesting features of the history of Russia is that its ties with the West were good when it was weak and had problems. Its relations deteriorated with the West when it was stronger and started to pursue an active foreign policy. This is true for all periods of Russian history --Tsardom, the USSR, and present-day Russia.

Powerful Russia has always been perceived as a threat to European security. This factor had a great impact on the unification of Poland and Lithuania in 1569, ganging up the entire Europe stand against it when declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1853, and also on the establishment of NATO after World War II.

Events at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century are appropriate instances to back this claim. In the first years after the collapse of the USSR, Moscow romanticized the West. Relations with the West deteriorated as Russia became stronger and increased its influence in the former Soviet geography and in the regions where the USSR was once influential. Moscow’s policy has virtually resurrected the disintegrating European Union (EU) and NATO, which, in the opinion of the Russians, "should complete its mission with the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc.”

In recent months, the EU and NATO have brought enlargement processes on their agenda. At the NATO leader's summit held in Madrid from June 28-30, Sweden and Finland were invited to join the alliance, and at the EU Leaders' summit held in Brussels on June 23, Ukraine and Moldova were given the status of "candidate country". Therefore, it can be said that Moscow's foreign policy has created a new area of activity for both the EU and NATO.

Russia's response to both enlargements has also been very interesting. Russian officials stated that they are not against the EU membership of Ukraine and Moldova and that the NATO membership of the two Nordic countries is not a development that should worry Russia. It is possible to explain this approach with a few points.

The expansion of the EU is undoubtedly not as much of a problem for Russia as the enlargement of NATO. However, until recently, Moscow was also against the expansion of the EU. Undoubtedly, these memberships will take many years and the result is uncertain, even as Kremlin will get what it wants from Ukraine by then. Additionally, even in this case, membership in these countries does not seem possible.

Change in NATO’s strategic concept

As for the NATO memberships of Sweden and Finland; Russian authorities tried to dissuade them from membership, stating that Russia never posed a threat to them. Moreover, although the two Nordic countries have managed to remain neutral until today, they already stand practically integrated with western organizations. Rather than their NATO membership, what matters most for the Kremlin is whether important military technologies will be deployed in the territories of these two countries.

In recent months, Swedish and Finnish authorities have announced that they will not allow nuclear weapons to be placed on their soil. Therefore, it is possible to explain why their memberships do not concern Russia. Also, Russian officials say that this expansion of NATO will not go unanswered. NATO's expansion on the Russian border also means Russia's expansion toward the NATO borders.

The strategic concept adopted at the NATO summit has other elements as well that concern Moscow. Russia, which was called a "strategic partner" in the previous concept of NATO in 2010 has now been described as "the most significant and direct threat to security, peace, and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area" in 2022.

In this direction, the NATO administration is increasing its military presence on the borders of Russia. Accordingly, the number of soldiers in the NATO Response Force will be increased from 40,000 to 300,000 and some of them will be deployed on the Russian border. In addition, technologies that can counter possible attacks will be sent to Poland and the Baltic countries. Again, the number of US soldiers in the UK, Spain, and other countries will also be increased.

The decisions taken at the NATO summit to provide financial and military support to Ukraine until the end and to continue to work on Ukraine's membership process to NATO are also issues that disturb Russia. These decisions are not surprising, and Russia's response will not be surprising either. It seems that Moscow will increase the number of troops and military technologies in Belarus, Kaliningrad, and on the Swedish-Finnish border. Yet, NATO's statement that Bosnia, Georgia, and Moldova will be supported and the "doors" will be left open, shows that the Russia-NATO struggle will not be limited to Ukraine.

A "positive" development for Russia is that perhaps for the first time, its neighbor China is mentioned in NATO's concept. Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea -- China's neighbors in the Asia-Pacific – also participated in the summit. It seems that the question of "against whom NATO is expanding" which Russia has been asking for years, will also be raised by China and in this case, Beijing will enhance its cooperation with Moscow.

Unity and counter-unity move

In other words, just as Russia causes unity in western organizations, the West is reinforcing the Russian-Chinese alliance. It seems that, in this development, Moscow aims to break the diplomatic embargo and gain economic benefits with countries such as Brazil, India, and South Africa, besides China, as part of bilateral relations and also through BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

There is no obstacle to the development of cooperation in the military field among these countries. The interesting thing is that while a few years ago Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was considered an alternative to NATO, however, its name is not even mentioned today.

The decisions taken at the NATO summit are not new for Russia. Perceiving Russia as the main threat, helping Ukraine, keeping NATO's doors open for other countries, and NATO's increasing military presence, especially in Eastern Europe, were already known and expected moves. That is why the reaction of the Russian authorities is limited, and they determine their policy accordingly.

As it can be understood from NATO's new strategic concept which will be valid until 2030, the Russia-NATO brawl will continue at full speed on the European front in the coming years. Although Russia and the West may not confront directly through military means, they will be at war involving third countries, as happened in the case of Ukraine.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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