Americans have known for many years that Ukraine’s possible NATO membership is a red line that would lead to military intervention by Russia. However, this was deliberately ignored.
Senior US officials knew as early as 2008 that the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO was viewed by Russia as a serious “military threat” that could overstep Moscow’s security limits and force it to intervene. Yet Western leaders continued to insist that Ukraine would join the US-led military alliance until Russia actually intervened in February 2022.
At the annual NATO summit in 2008, the George W. Bush administration publicly called for Russia’s neighbors Ukraine and Georgia to be included in the military alliance. The NATO Secretary General stated that the two countries would eventually become members. Secretly, however, US diplomats knew that this move would be perceived by Moscow as an existential threat and could trigger a Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Former US ambassador to Russia William J. Burns, now director of the CIA, warned in an embassy document February 2008 that Ukraine is a “red line” for Moscow in terms of security.
The confidential State Department document was titled “Nyet Means Nyet: Russia’s NATO Enlargement Redlines” (“nyet” is Russian for “no”). Burns warned that the issue of Ukraine’s NATO membership “could potentially split the country in half, leading to violence or even, some claim, civil war, forcing Russia to decide whether to intervenes”.
Burns wrote that Foreign Minister Sergei “Lavrov emphasized that Russia is convinced that the [NATO-]Enlargement is not based on security reasons but is a legacy of the Cold War”. The former US ambassador to Russia and now CIA director released a forward-looking analysis that anticipated Moscow’s actions in 2022: “Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only hit a sore point in Russia, but also raise serious concerns about the implications for stability in the region. Not only does Russia see encirclement and moves to undermine Russian influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences that would seriously undermine Russian security interests. Experts say Russia is particularly concerned that Ukraine’s sharp disagreements over NATO membership — much of the ethnic Russian community opposes joining — could lead to a wider split that would lead to violence or, in the worst case, civil war. In such a case, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene, a decision it doesn’t want to make.” Burns’ warnings came true just a few years later.
US interference unleashes civil war in Ukraine and destabilizes Russia’s neighbors
This type of internal violence actually erupted in Ukraine after a US-backed coup in 2014 toppled a democratically elected government that had pursued a relatively neutral foreign policy balanced between Russia and the West, and instead a resolutely pro-Western and anti-Russian regime in place. In response to the 2014 coup, Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the eastern Donbass region rose up against the coup government in Kyiv, which they described as an illegitimate Western puppet regime. Pro-independence activists proclaimed the establishment of two new autonomous states, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Since then, the Ukrainian government, with Western military support and weapons, has been waging a brutal war against these breakaway republics in Donbass. Thousands of Ukrainians were killed, hundreds of thousands were displaced. Ukraine, which shares a 2,300-kilometer border with Russia, has been wracked by violence and instability since the US-backed coup – and this constant unrest is having major repercussions inside Russia, especially economically. This was exactly the civil war scenario that Burns warned about in 2008.
On February 21, 2022, Russia officially recognized Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states. Then, on February 24, Moscow launched a full-scale military intervention in Ukraine, which claims to aim at the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the country. Russia’s goal is to force Ukraine into political neutrality and prevent the country from becoming a Western military outpost that could threaten Russia at its borders, possibly even with nuclear weapons. While Western governments and media portrayed Russian intervention as the insane decision of a supposed madman, internal US embassy documents showed that Washington knew as early as 2008 that its push to expand NATO to Ukraine would lead to just that result: Russia to intervene to force. The world only knows this thanks to the Wikileaks disclosure platform, which released William Burns’ formerly classified State Department document and tweeted his prophetic warning.
Since the signing of the Minsk II agreement in 2015, the Ukrainian government, under the supervision of Germany and France, has been legally obliged to end hostilities against Donbass and create a decentralized system that will ensure the autonomy of Donetsk and Lugansk. But Ukraine steadfastly refused to comply with Minsk II, and its Western backers did nothing to salvage the diplomatic agreement. Therefore, in December 2021, the Russian Federation transmitted a number of demands for security guarantees to the United States and NATO. Above all, this included the demand that the military alliance not be allowed to include Ukraine and Georgia.
Moscow declared that Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO membership constituted a “red line” for security – echoing the language used by Ambassador William Burns in his 2008 embassy document. For Russia as a country, regardless of the person of the President and the political ideology of the Kremlin, the prospect of Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO poses an existential security threat, since both countries, which were former republics of the Soviet Union, are directly tied to Russia at geostrategic points limits. They are of enormous importance for the encirclement policy implemented by Washington towards Russia, which is why the pressure from overseas to include these two countries in the Western military alliance – also contrary to the concerns of the European NATO partners – is so great.