The Kremlin's claims are baseless

Ben Wallace, Minister of Defense of the United Kingdom

I can no longer count how many times recently I had to explain the meaning of the English term "straw man" to my European allies. This is because the best, living example of a "straw man" at the moment is the Kremlin's claim that it is under threat from NATO. In recent weeks, the Russian defense minister's comment that the United States was "preparing a provocation with chemical components in eastern Ukraine" made the "straw man" even bigger.

Obviously, the Kremlin wants us all to get involved in this false claim, instead of disputing the real agenda of the President of the Russian Federation. An examination of the facts quickly disproves the allegations against NATO.

First, NATO is, to its core, defensive in nature. At the heart of the organization is Article no. 5 which obliges all members to assist a fellow member if attacked. Without any additional conditions. Mutual self-defense is a cornerstone of NATO. This obligation protects us all. Allies as far away as Turkey and Norway; or close like Latvia and Poland, all benefit from the pact and are obliged to respond. It's really a defensive alliance.

Second, the former Soviet states did not "expand" into NATO, but joined at their request. The Kremlin tries to present NATO as a conspiracy of the West to invade its territory, but in reality the growth of the Alliance's membership is a natural response of those countries to malicious activities and threats.

Third, the claim that NATO wants to encircle the Russian Federation is baseless. Only five of the 1 allies are Russia's neighbors, with only 16/XNUMX of its borders bordering NATO. If the definition of being surrounded is that 6% of your perimeter is blocked, then no doubt the brave people who fought in Arnhem or Leningrad in World War II would have something to say about it.

The Kremlin is not really threatened by the deployment of NATO forces, but by the attractiveness of its values. Just as we know that his actions really relate to how President Putin interprets history and his unfinished ambitions for Ukraine.

We know that because last summer he published his article on the official website of the Government "On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians". I urge you to read it, if you have the time, because although it covers his arguments, it lacks accuracy and is full of contradictions.

We should all be concerned because what flows from President Putin's own pen is a XNUMX-word essay that puts ethno-nationalism at the heart of his ambitions. Not the narrative that is being sold now. Not the "straw man" of NATO invasion. It provides a distorted and selective mindset to justify, at best, the subjugation of Ukraine and, at worst, the forced unification of that sovereign country.

President Putin's article completely ignores the wishes of the people of Ukraine, evoking the same type of ethno-nationalism that has prevailed across Europe for centuries and still has the potential to awaken the same destructive forces of ancient hatred. Readers will not only be shocked by the tone of the article but also surprised by how little NATO is mentioned. Isn't NATO "expansionism" the source of all the Kremlin's worries? In fact, only one paragraph is dedicated to NATO.

The essay contains three statements. The first is that the West is trying to use the division to "rule" Russia. The second: that everything but a single nation of Great Russia, Little Russia and Belarus (Great Russia, Malorussia, Belarus) in the 17th century format is an artificial construction and defies the wishes of a people, with a single language and church. Third, that anyone who disagrees does so out of hatred or phobia towards Russia.

We can reject the first claim. Nobody wants to rule Russia. It is obvious that, like any other country, the citizens of a country are left to determine their own future. Russia's lessons from conflicts like Chechnya must surely be that ethnic and religious conflicts cost thousands of innocent lives, and the protagonists are stuck in decades of squabbling.

As for Ukraine, Russia itself has recognized its sovereignty as an independent state and guaranteed its territorial integrity, not just by signing the The Memorandum from Budapest in 1994, but also her Friendship agreement with Ukraine in 1997. However, it is the Kremlin, not the West, that has begun to increase divisions in that country and several others in Europe. The numerous efforts of the GRU and other Russian agencies to interfere in democratic elections and domestic disputes are well documented. The "divide and rule" policy suits Moscow best, not NATO.

Probably the most important and widespread claim that Ukraine is Russia and Russia is Ukraine is not exactly as it is presented. Ukraine has been separated from Russia for much longer in its history than it has ever been united. Secondly, the accusation that all the peoples of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine are descendants of the "Ancient Russians" and therefore somehow all Russians. But in reality, according to historian Professor Andrew Wilson in his excellent essay on RUSI entitled "Russia and Ukraine: 'One Nation' as Putin claims?" they are at best "relatives, but not the same people." In the same way Britain around 900 AD. It consisted of Mercia, Wessex, York, Strathclyde, and other pre-modern kingdoms, but it was a civic nation of many peoples, backgrounds, and ethnicities that eventually formed the United Kingdom.

If you start and stop looking at Russian history between 1654 and 1917, then you can come up with arguments for a wider Russia, perhaps following the Russian tsar's motto of the Russian Empire "Sovereign of All Russia: Big, Small and White". - Russia, Ukraine and Belarus respectively. And most importantly, you must forget about "before" and "after" in history. You must ignore the existence of the Soviet Union, the violation of the Russian-Ukrainian friendship agreement and the occupation of Crimea. I'm sure you will agree that these are much more than footnotes in history.

Ironically, President Putin himself admits in his essay that "things are changing: countries and communities are no exception. Of course, a part of a nation in the process of its development, under the influence of a number of reasons and historical circumstances, may at some point become aware of itself as a separate nation. How to treat it? There is only one answer: with respect! ”However, he then goes on to dismiss some of those“ historical circumstances ”in order to answer everything with his own claims.

It is questionable to say the least, but it is by no means a prospect that justifies either the occupation of Crimea (in the same way Russia occupied Crimea in 1783 in defiance of the Russian-Turkish Kuchuk-Kainarji Treaty of 1774), or any further invasion of modern Ukraine as an independent sovereign country.

The latest accusation against the West by many in the Russian government is that those who disagree with the Kremlin are somehow Russophobic. Leaving aside the fact that GRU officers deployed nerve agents on British streets or that cyber hacking and targeted assassinations originated in the Russian state, the allegations of Russophobia could not be further from the truth.

Russia and the United Kingdom share a deep and often mutually beneficial history. Our alliances finally helped to defeat Napoleon and later Hitler. Beyond conflicts, we have shared technology, medicine and culture over the centuries. During the 18th century, Russia and Britain were deeply connected. Between 1704 and 1854, from the time of Peter the Great to Catherine the Great until the 19th century, the British could be found as admirals, generals, surgeons and architects at the highest level in the Russian court. The father of the Russian Navy - Samuel Gregg - was born in Inverking in Fife.

That mutual respect is sincere even today. The British government is not in dispute with Russia and the Russian people - far from it - but opposes the Kremlin's malicious activities.

Well, if one cold January or February night, Russian troops re-enter sovereign Ukraine, ignore the "straw man" narratives and false stories of NATO aggression, and remember the words of the Russian president in that essay from last summer. . Remember it and ask yourself what it means, not only for Ukraine, but for all of us in Europe. What does that mean next time…

This article is published on the official website of the Government of the United Kingdom. 

Downloaded translation from Civil Media

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