The war is not just in Ukraine
All throughout this summer, Russia was in Ukraine with its weapons, ammunition and direct support for the Ukrainian rebels, now it appears that it is there also with its troops, tanks and aerial combat capabilities. Russia’s iron-handed leader Vladimir Putin has started showing the military, particularly nuclear capabilities of the “new Russia,” reminding NATO in a way pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept) principle or else face the consequences.
What was the pact? It was the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation signed in Paris on May 27, 1997. Not only the Russian bear tilted toward domestication for the first time in recent history, but NATO directly or tacitly agreed to respect Russia’s economic, political and even military lebensraum (to put it mildly, living area) in its former republics, particularly Ukraine. Why Ukraine? Because Russian nationalism considers Ukraine territory as Novorossiya or “New Russia” and thus, as part of their historical heritage. Well as regards Novorossiya there is a Turkish connection (and a British and Cypriot one), as Turkey leased Cyprus for 92,799 sterling pounds to the British in exchange for support in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1778. After the area was captured from the Turks, the region that constitutes most of today’s Ukraine was named Novorossiya.
Pacta sunt servanda easier said than done. The conditions of 1997 and of 2014 are two totally different things. In 1997, the conditions of “membership for peace” and such formulae could help save face and hush up the former Soviet republics demanding NATO membership. Yet, the Russia in despair in the dissolution-era of the Soviets and the Russia of economic and military might created by the stable high oil and gas prices for almost the past 15 years or so is another reality. Continued growth, political stability and a robust economy financed by high oil and gas prices produced a new Russia that could threaten the West to accept a new world order under its terms or face a conventional or nuclear catastrophe... Putin’s remarks implying such a veiled threat was, of course, not at all a masterly statesmanlike behavior, but I believe he did not aim to deliver a statement of such caliber at all.
Now, what will NATO do if Ukraine demands full membership? Already the Ukrainian leadership has been saying the country has indeed come under Russian occupation, there were Russian tanks and thousands of Russian troops on its territory and worse, rebels were being supported and abetted with every means by the Russians. Kyiv has been stressing it has no other option but to demand NATO membership.
Well, the famous Article 5 of the NATO charter stresses any attack on any member shall be treated as an attack on all members and the response will be in that fashion, what if a new member comes in with an already continuing conflict with a non-member? Should NATO allow such membership and thus import a confrontation as well?
Morally, it is a fact that the West played a role in the development of the Ukranian situation. The Orange Revolution, counter revolution and such business did not develop on their own. Pro-EU people were brought in. Now the bill has been placed at the doorstep, will NATO pay it? Or does it have the option to not pay it? If it says the Russian occupation of Ukraine is none of its business, cannot allow it in and become party to a confrontation involving at least two countries and elements supported by a foreign government, then for example, will the West in general, but NATO in particular, have a say on Georgia?
Giving a week-long ultimatum to Putin might sound well to ears, but what indeed can the West do other than imposing self-ruining sanctions on Russia? Can NATO indeed accept to return the least to the Cold War era or launch a third world war with Russia and its probable satellites?
This is an existential test for the West.