The theory behind this realist view is that Russia is too weak to threaten the United States as an expansionist power, so instead of extending NATO’s eastern frontiers and supporting the right of eastern European states to join alliances of their choosing, Washington should have backed off and respected Russia’s need for a “modest security zone” against “NATO’s increasingly menacing incursions.”
The reality is that NATO has never been an existential threat to post-Soviet Russia. If Carpenter thinks it is absurd for the United States and its allies to fear Russia because it’s too weak to be the expansionist competitor that it was during the Cold War, then it’s doubly absurd for Russia to fear NATO.
Most of its members’ defense spending fell during the 2000s, while their armed forces deteriorated to such an extent that only now are they scrambling to raise defense spending and shore up their capabilities.
For most of the 2000s, the United States’ focus was trained on the Middle East, where Russia was often cooperative and the two shared some overlapping interests. Crimea’s annexation in 2014 stemmed from the possibility that Ukraine’s government after Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster might sign an association agreement with the EU, whereas the protests in Kiev leading to his removal from power weren’t remotely related to NATO.
If Putin’s apologists think that annexing Ukraine made Russia “safer” from NATO than it was five years ago, particularly now that Russia has reinvigorated NATO’s raison d'être and unleashed growth in European defense spending while prompting the United States to up its presence in eastern Europe, then they are no brilliant grand strategist.
Instead, Putin is a shortsighted opportunist who deploys anti-American rhetoric, portrays Russia as a “victim,” and uses Russia’s military modernization to solidify his domestic power.
Realists in the United States who malign NATO offer him intellectual respectability that masks the true aims of his belligerent foreign policy.
And even though it is true that Russia is vastly weaker than the United States, Russia has invested heavily in capabilities that have allowed it to dismember neighboring states, interfere in European states’ internal political processes, and harass allied states with aggressive maneuvers such as aerial near-misses, all while using its energy portfolio to coerce and blackmail European customers.
And Realists expects people to believe that Russia’s sudden “fear” of NATO in 2014 was the cause of its invasion of Ukraine?