Alexander Graef Profile picture
Feb 20, 2022 26 tweets 5 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
The promise debate about #NATO enlargement is politically futile. This crisis is about #Russia’s position in Europe, its long-term #status and #power. 30 years of strategic failure, disappointments, and unintended consequences. A long🧵 1/x
2/ Gorbachev ended the Cold War and agreed to asymmetric disarmament to enable domestic reforms but also because he imagined a different international order: A US-Soviet co-dominium in a common European home. Soviet economic collapse and disintegration stopped this from happening
3/ Yeltsin’s government initially set out to integrate with the West. It accepted US leadership. Foreign Minister Kozyrev famously believed that Russia had no national interests different from the West. This “romantic” phase ended quickly. Domestic opposition was growing.
4/ The domestic conflict escalated in the 1993 constitutional crisis. Yeltsin decided to bomb parliament & set up a new political system with strong Presidential powers. Meanwhile economic hardship continued. Yeltsin’s popularity plumped, while nationalist forces gained support.
5/ The Western decision to enlarge NATO increased the pressure on Yeltsin. The Russian elite rejected enlargement but had no way of stopping it. Russia depended on Western financial support. Yeltsin owed his 1996 re-election to Russian media and US campaign strategies.
6/ When NATO enlargement became inevitable, the Yeltsin government decided to make the best of it. It signed the NATO-Russia founding act, but more importantly, pushed ahead with the adaptation process of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).
7/ The CFE-treaty had been signed in 1990 under very different circumstances. It still (even today) knows two military blocs: NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Back then, Russia wanted to adapt the Treaty in order to mitigate the military consequences of NATO enlargement.
8/ At the OSCE Istanbul summit in Nov. 1999 participating states signed the adapted CFE, the Charter for European Security & adopted the Vienna Document 1999. Russia promised to withdraw its forces from Moldova by end of 2002 & to negotiate with Georgia about complete withdrawal.
9/ Long story short: The adapted CFE never entered into force. US Congress and, later, President Bush insisted on the full withdrawal of all Russian forces w/o exception from Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia first. In Nov 2002, this would become official NATO position.
10/ Back to Istanbul: The year 1999 had been a difficult one. NATO’s intervention in Yugoslavia in spring had plainly illustrated Russian impotence in European security. A fait accompli Moscow had to accept. It was a watershed moment in Western-Russian relations.
11/ Yeltsin was both furious and tired. He wanted to remind the West that Russia was a great power but, in fact, cut his trip to Istanbul short, dismissive of Western critique over Chechnya. Yeltsin wanted out. He resigned voluntarily in Dec. 1999. A first in Russian history.
12/ Four months later an unlikely candidate was elected President: Vladimir Putin. He had been handpicked by Yeltsin and was supported by Russian oligarchs as a popular, strong decision-maker from a new generation – the bulwark against an eventual communist revival & prosecution.
13/ Putin started by reaching out to the West. He hoped for equal partnership, that is, the eventual recognition of Russian interests. With this expectation, Putin accepted the US withdrawal from ABM, the 2nd NATO enlargement round & did not object too strongly to the war in Iraq
14/ Western recognition of Russian interests, however, never materialized. Instead, Putin’s crack down on the old oligarchs, the nationalization of media & energy companies, the increasing concentration of power & the continuing war in Chechnya led to more criticism & alienation.
15/ In short, Putin did not get what he had expected when making, what he believed were, concessions. The Orange revolution in Ukraine amplified his grievances. Putin, however, got what Yeltsin never had: The economic means to pursue national interests forcefully if necessary.
16/ By 2007 Putin’s basic view of the Western-Russian relationship had changed as his speech at the MSC illustrates. Russia restarted to conduct strategic bomber flights, left the CFE Treaty (which NATO had not ratified) and signed a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.
17/ Unfortunately for Putin, his decision to pursue nat interests more forcefully coincided with the global financial crisis. The Russian economic model he had built upon turned out to be unsustainable & unable of producing long-term growth. The social contract became fragile.
18/ By picking Medvedev as his successor, Putin set out for economic, and potentially, even political modernization (two-party system). But Medvedev did not deliver. He failed to secure cooperation on missile defense, lost control in Georgia and got schooled in Libya.
19/ At the end of his presidency, Medvedev had lost support of essential Russian constituencies: the siloviki and the military-industrial complex. In short: The Okhranitely (defenders). Putin concluded that further cooperative attempts with the West would be futile.
20/ When Putin decided to return in September 2011 as President, he thus adopted a confrontational attitude towards the West: No more concessions, nor more attempts of integration. The domestic political crisis that evolved over the Duma elections was blamed on Western meddling.
21/ Putin set out a new program: He doubled down on military reform, set up ambitious plans for social reforms, imposed more restrictions on civil society and promoted econ integration in the post-Soviet space that would relax EU normative pressure: The Eurasian Economic Union.
22/ Ukraine was at the center of this project. Over 2013 Russia tried hard (with sticks and carrots) to force Kyiv to accept membership and turn down further integration with the European Union. Moscow eventually succeeded in November 2013, or so it seemed at first.
23/ The violent escalation of the Maidan protests came as a surprise to (almost) everyone. Many different things coincided: Yanukovych’s personal and political weakness, the surprising strength of armed nationalist forces, Western support for and acceptance of elite change.
24/ For Putin the Ukrainian revolution must have been nothing short of a strategic nightmare, which he blamed on the cowardice of Yanukovych. He would not make the same mistake. Gloves were off. From his perspective, the campaign to return Crimea to Russia was an opportunist move
25/ The annexation of Crimea briefly boosted domestic support, but did not solve the structural economic problems, which Western sanctions would only reinforce. Putin did not give up on Ukraine, however. The Donbas campaign would make sure to gain a foothold. The rest is history.
*NATO did not ratify the adapted CFE

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More from @alxgraef

Nov 6
A ceasefire in #Ukraine is not a good option, if it freezes the status quo. It would also create a list of new problems that in the long-run could come back to bite. The post-Soviet space is rich of examples. And yet, soon enough, it might become the best among bad options. 1/10
2/10 The main strategic concern of Ukraine and its partners is that Russia would use any ceasefire to replenish its forces, entrench itself and attack again later with greater means and resolve. This concern is not only reasonable but the most likely scenario under Vladimir Putin
3/10 As a result, any ceasefire would require ironclad Western security commitments and long-term, permanent support on a scale similar or even larger than today. Only then, deterrence has a chance to work, while a political process would allow using diplomatic instruments.
Read 10 tweets
Apr 11
New Publication: "'Let's forget that #Slovakia is small': @GLOBSEC, Status-Seeking, and Agency in Informal Elite #Networks",
forthcoming in "Agency, #Security and Governance of #Small States", edited by Harlan Koff & Thomas Kolnberger
1/8… Image
2/8 I look at #GLOBSEC from the perspective of how "small states" in Central & Eastern Europe set out to improve their positions within the social hierarchy of the Western community after they had joined the EU & NATO. Slovakia is a particularly interesting case for two reasons:
3/8 First, after 1992 it had to cope with two challenges at once, state-building and democratization. Second, the political struggle between the elites in the 1990s (Mečiarism) delayed integration into Western institutions, at least when compared to the other Visegrad members.
Read 8 tweets
Apr 9
Much has been said about Medvedev's increasingly radical rhetoric. Some say he's going with the times, others see it as evidence that his liberalism has always been fake. But there is more to it than that. A🧵 1/14
2/14 About 35 years ago, Medvedev was a law student at Leningrad State University and assistant to his supervisor Anatoly Sobchak. When Sobchak got elected mayor of Leningrad in '90, Medvedev, then in his mid-20s, followed him but remained affiliated with the university.
3/14 Medvedev had actively campaigned for Sobchak's election. He liked the new politics. At the mayor's office, he met Putin, 13 years his senior, who would eventually become his boss. When Putin became Prime Minister in 1999, Medvedev followed him to Moscow.
Read 14 tweets
Mar 5
Worth repeating that the #war against #Ukraine is not about territory, ethnicity or language. It is about both, #Russian identity and power in Europe. Because #Putin sees himself in the realm of loss, he has become risk-seeking. To him, it is not about expanding, but defense 1/6
2/6 This is what Putin meant in 2021, when he argued that "Russia has nowhere to retreat". NATO and EU enlargement (membership and partnership) are about the power to define rules, norms & values, but great power postures depend on the ability to project power where it matters.
3/6 After 2014, Russia kept losing influence in Ukraine, which the Minsk agreement was designed to prevent long term. It didn't. Ukraine's identity had changed irrevocably. Poroshenko and Zelenskiy moved ahead with curbing the Kremlin's power assets in the country.
Read 6 tweets
Aug 25, 2022
The #Russian gov system has been in crisis since 2008/9. The elite has been looking for ways to generate political legitimacy & economic growth but w/o changing the domestic political order & the system of rent distribution. A struggle against decline. An (im)possible task. 1/20
2/ There have been several attempts of reform. In order to stimulate innovation, Putin, similar to Soviet times, decided to tap state resources and strengthen the military-industrial complex. Large conglomerates (Rostec, Rosnano etc) were supposed to enable civilian conversion.
3/ Simultaneously, #Putin deliberately selected Dmitri Medvedev as his successor to open the possibility for political change. But #Medvedev turned out to be a weak leader, who lost essential constituencies on which Putin's system of power depended.
Read 20 tweets
Aug 22, 2022
Critics of #Mearsheimer seem to be more concerned with the moral implications of his argument and the implicit course of alternative action than whether it captures an important (though not the only) part of reality. 1/14 🧵
2/ Mearsheimer's argument that prospective NATO enlargement caused the Russian invasion in #Ukraine is about structural not immediate causes. Critics are right to point out that it can neither explain the exact timing, nor the explicit rhetoric and operational course of action.
3/ Mearsheimer's argument is about power, not security, however. Offensive realism expects Russia as a great power to strive for regional hegemony. As a result, Ukraine moving conclusively into the Western camp (NATO being just one aspect) is viewed as a threat to such ambitions.
Read 14 tweets

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