It is often claimed that NATO’s post-Cold War geographic enlargement threatened Russian security interests and caused the downturn in Russia’s relations with the West. This article unpacks and challenges that causal claim, making three basic arguments. First, NATO enlargement made the alliance weaker. Russia knew this and did not react militarily to any perceived threat from Europe until after it seized Crimea in 2014. Second, the downturn in Russia’s relationship with the West was overdetermined and most likely caused by Russia’s reaction to its own declining influence in the world. While NATO’s geographic enlargement aggravated this situation, it was probably not the most significant causal factor. Third, while Russia certainly reacted negatively to NATO enlargement right from the start, the reaction was manipulated and magnified by both the nationalist opposition, and Vladimir Putin’s regime, to serve domestic political interests.
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This article benefited from the terrific discussion at the Boston University Policy and Security Initiative Workshop ‘Evaluating the Legacy of NATO Enlargement’, May 2019. Particular thanks go to Thomas Berger, Jim Goldgeier, Alexander Lanoszka, Barry Posen, Jeff Tagliaterro, and Mike Williams for their comments and suggestions, and I am immensely grateful to Carol Saivets, Joshua Shifrinson, and an anonymous reviewer for their thorough and incisive critiques of entire earlier drafts.
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Marten, K. NATO enlargement: evaluating its consequences in Russia. Int Polit 57, 401–426 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-020-00233-9
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