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Friday, April 12, 2024

20 years of NATO membership – prosperity and security should not be taken for granted

By: Dr Dimitrij Rupel

For a thousand years, Slovenes have been part of Western civilisation. At the end of the Cold War, we became an independent state. In 2003, we held a referendum on membership in the EU and NATO. In 2004, with the support of most citizens, we became members and thus firmly strengthened our international position.

Today, support is lower than at the time of entry because prosperity and security seem obvious to many. However, we live in times of war and terrorism, so we need as many allies as possible.


Boris Yeltsin announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the independence of its republics to the Slovenian delegation visiting Moscow on May 16th, 1991. The Slovenian-Yugoslav war broke out on June 25th, and on July 7th, the European Union “troika” at Brioni still hoped that Yugoslavia could be patched up, otherwise its end would also mark the end of the Soviet Union. In such an atmosphere, on July 15th, 1991, in London, a group of the most eminent G7 countries met, attended by Mikhail Gorbachev, who blessed the unification of East Germany with West Germany, for which the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl thanked him. The Cold War seemed to be over.

In London, they linked the fate of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. Statesmen “turned the record” that had been playing for several months, namely, Yugoslavia should not become an example for the Soviet Union, which must not under any circumstances disintegrate. Gorbachev believed that it was possible to save the Soviet Union by restructuring relations between the republics (with perestroika and glasnost). The political declaration of the London meeting contained the announcement of the creation of a new Soviet association, which would be based on consensus, not coercion. Then, on August 19th, 1991, a coup took place there, which ultimately led to the rise of Boris Yeltsin and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

On November 7th, 1991, the NATO summit was held in Rome. The speech of the German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher was interesting: “In the Soviet Union, Gorbachev and the Centre are seeking a new type of relationship with the republics. Gorbachev is striving for agreement. In Yugoslavia, the Centre is a military force without political legitimacy, and they want to prevent self-determination by force. This does not happen in the Soviet Union.”

On December 1st, 1991, Ukraine held a referendum on independence, which established its sovereignty and buried the Soviet Union. On December 8th, 1991, near the Belarusian city of Brest in the Białowieża Forest, the leaders of Russia (Yeltsin), Ukraine, and Belarus met and signed an agreement of intent to establish the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Just under two weeks later, on December 21st, representatives of 11 out of the 15 Soviet republics (excluding the Baltic states and Georgia) met in Kazakhstan and signed an agreement that definitively abolished the Soviet Union and established the CIS. Just a few days after this meeting, Gorbachev also recognised the new reality and resigned.

To understand the Russian-Ukrainian situation, it is necessary to mention the OSCE meeting in Budapest on December 5th, 1994. After Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine – with financial support from the United States – renounced nuclear weapons, they were guaranteed sovereignty and the inviolability of borders, and the nuclear warheads were sent for destruction to Russia. In 1994, Russia joined the Partnership for Peace, and in 1997, in Paris, they signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act (NRFA), followed by the NATO-Russia Council in 2002. In 1997, Russia became a member of the G7, which was then renamed the G8.

I visited Ukraine at the beginning of my tenure as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE after the Orange Revolution and after Viktor Yushchenko’s victory in the presidential elections in January 2005. During dinner, we were joined by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who, to my great surprise in a room filled with many ears and eyes, predicted the developments in the following years. After the colour revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, similar events were expected in Belarus, and ultimately in Moscow. Slovenia had just passed the fiery test with the EU and NATO, and my impression was that the expansion of these institutions was currently halted. Without September 11th, 2001, there would not have been the expansion with seven NATO members (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia), which we interpreted as either weakness or generosity on Russia’s part, as in 1999, we could not have imagined NATO intervening in the territory of the former Soviet Union. NATO’s expansion also influenced the simultaneous expansion of the European Union (2002-2004). I recall discussions among Slovenian politicians and diplomats who were convinced that, at a time before the Orange Revolution, Ukraine belonged in the EU more than Turkey did; however, these were only speculations and visions. Yushchenko was succeeded by Yanukovych, followed by Poroshenko in June 2014, just before the Russian annexation of Crimea. In 2019, Zelenskyy followed, who was a well-known television actor.

Let’s remember: in 2001, Vladimir Putin and George Bush met at Brdo. Europeans and Americans had – in my opinion until around 2008 – a plan based on a changed relationship with Russia. The year 2008 marks the end of the peaceful period after the Cold War. This is the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

In 2008, following the war in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia withdrew from the CIS, followed ten years later (2018) by Ukraine. Meanwhile, in 2014, Putin annexed Crimea, and special military operations began in eastern Ukraine (Donbas). European countries, led by France and Germany, intervened in the crisis at that time (with the Minsk agreements), but the conflict in the east remained more or less “frozen”, like many others in the former Soviet Union (Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh).

In February 2022, just before the Slovenian elections, the war in Ukraine began. Western countries imposed sanctions against Russia. Analysts were surprised by Ukraine’s resilience, but many expected Ukraine to pay for peace with territory, at least with Crimea.


The late Henry Kissinger said two things about the Russian-Ukrainian war:

– Ukraine must be accepted into NATO, and

– Ukraine will ultimately not be able to regain Crimea.

Recently, there has been a growing number of comments calling for negotiations and the need to stop the war. European countries support Ukraine, but some, such as the Germans, despite Chancellor Olaf Scholz initially showing determination and announcing a “Wende” in German defence policy, are showing restraint.

There is a noticeable difference between the German and French positions, as Emmanuel Macron stated that he does not rule out the deployment of French troops to Ukraine.

However, the most interesting aspect is the attitude of the United States towards the Ukrainian-Russian war, as Congress is blocking the support that Biden had announced ($60 billion).

Most countries supportive of Ukraine provide humanitarian and military aid, but they do not support the deployment of their troops on Ukrainian territory, arguing that it would mean NATO’s involvement in a war against Russia. Similarly, Western statesmen in Munich in 1938 pondered similar thoughts, although they were allies of Czechoslovakia. The presence of Western forces in Ukraine is linked to the question of alliance with Ukraine. An alliance would mean Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO, as in this case, Ukraine could invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Source: Spletni časopis


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