Putin in 2022 and Yeltsin in 1999

For years Western governments, their loyal oppositions and their servile (and controlled) news media have portrayed the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin as irrationally hostile toward NATO, often contrasting his alleged behavior to that of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.

The above characterization of Putin is inaccurate. He didn’t say much if anything about the unprecedented NATO expansion in 2004, when seven nations – Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – were incorporated into the military bloc. Six of those were formerly in the Warsaw Pact and three of them former republics of the Soviet Union which now border Russian territory.

When Putin was prime minister in 2010 President Dmitry Medvedev attended the NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, the first time any Soviet or Russian head of state had done so.

The following year Russia offered NATO the use of an airfield at Ulyanovsk for the transport of non-lethal aid for the war in Afghanistan.

If there’s anything noteworthy about Putin in regard to NATO over the past twenty-two years it’s the indisputable fact that he has not challenged it.

Nevertheless (if not indeed exactly because of that), for the past several years, particularly since April of last year, he has been accused in the West of bearing a visceral, virulent, ineradicable animus toward NATO, which is portrayed as something barely short of a social service agency instead of the usurpation of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United Nations it is.

As has been typical of wars waged by NATO, openly and in a barely disguised manner, as those against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria, the propaganda model has never varied. It can be described as that of the three Ds: demonize the leader, dehumanize the people, destroy the nation. Yugoslavia, the first test case, no longer appears on the map.

How would what the U.S. touts as a reasonable Russian leader have dealt with the current Ukrainian crisis? How would the person Putin is regularly compared to, and never to his credit, Boris Yeltsin, have acted? He who was the most complacent, the most compliant pro-American head of state in Russian history? He who was routinely coached by American advisers (people are free to provide their own term)?

Roughly two weeks into NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia in 1999 – the first such war against a sovereign European nation and the first time a European capital was bombed since World War II – Yeltsin made a comment that was published in newspapers and on websites around the world.

What even the most subservient, the most forbearing of Russian leaders said was this:

“I told NATO, the Americans, the Germans, don’t push us towards military action. Otherwise there will be a European war for sure and possibly world war.”

The news articles containing that quote also reported that the then-chairman of the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament), Gennady Seleznyov, stated Yeltsin had issued an order to point Russian strategic (nuclear-tipped) missiles at the NATO nations involved in the war against Yugoslavia. A spokesman for Seleznyov later “clarified his remarks,” but the message had been delivered.

This was in reference to a nation that was separated from Russia by two others – Romania and Ukraine – and not one that shares over 1,400 miles of land and sea borders. Not one, Ukraine, where over a decade ago the US Missile Defense Agency discussed deploying components of the U.S.-NATO anti-ballistic missile shield.

What the world should be amazed at is not Russia’s misgivings over NATO effecting a cordon militaire along what the alliance terms its eastern flank, from the Arctic Circle to the South Caucasus, thus blocking Russia off from Europe, but the fact that it’s taken so long for Russia to voice those concerns.

Rick Rozoff has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. He is the manager of Stop NATO. This originally appeared at Anti-Bellum.