Russia and the West’s Diplomatic Impertinence

Yesterday, on the eve of the start of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Wales, the Russian government rejected calls to reformulate the NATO-Russia Council’s founding treaty, a document dating back to 1997 that sets the limits for the deployment of the military alliance’s troops in Eastern Europe.

Moscow’s refusal has been preceded by insistence by Washington and its allies to modify that document, arguing for a reinforcement of their “collective self-defense” in view of the conflict developing in Ukraine. Yesterday, in a joint op-ed, U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron* said that “Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil” and that “we must use our military to ensure a persistent presence in eastern Europe,” which would violate the principles of said document.

This new episode of verbal clashes is indicative of the level of tension to which relations between both blocs have been brought, in great part as a consequence of the lack of restraint and even diplomatic impertinence of the West. In fact, the desire to modify the NATO-Russia founding treaty — a document that, it must be remembered, has been a fundamental pillar of stability in the region — does not contribute anything to containing the violence that is taking place in Ukraine, a country that, after all, is not part of the Atlantic alliance. On the contrary, the measure would encourage the Kremlin’s endless resistance to having a Western military presence within its sphere of influence, and would strain relations between Moscow, Washington and Brussels even more, in addition to possibly increasing divisions within the military alliance between those members who have called for respecting the conditions of the 1997 treaty — Germany, for example — and those who insist on modifying them at the West’s convenience.

Significantly, in the op-ed mentioned, the American and British leaders reaffirmed their determination to fight against the fundamentalist organization the Islamic State and affirmed that their countries “will not be cowed by barbaric killers.” Voluntarily or involuntarily, Obama and Cameron thus connected two subjects that bear no relation to each other beyond their being on the West’s geopolitical priority agenda, in a gesture that is reminiscent of the attempts by several officials during the George W. Bush administration to establish, without any basis in fact, an alleged “axis of evil.” In this case, that attitude is doubly inappropriate if we take into account that Russia should be a fundamental ally of the U.S. against the Islamic State.

Furthermore, in an extremely delicate scenario such as the current one, with civil wars in Syria and Ukraine, and with the added component of Islamic State violence, gestures such as the one mentioned, whether a product of clumsiness or bad faith, sow the seed of additional tension and instability, and could end up becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. In the end, historical experience indicates that the main incentive for the development of geopolitical alliances opposed to Washington is, precisely, the White House’s proverbial hostility.

*The original article incorrectly identifies the British Prime Minister as James Cameron.

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