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Russia’s lies about NATO are endless. Millions of people have echoed its talking points for years. The failure of our education system, combined with the inability to fact-check or moderate fake information on the Internet, has enabled Russian propaganda to poison public discourse in the West.

Moscow’s most infamous lies are that NATO “promised" it would not “expand” to eastern Europe and that this supposed “expansion” now threatens Russia. These lies are wrong for at least three reasons.


First, there was no promise.


Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev repeatedly stated that the topic of NATO expansion was never discussed both before and after the Soviet Union collapsed. While a unilateral declaration may entail specific obligations for the declarant state provided certain conditions are met, no such pronouncement was ever produced. Even if a promise had been made, that declaration would’ve only bound the individual member state – not the Alliance as a whole.


In 1997, Boris Yeltsin, President of Russia, proposed a secret deal to American President Bill Clinton. Not only did Yeltsin ridiculously seek a Russian veto over which Eastern European countries could join the Alliance, but he also wanted a guarantee that the former Soviet Republics (Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic and Central Asian states) would not be considered in the first wave of NATO enlargement. Clinton responded, repeatedly and unequivocally, that he “cannot make commitments on behalf of NATO” because it would “violate the [democratic and voluntary] spirit” of the Alliance.


Second, NATO doesn’t “expand”.


The Alliance does not actively seek new members. NATO maintains an open door policy as per article 10 of the Washington Treaty. Standards are high. Membership is a privilege. Prospective member states apply to join of their own volition. Namely, in response to their perception of threats in the international security environment. Once approved by the applicant country’s government, their application is then debated and approved by the individual NATO member states themselves.


When Sweden and Finland abandoned neutrality and applied to join the Alliance in 2022, all 30 NATO member states had to approve their applications. Hungary’s concerns counted as much as the United States’ approval. All for one and one for all. Decisions are taken by consensus. Meanwhile the Russian Federation, the third iteration of a 19th century empire that spans 11 time zones, is still expanding its borders and restoring its so-called sphere of influence by committing the crime of aggression against Ukraine 24 years into the 21st century.  


Third, NATO is a defensive alliance.


The idea that NATO threatens Russia is laughable. The Republic of Ireland has shared an island with the United Kingdom since the Alliance was founded in 1949. Sweden maintained neutrality throughout the Cold War, despite sharing a border with NATO member states Norway and Denmark. Likewise, Switzerland, Austria, and Andorra have been completely surrounded by NATO member states for decades. Their borders remain undefended yet completely encircled.

Even better, the Kremlin’s own policies don’t align with its alleged threat perception of NATO. Namely, because Russia has reduced the number of soldiers deployed along its borders with Alliance members like Latvia and Finland since launching its illegal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. If NATO truly threatened Moscow, it would’ve done the opposite instead.


Russia is not threatened by NATO nor its so-called “expansion” to the east. It never has been. It never will be. The Kremlin is just disappointed that, unlike Ukraine, NATO membership has given former Soviet Republics such as Estonia and Lithuania the best insurance policy against Russian aggression. Moscow’s lies will never change that.        

Originally published by The Hill on April 10, 2024.


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