Ukraine, NATO, and the Most Fateful Error of American Policy

By Alexander Markovsky and Ted Belman

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, NATO, in a violation of the verbal agreement between Secretary of State James Baker and Russian Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, launched a massive expansion to the east.

This expansion can be seen from Moscow only as a strategy to encircle Russia and turn its neighbors into hostile countries. As long as Russia was economically and military weak, the process proceeded unabated. NATO has grown from 16 countries before the reunification of Germany, to 28 today.

George KennanAmerican diplomat and author of the concepts of “Cold War” and “containment,” prophetically warned America about the danger of this policy in the New York Times on February 5, 1997:

“….. expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era…. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”

The current events emanate from this “most fateful” error.

Today’s Russia is in a position to put an end to it, and President Putin has drawn a red line over Ukraine.

He made it perfectly clear that he would not allow Ukraine to join NATO. To resolve the issue peacefully, he suggested to President Biden that the U.S. would offer Russia a guarantee that Ukraine would not be admitted to the NATO military alliance. But NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, rejected the idea and affirmed a NATO right to bring more countries into the alliance. Unless the situation changes, Moscow will have no choice but to invade Ukraine.

There is a little risk for Moscow in doing such an invasion, either militarily, politically or economically.

Militarily, President Biden has already thrown Ukraine under the bus when he ruled out NATO military intervention. But even if Biden changed his mind, NATO countries that have downgraded their military capabilities are no match to the Russian army. Should Putin order the invasion; Russian tanks will be in Kiev in less than 24 hours. There have been reports suggesting that U.S. defense officials believe he may do so in 2022.

Politically, there will be a lot of noise and condemnation, but nothing tangible. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Russia was kicked out of the G-8 and suspended from the Council of Europe. Those “severe” punishments were not worth a grain of sand from the Crimean beaches.

Putin also remembers well that when the Red Army ravaged Budapest in 1956, built the Berlin wall in 1961, and invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, America with its NATO allies stood by helplessly, watching the carnage, all full of bluster and no action.

Economically, it is unlikely that the democracies would support additional sanctions on Russia. They would be opposed to the idea as it would undoubtedly exacerbate the current economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic and produce a crisis that would hit their own countries’ economies.

But even if additional sanctions are added to the existing ones, these western democracies should realize, after traveling this anguished road for seven and a half years, that Moscow sees the Ukrainian situation as a geopolitical issue paramount to their security. Hence, even if the sanctions are kept into place for the next hundred years, it will not weaken Moscow’s resolve. Doing the same thing would not produce different results.

A different result, however, could be achieved if Biden and his team took Napoleon’s advice and try to understand Russian foreign policy: “If you know a country’s geography, you can understand and predict its foreign policy,” Napoleon wrote.

American leaders obviously are not in good terms with geography, otherwise they would realize that the “land of the Rus” that stretches throughout Europe and Asia for nine time zones, scarcely populated with just fewer than 150 million, can only protect itself by having a buffer zone between Russia and potential adversaries.

The irony is that Putin practices George Kennan’s containment policy in reverse. His strategy is to contain NATO’s expansion. As long as Ukraine is an independent state that serves as a buffer state between Russia and NATO, it will be at the mercy of Russia. For this reason, Russia would preserve Ukrainian independence. Under this scenario, NATO would not attack Russia without violating the sovereignty of Ukraine. In this case, Russia would come to her aid.

As long as America and its NATO allies are contemplating punitive measure against Russia instead of trying to resolve the problem they have created, the invasion seems inevitable.

Should an invasion take place, Ukraine would no longer remain a unitary state. Russians would split Ukraine into three separate countries Eastern, Central and Western. For Ukraine, which is racked by internal incompatibilities, the separation would be almost natural. It will also send a strong message to the former Soviet satellites – NATO is not the salvation, it is a liability.

Alexander G. Markovsky is a scholar of Marxism and a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a conservative think tank that examines national security, energy, risk-analysis and other public policy issues. He has published over 100 articles and is the author of two books “Anatomy of a Bolshevik” and “Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It.” He can be contacted at

Ted Belman is the founder and publisher of

December 20, 2021 | 5 Comments »

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  1. Putin is no dummy. He has EU over a barrel ( a whole lot of natural gas flows to EU from Russia via Ukraine) and in the middle of winter an attack would not be stopped; there would not be anyting more than bluster. Could it be that Russia knows it has a “free pass” due to the HUnter Biden mess that could be further exposed?
    West Ukraine, is still 29% Greek Catholic (not Latin Catholic) The rest of Ukraine is heavily various Orthodox and small % of Protestants and a few hundred thousand ethnic Jews.. So that is a natural and long standing East/West split. That is a big justifiaction in Russia’s mindset still.
    Russia and CHina plan to bypass the world internationl payment system and work together to do it soon, so neither can be sanctioned for anything.
    It should have been agreed upon to leav Ukaraine neutral. James Baker and the Bushes messed a lot of stuff up but sure beneifted US OIl cos,

  2. A very revealing analysis.

    So, the US has now made certain another US ally is to be abandoned to their own fate. An alliance with Ukraine was never in the interest of the US and orchestrating the Orange Revolution was based on poking the Russian Bear and squandering the energy rights of the former Russian satellite in the pursuit of political graft. Despite these facts, however, Ukraine had been an ally/puppet of the US for the past 8yrs and is now to be very much betrayed by US commitments. This coming just months after her abandonment of her ally/puppet in Afghanistan can not be wasted on anyone. Hence, it would appear that the reliability of America as an ally willing to support her past commitments should very much be in question to her client state allies. Indeed, her long term European allies must also be growing quite exasperated with America’s lack of spine to maintain commitments entered into with them as well, as this would be their second such betrayal by the US in recent months.