A few weeks ago, Turkey finally gave in to Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), after months of denying it. This congenial move was applauded by the United States, the United Kingdom as well as many European nations including Germany, on the accounts of a more integrated defense and deterrence against Russia’s military advances toward Europe.
It seems as if a renewed NATO-based alliance is taking form in the area surrounding the Baltic Sea, to counter Russia’s expansionist moves in the region. After Sweden and Finland’s bid to join NATO, Ukraine too planned on joining NATO once the fighting between Russia and Ukraine ended. But Ukraine’s demand has been met with a rather pessimistic response by some NATO nations who expressed their fears at a summit in Lithuania, claiming that Ukraine’s entry into NATO could accelerate Russia’s escalation in the Russo-Ukrainian War.
To understand Russia’s adamancy for victory over Ukraine, it is important to peek into the chronological events that took place in Europe and Russia, in the early 20th century. Russia as we see it today existed initially as a part of a political state namely the Soviet Union, which was birthed by the Bolshevik Revolution. This revolution gained a firm footing in Tsarist Russia, thus overthrowing the Russian Monarchy and later sending ripples of socialism around the world, a move that infuriated the West, especially the United States. So much so, the Bolshevik Revolution spread like wildfire, not only in Russia but in neighboring Eastern European Countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and Armenia. It is important to note that these countries form a buffer zone between Europe and Russia and therefore Soviet Union’s west-ward advancement rang the bells for the West, which detested and feared the spread of the Revolution further into Europe.
This rivalry played out in the world arena as The Cold War whereby the United States and Russia engaged in indirect warfare for 50 years, with Russia ready to go to all extents to propagate The Revolution and the United States aiming to resist it at all costs. It was on March 5th, 1946, a year before the start of the cold war, that former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said in his speech, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent”, the iron curtain being the ideological, socio-political as well as military barrier, placed by the Soviet Union between itself and the West. The geographical area that this curtain represented was a virtual border on the east of which lay countries like Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, and on the West of which lay countries like West Germany, Italy, and Austria.
By the end of the cold war, USSR had disintegrated and lost many of its territories including Central Asian states and Eastern European states. One of the latter was Ukraine, a geo-strategically and economically very significant country. The fragile Russian state in the post-cold War era was not fortified enough to regain its lost territories. Now after having become a military and economic might, it has set out on the mission to reconsolidate the former Soviet Union, a prologue to which we are now seeing as Russia’s military advancement in Ukraine. Russia’s westward advancement will not remain confined to Ukraine but it is only a matter of time before we see Russia advancing onto other East European states as well as Central Asian ones. It is for this reason that countries like European countries like Finland and Sweden are bidding to join NATO, to set up a military front to contain Russia’s advancement into Europe.
Just as a coin has two sides, Russia has its side of the story. Whereas Russia’s westward advancement is seen as a dire threat by the West, NATO’s increasing presence in the region is what greatly adds to Russia’s anxiety. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, simply known as NATO is a military alliance between 31 member states, that have pledged to defend each other against any third-party attacks. The member states of NATO are mostly European nations as well as the United States thereby making the alliance more inclined towards West’s foreign policy. Interestingly, former Soviet republics like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and many others also joined NATO which adds to Russia’s anger. After all, what could be worse than seeing the republics that were once in the same geo-political bucket as Russia, pull up guard against it?
As of now, it is on the main agenda of NATO to keep Russia at bay from the Baltic states. It would not be wrong to say that the Baltic Sea has emerged as the new Iron Curtain, bifurcating the East and the West. Sweden and Finland’s membership of NATO would enhance the alliance’s land, air, and sea defenses against Russia, in the Baltic region with Finland possessing a well-equipped military and Sweden having a strong naval presence in the area. The last time we saw an iron curtain descend over the European Continent, the world was faced with the bitterest rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, in the form of the Cold War. While this time it might not take the form of such a vast and prolonged conflict, the developments in the region surrounding the Baltic Sea definitely seem to resuscitate the U.S-Russia enmity in the time to come.