Ukraine crisis, neither US nor Russia affords to lose

China Military Online
Chen Zhuo
2021-12-16 16:57:15

By Li Haidong

Recently, the knives are out for both the US and Russia around the Ukraine issue.

The root cause why the dispute between the US and Russia is hard to solve on the Ukraine issue is that there is no reasonable position or space in the US-led European security architecture matching up to Russia's strength and status. Whether Europe can achieve unity, integrity and lasting peace, lies in whether NATO’s further eastward expansion could cease, and whether Ukraine can stay permanently neutral.

As for Russia, NATO poses‘a most serious threat to its security. NATO’s continuous expansion has impaired its status, and might eventually deprive Russia of its European identity. In this case, it’s the most important security interest for Russia to prevent NATO from continuing its eastward expansion as can be seen. Currently, a feasible solution to ensure lasting security in Europe might be that Ukraine remains permanently neutral, instead of joining NATO. This is a prerequisite key for Ukraine to maintain its territorial and sovereign integrity to the maximum, and also the only reasonable solution to resolve the deep conflict between Russia and the United States. Roughly in view of this, Russia signed the 2015 Minsk deal.

However, observing the evolution of NATO in the past 30 years, we are clear that there is absolutely no possibility for NATO to change the established policy of "opening the door" to all states who would like to join in. This means that absorbing more countries like Ukraine and Georgia into NATO is its constant goal. The US and NATO will not accept a "neutralized Ukraine". In addition, the current Ukrainian policy makers have adopted a policy of being overwhelmingly in favor of the West rather than keep neutral, which will lead to Russia, which is in a desperate way to return to Europe, can but do its best to try to win Ukraine as competing with NATO.

The Ukrainian crisis is a major structural issue involving the direction of European security construction, and neither the US nor Russia can afford to lose in this competition. To a large extent, the deceptiveness of the US' diplomacy to Russia and its short-sightedness in constructing European security have led to the current lack of mutual trust between the US and Russia, as well as the extreme chaos in Europe.

In the 1990s, Russia has chosen to support the West in a self-defeating manner. In 1990, Secretary of State James Baker of the Bush administration orally promised Mikhail Gorbachev, then Soviet leader, that NATO would stop expanding after the reunification of Germany. While NATO started eastward expansion for the first time since the US launched the Cold War. Gorbachev, who was still active then, reminded the US of the promise it had made, but the Clinton administration refuted it on the grounds that it was a verbal decision made by its predecessor, invalid.

In the mid-1990s, US President Bill Clinton indirectly made a verbal promise to the then Russian leader Boris Yeltsin that NATO would not cross the redline of absorbing the Baltic states, in exchange for the Russian side to sign the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security to show its understanding of NATO’s eastward expansion at that time. However, the Bush administration in succession sneered at this promise and completed two rounds of eastward expansion, including the absorption of Baltic States.

In the eyes of Russia, “verbal commitment diplomacy” is synonymous with “fraud and hypocrisy” for the US which has been used to play tricks on Russia. This is precisely the key reason why currently Russia insists that the US/NATO must sign a legally binding protocol with Russia on the neutrality of Ukraine and the non-deployment of offensive weapons in Ukraine.

Just as important, after the Cold War, the US has completely ignored the “Great Powers Coordination”, a major principle for ensuring Europe’s lasting security. The adsorption of 14 small and medium-sized countries into NATO through five rounds of extended expansion following inciting crises in the periphery of Europe and creating “Russophobia” in Central and Eastern European countries, has led to a long-lasting confrontation between Russia and European countries, and between the US and Russia, as well as a great split in Europe.

In general, the Ukrainian crisis is a fundamental issue concerning where European security will head. The US, which is used to create crises or enemies to highlight its global primacy, will not stop the process of eastward expansion, and there is no way out for Russia except for fighting back relentlessly. This may herald a new Cold War pattern in Europe, as well as long-term turmoil and eventual division in Ukraine.

 (The author is a professor at the Institute of International Relations, China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU))

Editor’s note: This article is originally published on, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

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