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Russia's miscalculation has strengthened NATO

If Vladimir Putin's real target when he went to war against Ukraine was NATO, he's worse off today than he was two years ago.

He implicitly admitted as much in his speech to the Russian parliament last week when he acknowledged that the admission of formerly neutral Finland and Sweden to NATO meant Russia would have to permanently strength its border defences against a new potential danger.

In trying to neutralise one perceived threat – Ukraine in NATO– he prompted the creation of a formidable new one. Both Finland and Sweden have stronger militaries than most west European countries. The need for more burdensome defences is the opposite of Russia's original game plan.

Finland has a 1,340 km border with Russia. If peace were signed tomorrow establishing the Russian army's frontline in Ukraine as the new border, it would still be as much as a standing threat to Russian security as the old one it replaced.

Of course, Putin has no intention of signing any deal that would allow Ukraine to join NATO. But the Western alliance equally has no intention of letting Putin dictate how and where it deploys its forces in the treaty area established in central and eastern Europe since the old Soviet Warsaw Pact satellites switched sides to NATO.

Putin is trapped in a double bind - a costly and difficult war which is at a standstill in Ukraine and a geopolitical staring contest with NATO on whose outcome depends the future security of all Europe if the worst intentions attributed to Putin are true.

This is why the West is dedicated to Russia's ultimate defeat in Ukraine and why President Biden rejected Putin's opposition to Ukraine joining NATO and his demand for the removal of NATO forward forces – mainly US troops and missiles – from the countries on Russia's western border.

Putin called NATO's encirclement of Russia an “existential threat” because he knows that in any conventional war with the militarily superior alliance, Russia would lose. NATO is officially a defensive alliance but in Russia's distrustful imagination and engrained distrust of the United States, it could become an offensive one overnight. (The Americans meanwhile do not hide their contempt for Russia.)

What the Russian version leaves out is that its immediate neighbours who lived under compulsory communist rule after Word War Two fear that Putin's irredentist expansionism is an equally existential threat to themselves.

Putin called NATO's encirclement of Russia an “existential threat” because he knows that in any conventional war with the militarily superior alliance, Russia would lose. Quote

They see a resurgent Russia – no longer communist but still authoritarian - threatening their 30 years of restored democracy, security and prosperity if it prevails in Ukraine. For the Baltic states and Poland, the bear is still a bear whose power rests entirely on its superior size and its nuclear arsenal.

This is what has led to the situation in Ukraine today where the two sides are stuck in an impasse that has a certain negative convenience in the absence of any progress towards either a military or a diplomatic solution.

President Macron proposed attacking the logjam by sending NATO troops to Ukraine although it is not clear what they would do there since any involvement in the fighting would provoke an escalation on Putin's part, not excluding the use of battlefield nuclear weapons.

Preventing the first use of nuclear weapons anywhere since Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the main pre-occupation of NATO diplomacy in this war since it has been constantly dangled by Putin as a possibility. He has, in effect, a nuclear veto over the terms on which it has been fought and NATO's room for manoeuvre.

Even if NATO troops were used in a secondary role in the rear, Putin would object that their presence freed more Ukrainians to fight at the front at a time when President Zelensky's war effort is constantly hampered by a shortage of soldiers that is getting irreparably worse the longer the war lasts.

In any case, Macron was instantly disavowed by both the US and Germany, his closest EU ally and the west European country which has most neglected its military capability. It turns out the post-WW2 Germans were pacified a little too successfully.

After the admitted failure of his 2023 offensive, Zelensky is no closer to dislodging the Russians who have recently adopted a more offensive posture in order to advance their lines and potentially threaten Kiev which has been named as an objective

The loss of the capital would be a symbolic blow to the Zelensky government but not necessarily fatal in a country the size of Ukraine of which the Russians hold only 20% in the Russian-speaking east. A new seat of government could be established in Lvov or elsewhere in reliably loyalist territory while the war goes on.

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Donald is a retired journalist who wrote for the Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, and Reuters. He was a chief correspondent in Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Donald now regularly writes for The Conservative Woman.

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