NATO's last major eastward expansion took place half a generation ago—14 years. Seven years have passed since the invasion of Crimea. Since 2014, the peninsula has been flooded with "offensive weapons"—anti-ship and cruise missiles, carrier ships equipped with Kalibrs, tactical ballistic missile systems (TBMS) Iskander, and strategic Tu-22M3.
What were the conflicts of the last decade
In response to the annexation of territory the size of Albania, the United States deployed additional forces to Eastern Europe—a division in bulk, a headquarters in the 5th corps recreated in Krakow, a Reaper drone squadron, and an "air police" in Romania.
In Poland, a brigade of the 2nd Dragoon Regiment was deployed on "Strikers" in case of a threat to the corridor in Suwalki; two task forces of bombers in Britain and the Azores could provide support to them; five more strategic drones at Sigonella in Sicily would work in the interests of the European Command.
Plus one squadron of the 173rd brigade of the US Airborne Forces on a rotational basis in the Baltic countries, instructors and an engineering unit in Ukraine—construction battalions helping to build a fleet operational center in Ochakiv and restore airfields. Let there be advisers, analysts, and intelligence. Definitely up to 10,000 people.
This is against the Russian Federation that has 400,000 military personnel, thousands of tanks, aircraft, and TBMSs in the zone up to the Urals.
There are still elements of missile defense in Poland and Romania—well, how were the sovereign states supposed to react, watching the hysteria on federal channels about nuclear ash, withdrawal from the RIAC, and brandishing with Iskanders?
Moreover, the Romanian President granted permission to deploy interceptor missiles at the Deveselu base back in 2010—amid the cyber attacks by Iranian nuclear centrifuges and the fourth package of sanctions against Tehran's nuclear program. Fortunately, Moscow is not the hub of the universe and all events do not revolve around the Kremlin.
Indeed, NATO is an alliance that was not established personally against Russia, China and Iran—it exists for the collective defense of its members.
And how did it happen that after the military bases in Ossetia and Abkhazia that the Russians had taken over, after bombing Georgia with Tochka OTRs, the Crimea annexation, and the fierce war in eastern Ukraine, all those whom the Kremlin liberated from fascism and kept in the Warsaw bloc for a quarter of a century, suddenly went to NATO in unison?
Here, the Russian propaganda consistently has an error 404. After all, the Poles are ready, in addition to 2% for defense, even to pay separately for the US base in the country—because they do not want to be tortured in the concentration camp Izolyatsia and to live on $100 a month in the people's republics.
Because this whole thing is logical and understandable—Eastern Europe does not want to replicate the traumatic experience of interaction with Moscow, coupons for coupons in Romania and Poland in the hot 80s of the last century, or a wonderful life in Abkhazia, freed from Georgians. Therefore, sovereign states have relied on the West. Especially after watching the Kremlin bombing Georgia and selling heavy weapons to Azerbaijan, against Armenia, its CSTO ally—thank you, we don’t need such security guarantors.
But this happened half a generation of human life ago, even before the Kremlin regime began to plunder from neighbors in a fire in Crimea.
What happened in December 2021 that required Moscow to deliver basically an ultimatum to the United States and NATO—to give legal guarantees not to expand to the east? Moreover, to write in frankly impracticable requirements there—the withdrawal of weapons from the eastern flank and the approval of new members?
Why Moscow needs a new escalation with NATO
No self-respecting state will agree to a non-member of the defensive alliance having veto power.
Bases for Ukrainian boats in the Black Sea and Azov regions for British loans are ridiculous, the Alliance has total superiority in ships on the Black Sea only in Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, without the United States and the Britons.
The flight time of the missiles that, in theory, could be deployed on the territory of neophytes? This is even more crazy—there is no particularly critical difference for missiles near Chernihiv with the Baltic countries, and in 2021 holding a contest of measuring seconds of flight to the capital, as if there is no infrastructure of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces beyond the Urals and duplicate command posts, perhaps is only possible on the relevant sites of the urban madmen.
The legal guarantees of Ukraine not joining NATO in order to continue to rend the Kharkiv and Odesa "people's republics" from us? In order to get a border with four new NATO members at once at the end, a guerrilla war for decades, and increasing sanctions. That, as you know, do not work, but the dollar reaches the level of 74 rubles, and the salaries in the currency of the 2014 level of 2014 have not been achieved.
And what will happen when the US, EU, and Canada hit debt transactions, commodity contracts, and payment systems and impose a ban on technology supplies? Operating systems for PCs, smartphones, and components will be enough and to spare—Washington has already started talking about this measure in the case of an invasion.
It is impossible to explain the current "ultimatum" by logic—further escalation will give Moscow nothing but a heap of strategic problems. But for some reason, the Kremlin elders continue to generate threats and send trains with tanks and TBMSs back and forth around the country, demonstratively not taking the videos down and scattering waves across the network about how the old, Soviet GOSTs (all-Union State Standards) for mass graves will change. At the same time, serious things, such as the reinforcement of 17 air regiments in the zone to the Urals, the massive involvement of the Rosgvardiya and special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB, as well as mobilization to the rear units have not yet been carried out. But Lavrov during the briefing speaks about Zelenskyy's regime and demands to reply to the ultimatum by the end of January—it is probably painful and expensive to keep dozens of battalions in tents in the cold.
What has happened in reality is anyone's guess. Perhaps very soon it will be impossible to hide Putin's health problems, who quite abruptly stopped jumping on the tatami, flying with Siberian white cranes and taking pictures topless, and is increasingly coughing at conferences from the bunker—the transfer of power in their realities is not an easy thing that happened to end even with tanks under White House.
Perhaps the Kremlin understood which way the wind was blowing—the United States began to actively restore the infrastructure of the Cold War times, the same 56th artillery command, and in a couple of years there will be Dark Eagle hypersonic missiles and the latest electronic warfare equipment.
And Moscow is already sweating blood to update the nuclear triad delivery systems—let alone hundreds of rocket engines, when T-62M assemblies were sent to the Caspian marines and to the Crimea. And these are the tanks that were in the ranks even when dear Leonid Ilyich had not yet pronounced all the words.
Perhaps right now, in the midst of the global energy crisis, peak hydrocarbon prices, and peak gold and foreign exchange reserves in the Russian Federation, the Kremlin really wants to bargain for guarantees so as not to crash into a new arms race with the West that Bolivar cannot withstand.
The only thing that is known for sure is that if Washington had demanded that Moscow agree on its base in Tajikistan and admitting new members to the CSTO, the dialogue would definitely not have happened. Moscow initially delivered impracticable demands, most likely hoping for a new INF Treaty, pressure on Ukraine within "Minsk" and re-drawing their favorite spheres of influence.
The aging men in the Kremlin, nursing the trauma since the USSR collapse, will never get used to the fact that all these Rigas, Chisinaus, and Kyivs have chosen their way away from their totalitarian state, where a coughing old man raves about recreating its former greatness. And ideology, injuries, and echelons with tanks are an explosive mixture—the negotiations at the end of January are unlikely to be simple. But this is a threat so far, and not an inevitable preparation for escalation.