Radmila Šekerinska: Russia has tightened its relationship with the West due to internal reasons
Radmila Šekerinska is one of those politicians in the country who has held high positions in the country and in her party – SDSM. We asked for an opinion on some current situations related to Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, given that she was Minister of Defense (2017-2022) at the time of our entry into NATO and was establishing intensive contacts with the Alliance. She was also acting Prime Minister of the country in 2004, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration and a member of the Parliamentary Group for Cooperation with the European Parliament. She received her master’s degree from the prestigious Fletcher School of Diplomacy and Law in the United States in 2007, which is further proof of her ability to analyze the situation these days when the whole world is facing the most dangerous conflict in Europe after World War II.
Author: Ljubomir Kostovski
Since the start of the war that Russia imposed on Ukraine, but also before that act, various motives have been mentioned as justification for the aggression. But, of course, the alleged key moment is the violation of the verbal promise given to Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO will not expand east after the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the same time, instead of such a dubious form of promises from NATO to the USSR, i.e. the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), we are resorting to something that has a concrete, institutional form of cooperation. You are one of the few politicians to mention the Partnership for Peace. Was that supposed to be the basis of the Western allies’ cooperation with the countries of the former USSR? Can you remind the readers of the basic goals of that, above all NATO Program, where the then Republic of Macedonia was a member?
Every aggressor fabricates excuses: mostly false, sometimes absurd. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was introduced by the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but also by the intense (dis) information war with which Russia heated up the tensions and created a justifying narrative for the next step. For that narrative, “it is whole when everything is included” there is a series of historical revisionism, a series of great state ideas and denials, spiced with theses of fascism and the eternal autocratic thesis that “the other started first”.
Let’s be direct: NATO has not expanded to Eastern Europe as part of a “sinister Western plan”. On the contrary, the initially large NATO members did not have a particular appetite for enlargement. The main pressure came from the “new-free” states, which emphasized that sovereignty meant, among other things, the freedom to choose one’s own allies. Given the history of that part of Europe, I do not know who would be surprised by their decision to seek membership in the most powerful military-political alliance, which could protect them from further Russian aggression.
The USSR never considered NATO forces in Germany a threat. On the contrary, Soviet leaders preferred them to remain there, considering them a guarantee of a pacifist, united Germany.
If we are not so sure what exactly happened in the CIS countries, we know what happened in our country. Macedonia has been seeking NATO membership for thirty years. Did anyone push us for that? Did someone impose it on us? Between 70 and 90 percent of the citizens demanded it and considered it an important security guarantee for the future of the country.
The thesis that Russia invaded Ukraine because NATO “deceived” it by expanding to the east is incredibly “shallow” and unsubstantiated.
First, NATO did not bring military forces into the territory of the new members. It did so only after Ukraine was invaded in 2014, creating the so-called “Enhanced Forward Presence”. The USSR never considered NATO forces in Germany a threat. On the contrary, Soviet leaders preferred them to remain there, considering them a guarantee of a pacifist, united Germany.
Second, three former Warsaw Pact countries (Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic) joined NATO in 1999. Russia became one of the first members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1994, and in 2002, together with the Alliance, created the Russia-NATO Council. If they thought they had been deceived, they would not have developed cooperation with the deceiver. On the contrary, the founding document of the agreement states that NATO and Russia are no longer considered rivals! The 2001 conversation with Lord Robertson was documented when Vladimir Putin asked him: “When will you invite us to NATO?” In an interview with Frost, Putin answered the question of whether Russia would ever join NATO: “I cannot see why this would not happen. I would not rule out that possibility.” And all this happened after NATO’s enlargement to Eastern Europe.
Third and perhaps most important: in the whole debate on “unfulfilled oral promises” it is interesting to me that nowhere are “broken written promises” mentioned, and the so-called obligations embedded in international agreements. Namely, the “legalists” seem to have skipped the historical pages that talk about the agreements between 1990 and 1997 between Russia and Ukraine, which confirm the then borders between the two countries. Orwell would say some promises are more important than others.
Russia has had the opportunity to gain insight into NATO programmatic goals and to use them – in sectors of interest. There was also intensive cooperation in the fight against terrorism, especially when the United States entered Afghanistan. The United States seems to have supported Moscow’s fight against terrorism coming from the Caucasus region, especially after hostages were taken from a primary school in the city of Beslan by an international terrorist organization. And this part of recent history is obviously forgotten?
Even after NATO’s second eastward expansion in 2004, relations with Russia did not deteriorate, on the contrary. This includes the period of the so-called reset of US-Russian relations in which, in just a few years, the New START Agreement was signed and ratified, the most serious Security Council sanctions against Iran were agreed, and the US gave strong support to Russia’s WTO membership, and Russia has backed the logistical supply of US troops in Afghanistan. In 2010, opinion polls in Russia showed a 60 percent positive view of the United States, and in 2012, Medvedev described the previous three years as the pinnacle of US-Russian relations – again, after the Alliance expanded to Russia’s borders.
What was the role of Russian President Putin at the NATO Summit in 2008, when our candidacy for NATO membership was rejected, with the Greek veto? This moment is certainly important, but how can it be quickly forgotten? Was Putin pleased with this act of rejecting our candidacy?
I cannot assess that. I was not at that Summit nor, unfortunately, I have read some Macedonian testimonies on the topic. What I do know is in the realm of public and official information that may have been forgotten. One of them is that in his speech the Russian president said: “As for the enlargement of the Alliance, we are generally satisfied with the decisions you have made. But when I talk about Georgia and Ukraine, it’s clear that this is not just about security.” So, not a word against another enlargement (Croatia and Albania), but clear criticism about the possible membership of Georgia and Ukraine. Let me remind you, neither in 2014, nor now did Ukraine and Georgia come closer to NATO. So, once again – there is no excuse.
Is the following remark true: Putin simply used the Pact and accession to NATO as a form of “settling relations” in the circle of his interest? First of all, in seizing territories and preparing for that act of secession in the Black Sea region – Ossetia, Crimea, Donbas, Moldova, Armenia’s non-assistance in the war with Azerbaijan, for which a joint defence agreement has been signed – And the Black Sea is not “just a lake ”but a crossroads of many energy lines!
That thesis does not seem very argumentative to me. It is possible that Putin initially had ambitions to build a partnership with the West. Then the previously mentioned statements sound logical. According to some analysts, the reasons for the change in Russia’s attitude towards the West should not be sought in the region, nor in global shifts, but in the political situation in Russia. As he says: to put aside the things that have remained the same and to focus on what has changed: Russian domestic policy. The change is located in the 2011 elections when Putin needed to mobilize his electoral base and discredit the opposition and re-assign the role of the enemy to the United States.
In 2010, polls in Russia showed a 60 percent positive view of the United States, and Medvedev in 2012 rated the previous three years as the pinnacle of US-Russia relations – again, all this after the Alliance expanded to Russia’s borders.
As for your comment on the Black Sea – it’s really a very important strategic issue, not just for energy reasons. According to Kaplan, Russia can never be a superpower without proper access to the (warm) sea. With no access to the sea, i.e. without an agile and strong navy – the status of a superpower is unsustainable. This would mean that geography, not just history (return to imperial power and borders), influenced Russian decisions in the run-up to the war.
Although there is a feeling that the EU and NATO countries are more united than ever, there is still the impression that some examples are constantly emerging from that mood – the refusal to provide military assistance to Ukraine by some Bulgarian political factors, the persistence of providing our country’s veto on starting negotiations with the EU, the blackmail of the Croatian president by not giving the green light for the accession of Finland and Sweden, i.e. conditioning on some “concessions” for the Croatian nation in BiH, the opposition of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in regarding the NATO accession of the mentioned countries… Can this be overcome or will it affect the strength of the resistance to Russian imperialism?
That will be the test for both the EU and NATO. In general, the strong and united reaction of the Euro-Atlantic community surprised the world: accustomed to seeing slow procedures, domination of national interests and endless harmonization of views in the democratic West, few assumed that such a clear, quick and effective response to Russian aggression was possible. Probably the same logic led Putin to make the crucial geostrategic mistake. If his goal was to conquer Ukraine, stop the expansion of NATO and strengthen the differences between the allies – he loses 3-0. Ukraine has shown endurance, fighting spirit and determination that no one expected. The war quickly “produced” new candidates for NATO enlargement, again on Russia’s own border – when Russia treats its neighbors as it treated Ukraine, how can you wonder at other neighbors when they set out to increase their security through military alliances with the more powerful. And finally: the attack on Ukraine has made NATO even more relevant and united than ever before. Russia has also caused tectonic upheaval in Europe’s energy, economic and defence policies, which will strengthen Europe in the long run and systematically weaken Russia. Miscalculations have a high price in terms of human losses that are huge, but also in terms of where the world will go.
Of course, the initial cohesion between the allies will at the beginning be tested every day. And we see some of the cracks: some countries are more energy-dependent, some will pay a higher economic price, and for some Moscow political influences have never disappeared, they have only been covered up. But that’s the trouble and strength of democratic societies and their organizations. As in Ukraine, the main test will have to be passed by the leaders. They should not allow themselves to fall victim once again to “minor differences”, not lose sight of the forest or the trees, to not think only of electoral mathematics and not leave open questions that diminish their influence and destroy their reputation.