UKRAINE CRISIS // By JONATHAN MASTERSWhy NATO Has Become a Flash Point with Russia in Ukraine

Published 24 January 2022

Russian leaders have watched with mounting resentment as the transatlantic alliance has nearly doubled its membership since the end of the Cold War. President Vladimir Putin has drawn a red line in Ukraine.

·  Russia has mobilized more than one hundred thousand troops along its border with Ukraine and is demanding major security concessions from NATO.

·  Russia alleges that U.S. leaders have broken promises they made in the early 1990s to not expand NATO’s membership eastward.

·  U.S. and NATO leaders say no such pledges were made and refuse to discuss limitations on NATO’s future expansion, but they say they are open to some security dialogue with Russia.

Tensions between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have reached the point of crisis. The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin is threatening a wider military incursion into Ukraine unless the U.S.-led alliance makes several major security concessions, including a commitment to cease expanding eastward.

Russia says that the United States and NATO have continually violated pledges allegedly made in the early 1990s that the alliance would not expand into the former Soviet bloc. Meanwhile, alliance leaders have said they are open to new diplomacy with Russia on arms control and other matters but that they are unwilling to discuss forever shutting NATO’s doors to new members.

What Is the Source of Russia’s Dispute with NATO?
Russian leaders have long been wary of the eastward expansion of NATO, particularly as the alliance opened its doors to former Warsaw Pact states and ex-Soviet republics in the late 1990s (the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland) and early 2000s (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia). Their fears grew in the late 2000s as the alliance stated its intent to admit Georgia and Ukraine at an unspecified point in the future.

For the Kremlin, the notion that Ukraine, a pillar of the Soviet Union with strong historic ties to Russia, would join NATO was a red line. “No Russian leader could stand idly by in the face of steps toward NATO membership for Ukraine. That would be a hostile act toward Russia,” Putin warned U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs William J. Burns, who is now director of the CIA, in the weeks leading up to NATO’s 2008 Bucharest Summit.