After 18 months of war, Europe is still unable to predict Moscow’s next move and has evaded the problem by opting to overlook the utterances and admonitions of Putin and the Russian authorities. Nevertheless, Putin’s previous statements indicate that he frequently divulges clues about the impending measures of the Russian government, a phenomenon that Angela Merkel, the former German chancellor, comprehended better than other Western leaders. Consequently, the vehement reactions of Putin and the Russian authorities to the recent NATO summit should not be regarded as vacuous threats or political bluffs but should be treated with seriousness and convince the Russian authorities that NATO does not intend to engage in a direct military confrontation with Moscow.
Ukraine’s dream of joining NATO at the recent summit did not come true, but the members of this organization, particularly the European ones, committed to augment their military assistance for Ukraine considerably, including France’s declaration of providing long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine, and the forthright and unprecedented utterances of Richard Moore, the head of the British Intelligence Service (MI6) and his provocation to the Russian intelligence forces. These messages, irrespective of the European side’s intention, elicit a hazardous perception on the Russian side, a perception that will have severe repercussions for Europe if it is disregarded.
In an article in 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin repudiated the notion of a country named Ukraine, an article that could have warned of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine if it had been scrutinized more closely. The Russian authorities and media exhibited vehement reactions to the recent NATO summit in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. One of the most drastic reactions was on a 60-minute program on Russian TV, where the presenters construed the augmentation in NATO forces and the enhancement in the organization’s aid to Ukraine as an indication that NATO is preparing to initiate war with Russia. Also, the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry explicitly asserted that the summit was a manifestation of NATO’s intention to commence a major European war with Russia. Furthermore, the Russian authorities intensified their nuclear threats, and Dmitry Medvedev, the vice-chairman of the Russian Security Council, alluded to the possibility of a calamitous nuclear war scenario. It should be noted that these comments are not merely hasty and emotional, but rather originate from the apprehension within Russia that Europe and NATO are on the verge of engaging in a direct military confrontation with Russia.
Therefore, the Europeans’ disregard for Russia’s threats has been an egregious mistake that should not be repeated again. In fact, Russia will use all its military might and act more aggressively if NATO starts a direct war. Also, it will be more challenging to foresee Moscow’s behavior in such a situation and it will be almost impossible to manage the tension with Russia. Furthermore, another large-scale war will impair Europe’s relations with the countries of the so-called “Global South” and push these developing countries further and further away from the continent.
Russia is conveying serious messages to the West to caution them, and it is very likely that Moscow will not refrain from using nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, Russia has several aims in conveying such messages to the West. First, Moscow intends to assess the willingness of the West and especially NATO to employ nuclear weapons and initiate a nuclear war. Second, Russia intends to ascertain if the West is prepared to maintain the dialogue and diplomacy or if it has renounced diplomatic communication with Moscow. Of course, the recent statements of European leaders and especially the utterance of Richard Moore, the chief of “MI6” in the Czech Republic, that Europe does not aspire to humiliate Russia or even Putin personally, and only aspires to grant Ukraine leverage in the peace negotiations and terminate the war, indicate that the West does not aspire to sever the connection with Russia. Third, Russia intends to have the authority to intensify or alleviate the tension and does not want the West to assume the responsibility for this matter. Ultimately, Russia intends to examine the West’s readiness to partake in a new round of arms control discussions, which is an opportunity that Europe should not forgo. Of course, Russia will undoubtedly demand concessions in exchange for partaking in such discussions.
In international politics, what motivates action is the understanding that countries have of their interests and challenges. Therefore, contributing to this understanding among both the public and elites that NATO is going to start a direct war with Russia will be very hazardous for the world and the West, in particular. This approach puts Russia in an existential contest with the West, a contest in which the relative achievement is insignificant and the consequences are either all or nothing. In such a situation, the declarations of the Russian authorities are not empty rhetoric, but warning codes that, if neglected, will not lead to a regional war this time, but in Medvedev’s interpretation, a nuclear catastrophe.
Therefore, Europe and the West should cease neglecting Russia’s signals and observe the threshold of tension with Russia, because surpassing this threshold means surpassing Russia’s red line, and in that case, Russia will not refrain from using any weapon in an existential war with NATO. Of course, the non-approval of Ukraine’s membership request at the last NATO summit indicates that European and American intellectuals have perceived the danger and are cognizant of the limits of escalating tensions with Russia. Accentuating peace talks and a cease-fire as the sole solution to terminate the war in Ukraine and granting the green light to governments that aspire to mediate in this war are all intended to avert the apocalypse scenario that Medvedev cautioned of. A disaster that will persist for centuries and will result in the annihilation of the world, an annihilation that may be irreparable.