The NATO Issue
The Russian military has unanimously opposed any expansion of NATO in Central Europe or the former Soviet Union since the idea first appeared in the early 1990s, and virtually all political factions are in agreement. Russia worries that such expansion would leave it in a strategically untenable position, despite NATO's claims of the purely defensive character of its alliance. In the mid-1990s, Russian fears have been fanned by the increasingly influential anti-Western factions in the State Duma and by the increased urgency with which Central European and Baltic states have sought NATO membership.
Russian military thinkers see NATO expansion as moving the world's most powerful military force to the very border of the former Soviet Union (or even past the border, were Ukraine and the Baltic states to join). Contrary to Western claims, Russians see no potential for improvement in Russia's security in this process, except in the unlikely inclusion of Russia as a full NATO member. In 1994 Russia was offered, and eventually accepted, membership in the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP--see Glossary), into which all former Soviet republics and former Warsaw Pact members were admitted by the end of 1995 (see NATO, ch. 8).
In the period 1994-96, top-level Russian national security representatives put forward a variety of threats and proposals on the subject of NATO expansion. Extreme nationalist factions used the issue to back their argument that the United States is leading an international plot against Russia. In 1995 a set of perceived NATO deceptions of Russian negotiators in Bosnia and Herzegovina was used as evidence of NATO's untrustworthiness. Russia counterproposed that NATO transform itself into a strictly political alliance that would become part of a new pan-European security system on the model of the OSCE. Meanwhile, Russia has exerted strong pressure on the states most imminently eligible for NATO membership, especially Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic states, including threats that nuclear war might break out in Central Europe if Russia needed to defend itself against NATO forces that had moved into the region. In 1995 Russian national security representatives promised that NATO expansion would suspend Russian compliance with the CFE Treaty and make impossible Russian ratification of part two of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II)--two cornerstones of disarmament in the view of Western policy makers. Meanwhile, the "NATO threat" was a rationale for maintaining a large garrison at the western outpost in Kaliningrad.