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The War in Ukraine. NATO Expansion or Russian Aggression?

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Protests in Pozna - against Russian agression in Ukraine
Protests in Pozna - against Russian agression in Ukraine
(Image by Bohdan Bobrowski)
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To fully understand the current situation in Ukraine, one has to first understand the events that took place after World War II.

The purpose behind NATO's formation was to try and prevent another major European war. Although Germany had been defeated, European security was still a concern to the United States. So, on April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) -- which consisted of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- was formed.

The Soviet Union was an ally of the United States during World War II. However, after the United States dropped two atom bombs on Japan in 1945, the Soviet Union launched an espionage operation to acquire the secrets to building their own bomb. Four years later, the Soviet Union detonated its first atom bomb on August 29, 1949. After that test, the United States -- and NATO's -- main focus turned from European security to providing defense against the Soviet Union.

NATO's focus would change again; after the end of the Cold War in 1989, and three years later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992.

The Soviet Union, fearing a post-World War II military build-up in West Germany, had requested in 1954 to join NATO, but was rejected by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

West Germany joined NATO on May 9, 1955. In response to West Germany joining NATO, five days later, the Soviet Union and seven other Eastern European countries -- Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania -- formed the Warsaw Pact on May 14, 1955. Approximately 36 years later, the Warsaw Pact formally ended in Prague, Czechoslovakia on July 1, 1991.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, NATO had a new focus. It began to expand eastward as former Warsaw Pact countries lobbied to join NATO. The expansion brought new NATO member countries into direct contact with the border of Russia, increasing the risk of military tensions between Russia, NATO countries, and the United States. This caused Russia to regard NATO's expansion as an attempt to restrict Russia's global influence.

In 1999 Vladimir Putin became the president of Russia and the country's prime minister. The Russian military intervention into Georgia in 2008, as well as the military intervention, occupation, and annexation of parts of Ukraine and Crimea in 2014, displayed Putin's foreign policy as an attempt to rebuild the former Soviet Union.

In a revised Russian military defense doctrine signed by Putin in December of 2014, NATO was explicitly named as Russia's main adversary. The newly revised defense doctrine further defended Russia's right to use conventional and nuclear weapons in the case of attack or perceived aggression.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a new defense doctrine that identifies NATO as the chief threat to Russian security and claims the right to use nuclear weapons to counter any aggression that "threatens the very existence" of Russia.

The revisions to the 2010 defense mission statement were few but appeared intended to put further pressure on the United States and the Western military alliance to cease courting Ukraine as an economic and strategic ally.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has moved forces closer to Russia's borders in response to the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and its dramatically increased challenges of the alliance's airspace and maritime borders.

The new defense doctrine cites NATO troop deployments and induction of former Soviet-allied states as the top threat to Russian security.

What does the future hold for Ukraine?

Russia's [February 2022] invasion of Ukraine has triggered a careful balancing act on the part of NATO allies, who are eager to see Russia fail but also unwilling to jump into the war directly. This reflects the same challenge that has confronted the West vis-a-vis Ukraine for two decades: how to foster a sovereign Ukraine independent of Russia without necessarily inviting Kyiv into NATO or the EU.

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Jack Lindauer has written for the Los Angeles Daily Journal newspaper. He is a Los Angeles based filmmaker. He writes on foreign policy issues. He studied Political Science at Harvard University, with a concentration in U.S. Public Policy.

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