Monday

20th Feb 2017

Opinion

Denouncing myths on Nato and Ukraine

  • Linkevicius: 'Values underpin the success of our societies' (Photo: eu2013.lt)

Lately, there has been a great deal of analytical effort in Western media denouncing Russian propaganda on Ukraine.

Very substantial, timely and informative stories deny the Russian narrative of "the Western-sponsored violent overthrow of a democratic Ukrainian leader by bandits-fascists, threatening the Russian speaking minority in Ukraine" and the "peaceful Russian support to democratic forces in Ukraine, with Crimea's return to mother Russia".

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The Russian narrative does not stick.

However, there are myths that we in Europe still exploit ourselves, advocating our opponent's case more strongly than they do themselves.

First, that the West provoked Russia by pushing Ukraine to the West – that Ukraine pursued this path means it is equally at fault.

This is akin to criticising a gazelle, or any other animal for that matter, for having to live near a lion. In fact, Russian behavior is simply illustrated by a popular line from the the fables of Ivan Krylov: "Ты виноват уж тем, что хочется мне кушать" meaning "your fault is that I’m hungry" or "the weak against the strong is always in the wrong".

Indeed, it is very provocative to seek independence, to choose one's own way without the indulgence of a big neighbour.

The only fact that somehow doesn’t fit this myth is that many EU and Nato members already have strong trade, cultural and political ties with Russia. So maybe it is still possible to work this out?

Of course, but only if one doesn’t have to perceive others as adversaries, if one doesn’t apply a zero-sum mentality. The West even offered Russia a "reset", which failed because it wasn't sufficient, as it were, to simply push a button. The software needs changing too.

And here comes the second myth: by pursuing its own projects, the West (the EU and Nato) left Russia aside, thus provoking its hostility, when in fact Russia never ceased to perceive the West as an adversary.

Such a mindset left (and will always leave) us carrying the blame for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Three years ago, during the visit of the North Atlantic Council to Sochi, I had a chance to ask the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev the following question: "We confirmed Russia as a future strategic partner in our most recent Security Strategy, while your military doctrine defines Nato's enlargement as the biggest danger. When are you going to change this?"

The answer did not come, neither did an explanation, as to why the same doctrine defines the defence of Russian speakers outside Russia as a military task.

After the Russian invasion in Georgia in 2008 the answer to this question became more than clear.

The scenario is simple: people in a foreign country are given Russian passports (in Abkhazia and South Ossetia), then "suddenly" a conflict breaks out, preferably an armed one, followed by the invasion of the Russian army seeking to "stabilise" the situation.

We did not learn then from this precedent. Everything calmed down, making it a perfect case for repetition, and this did not take too long to happen.

Except this time no effort was made to give the impression of instability in Crimea, far from it. There was simply a fully-armed army without insignia – the so called "self-defence" force of Crimea – that started to bring "order".

Once again we are hoping that somehow everything will get back to "normal". Then it will be Transniestria's turn, followed by . . .

When a permanent member of the UN Security Council embarks on redrawing the European map, simply by bluffing and lying, as well as by using its right to veto to block any resolutions or efforts to stop the aggression, Russia’s idea that the Cold war is over and that Nato should dissolve does not become more convincing.

And here comes the third and last myth: OK, we strengthened the EU and Nato, but there is no need to further provoke Russia with more enlargement.

Let us remind ourselves that Russia has self-consciously chosen not to pursue the path of achieving common security, while all Nato enlargements have strengthened security in Europe and beyond.

This year we celebrate the 15, 10 and five year anniversaries of Nato enlargement in which 12 new members were welcomed. Since then our countries have made important contributions to Nato missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans. We have committed our troops to Nato standing reaction forces, trained together and established centers of excellence.

We jointly enlarged the secure skies over Europe with an air-policing mission over the Baltic countries and Slovenia. We send ships and experts to repel illicit trafficking in the Mediterranean and pirates off the coast of Africa. By the way, we invited Russia to join these efforts.

We are united by the understanding that values underpin the success of our societies. That peace and democracy need not only our respect, but vigilant protection. All co-operation is oriented in support of these values, rather than against someone.

That is why we should pursue the Nato Open Door policy at the Nato summit in Cardiff this September, with four aspirant countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro – awaiting strong signals.

To express our support, Lithuania will host a meeting of those countries' ministers and their regional partners in Vilnius on 3 to 4 April.

Let us not fall in the trap of self-fulfilling myths but instead focus on convincing, by our own example, that unlike a conspiracy-led world view, democratic value-based alliances contribute to the greater good.

The writer is the foreign minister of Lithuania

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