In this interview, Ambassador Beyrle offered a number of very interesting opinions, and his assessment appears to be absolutely spot on. So far as it goes, I agree with much that he says, and while I agree we’re not at a break point with the Russians, we are at a point where the prevailing opinion in Russia is against the United States.
As we move forward in our attempts to understand, it is important to realize where they see themselves, and where they see both Europe and the United States. From this interview, we can readily see that we are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as pushing the interests of NATO into that zone that Russia sees as the necessary “Buffer” against invasion from the West. While we are very quick to assert the rights of individual Nation States to govern themselves, Russia is equally driven by their own perceived self interest, and individualism or individual rule within a neighbor simply isn’t a concern for them.
Historically, the Russians may well have a valid basis for expressing their concerns. After all, the terrain and proximity to a formerly aggressive Europe (and other neighbors) has been the stuff of both legend, and a heinousness almost beyond human comprehension. From the Mongol Hordes, to Napoleon, the Crimean War, and right on down through Nazi Germany, invasions were almost a national past time for the Russians. Thus, their national self interest dictates that they have a buffer of land to allow them to defend themselves. Add to this the demographics of a highly populated western Russia, with the sparsely populated eastern part of the country, and you will see that if NATO pushes up against their border, they believe that they will lose the ability to have what is known as “defense in depth.”
Against this paradigm, it is important to remember that while some of us might see the world through rose colored glasses, other nations decidedly do not. Russia doesn’t, and this is something important for us to remember as we tread the tight rope known as foreign diplomacy. They do not trust us, nor do they really trust their neighbors. Of course, trust is a two-way street, since there is little doubt that we should not trust them either. We just need to remember that they will expand or modify the truth to fit their agenda, and if we understand that agenda, then maybe we can use that to our advantage.
In the current situation, we have to realize that the Baltic States and Poland, who are now members of NATO, will always be seen as a threat to Russian security. Their only advantage for the present is that they are now members of NATO, which will hopefully cause Russia some pause before fermenting too much trouble. Unfortunately, the rest of the story is that the non-aligned states, such as Moldova and Ukraine, will remain politically volatile and will definitely be seen as demonstrating the worst of the western encroachment into that “buffer” space for Russia. As a result, trouble will haunt these places until the paradigm thinking in Russia changes, or there is a major shift of the reality on the ground. Sadly, I don’t see either of those things happening anytime soon. ~ Michael S. Pauley