Russia’s offensive in Ukraine has provoked serious backlash around the world, particularly in the Western world – an understandable reaction against a war of aggression in violation of international law. However, it’s also true that this outcome had been predicted by the world’s foremost foreign-policy experts for decades.
Specifically, experts have consistently warned that NATO’s eastward expansion would provoke conflict with Russia. So, this begs the question, how did we get here if so many people warned about it? Before getting into the answer, here are some examples of those warnings.
For starters, the top American Russia scholar George Kennan, the man who laid the foundation for US Cold War foreign-policy strategy, said NATO’s expansion into Central Europe in the 1990s was “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.” He warned that expanding NATO would damage the US-Russia relationship so deeply that Russia would never become a partner and would remain an enemy.
The US Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991 penned an essay nine days before the invasion, answering the question of whether the brewing crisis was, at that point, avoidable. “In short, yes,” he explained. On whether it was predictable, “Absolutely. NATO expansion was the most profound strategic blunder made since the end of the Cold War.”
Leading international relations scholar John Mearsheimer gave an interview after the Russian invasion, explaining that the situation “started in April 2008, at the summit in Bucharest, where afterward NATO issued a statement that said Ukraine and Georgia would become part of [NATO].”
According to him, “The Russians made it unequivocally clear at the time that they viewed this as an existential threat, and they drew a line in the sand.” Mearsheimer discussed in the interview, as he has maintained for years on this issue, that the issue of Ukraine joining NATO is key to Russia’s core national security interests.