Russia’s Humiliation Narrative of NATO expansion is mostly domestic propaganda

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In recent years, the tendency to misremember past debacles as humiliations has emerged as one of the salient features of the Kremlin’s conduct of international affairs. Amid recriminations over US and western European interventions in Kosovo, Libya and Syria, the Russian leadership has begun to question the legitimacy of the international agreements on which the current European order is founded. Among these, the centrepiece is the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany of 12 September 1990, also known as the Two-plus-Four Treaty because it was signed by the two Germanys, plus the US, the Soviet Union, Britain and France.

Yet the claim that the negotiations towards this treaty included guarantees barring Nato from expansion into Eastern Europe is entirely unfounded. In the discussions leading to the treaty, the Russians never raised the question of Nato enlargement, other than in respect of the former East Germany. Regarding this territory, it was agreed that after Soviet troop withdrawals German forces assigned to Nato could be deployed there but foreign Nato forces and nuclear weapons systems could not. There was no commitment to abstain in future from eastern Nato enlargement. . . .

In a recent interview, Gorbachev distanced himself from earlier statements to concede that no agreements had been breached. “The topic of Nato expansion was not discussed at all. It wasn’t brought up in those years.” And when the issue arose later, in the early 1990s, “Russia at first did not object.” Following the Duma allegations of “annexation” of East Germany by West Germany, Gorbachev protested, warning that “our appraisal of the past should not be based on today’s views”. Sadly, it seems likely that this warning and others like it will fall on deaf ears in the Kremlin.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union there have been challenges and power plays on both sides. But misframing the past as a narrative of deceptions, betrayals and humiliations is a profoundly dangerous move. Today, as in 1908, tales of Russian victimisation play potently to domestic opinion.


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Humiliation as a Tool of Blackmail

An analysis of the Kremlin’s “Weimar syndrome”, and why so many Western elites believe in it.