Explaining Putin?

The LA Times recently published an article that attempts to “explain” Mr. Putin’s motivations for intervening in Ukraine.  Here is the key point

Key to the Russian leader’s increasingly adversarial dealings with the West, analysts say, is the deep sense of betrayal Putin felt when NATO reneged on what Moscow believed was a promise never to extend into the former Soviet sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe.

It is time to call bull puckey on this one.  To see why this is bull puckey, you need only understand one thing — NATO’s expansion in the early post-Soviet period was not anti-Russian. To the contrary, efforts were made back then to include Russia in NATO planning. There was even talk of Russia joining NATO. The Russians understood this at the time, and were open to it.

That may sound odd now, but keep in mind that back in 1993 and 1994, the conventional wisdom was that the cold war was over. Russia, along with all of Eastern Europe and Eurasia would now join the ranks of European nations. The European institutional framework — including the security framework — had to expand to make that possible. NATO expansion was a logical part of this, as NATO was beginning to shift its focus to embrace broader security issues, like terrorism.

A key part of this process was reforming ROL- rule of law. Russia and all of the other countries in the region were racing forward to reform their legal systems to provide western style property and human rights protections. It was thought that with these in place, politics would become boring again. The old hot spots of the region would cool off as they have in Europe itself. As Fukuyama argued, “history would be over”.

Much has happened since then. And an effect of this event overload is amnesia about the importance that rule of law reform played in forging a post-Soviet coalition of states in the early and mid 1990’s. We have come a long way from that position, and not necessarily in the right direction.

So let us not be fooled by self serving rhetoric about a mythical betrayal. We did not start the current chain of events with a betrayal. To the contrary, it was started with an invitation to the party. Some nations accepted that invitation and some did not. But those that refused made that decision for their own reasons. Not because they had been threatened or excluded or betrayed.

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