NATO-Russia relations: the facts
Since Russia began its aggressive actions against Ukraine, Russian officials have accused NATO of a series of threats and hostile actions. This webpage sets out the facts.
- Claim: NATO enlargement threatens Russia
- Claim: NATO's Open Door policy creates new dividing lines in Europe and deepens existing ones
- Claim: NATO enlargement in the Balkans is destabilizing
- Claim: NATO tried to "drag" Ukraine into the Alliance
- Claim: Russia has the right to demand a "100% guarantee" that Ukraine will not join NATO
- Claim: NATO provoked the "Maidan" protests in Ukraine
- Claim: NATO was planning to base ships and missiles in Crimea
- Claim: NATO set up a military base in Georgia
- Claim: NATO has bases all around the world
- Claim: NATO wants to prepare Europe's civilian infrastructure to start a war
- Claim: NATO's presence in the Baltic region is dangerous
- Claim: NATO missile defence threatens Russian security
- Claim: NATO is preparing an attack on Russia
- Claim: NATO is a threat to Russia
- Claim: NATO missile defence targets Russia and the Iran agreement proves it
- Claim: The accession of new Allies to NATO threatens Russia
- Claim: NATO is encircling Russia
Fact: NATO suspended practical cooperation with Russia due to its aggressive actions in Ukraine. However, we continue to keep channels for political dialogue open. The NATO-Russia Council, an important platform for dialogue, has never been suspended. We have held ten meetings since 2016.
NATO and Russia also maintain open military-to-military lines of communication, which aim to promote predictability and transparency in our military activities. We welcome the recent contacts between the Chairman of the Military Committee, General Petr Pavel; the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Curtis Scaparrotti, and the Russian Chief of Defence, General Valery Gerasimov.
Fact: In 2014, NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia, in response to its aggressive actions in Ukraine. This cooperation included projects in Afghanistan, on counter-terrorism and scientific cooperation. These projects did deliver results over time, but their suspension has not undermined the security of the Alliance or our ability to counter challenges such as terrorism.
We have made it clear that we continue to seek a constructive relationship with Russia. But an improvement in the Alliance's relations with Russia will be contingent on a clear and constructive change in Russia's actions – one that demonstrates compliance with international law and Russia's international commitments.
Fact: Initiated in 2009, the Stand-off Detection of Explosives (STANDEX) project was never frozen or suspended. It was completed according to schedule at the end of 2013.
STANDEX was a NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) project run by a consortium of laboratories and research institutes. Participants included France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia. The project brought together various techniques and technologies to allow for the detection, recognition, localisation and tracking of would-be suicide bombers in mass transportation.
STANDEX was a technology development project. As with all such developments, the eventual goal is a deployed system. NATO encouraged project participants to seek commercialisation of their technologies, and some are now commercially available.
Fact: NATO is a defensive alliance. Our purpose is to protect our member states. Every country that joins NATO undertakes to uphold its principles and policies. This includes the commitment that "the Alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia," as reaffirmed at the Brussels Summit.
NATO enlargement is not directed against Russia. Every sovereign nation has the right to choose its own security arrangements. This is a fundamental principle of European security, one that Russia has also subscribed to and should respect. NATO enlargement has brought more stability and prosperity to Europe, including Russia.
Fact: All the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which have joined NATO over the past decade have enjoyed peace, security and cooperation with their neighbours since then.
The countries in the region which aspire to membership are conducting reforms to bring themselves closer to NATO standards. These reforms enhance democracy and security in each country.
The countries in the region have played a significant role in NATO's operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, providing training to the Afghan forces and helping to provide a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo. This is a direct contribution to stability in the broader Euro-Atlantic area.
Fact: When the administrations of President Kuchma and President Yushchenko made clear their aspiration to NATO membership, the Alliance worked with them to encourage the reforms which would be needed to make that aspiration a reality.
When the administration of President Yanukovych opted for a non-bloc status, NATO respected that decision and continued to work with Ukraine on reforms, at the government's request.
NATO respects the right of every country to choose its own security arrangements. In fact, Article 13 of the Washington Treaty specifically gives Allies the right to leave.
Over the past 65 years, 29 countries have chosen freely, and in accordance with their domestic democratic processes, to join NATO. Not one has asked to leave. This is their sovereign choice.
Fact: Every sovereign nation has the right to choose its own security arrangements. This is a fundamental principle of European security. According to Article I of the Helsinki Final Act (here) which established the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1975, every country has the right "to belong or not to belong to international organizations, to be or not to be a party to bilateral or multilateral treaties including the right to be or not to be a party to treaties of alliance." All the OSCE member states, including Russia, have sworn to uphold those principles.
In line with those principles, Ukraine has the right to choose for itself whether it joins any treaty of alliance, including NATO's founding treaty.
Moreover, when Russia signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act, it pledged to uphold "respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states and their inherent right to choose the means to ensure their own security".
Ukraine has the right to choose its own alliances, and Russia has, by its own repeated agreement, no right to dictate that choice.
Fact: The demonstrations which began in Kiev in November 2013 were born out of Ukrainians' desire for a closer relationship with the European Union, and their frustration when former President Yanukovych halted progress toward that goal as a result of Russian pressure.
The protesters' demands included constitutional reform, a stronger role for the parliament, the formation of a government of national unity, an end to the pervasive and endemic corruption, early presidential elections and an end to violence. There was no mention of NATO.
Ukraine began discussing the idea of abandoning its non-bloc status in September 2014, six months after the illegal and illegitimate Russian "annexation" of Crimea and the start of Russia's aggressive actions in eastern Ukraine. The final decision by Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada to abandon the non bloc status was taken in December 2014, over a year after the pro-EU demonstrations began.
Fact: This is fiction. The idea has never been proposed, suggested or discussed within NATO.
Fact: NATO agreed at the Wales Summit to offer Georgia a substantial package of assistance to strengthen Georgia's defence and interoperability capabilities with the Alliance. In August 2015, a NATO-Georgian Joint Training and Evaluation Centre was inaugurated in Krtsanisi to contribute to the training and interoperability of Georgian and Alliance personnel.
This is a training centre, not a military base.
It contributes to stability by making Georgia's armed forces more professional, and by reinforcing the democratic controls over them.
Fact: NATO's military infrastructure outside the territory of Allies is limited to those areas in which the Alliance is conducting operations.
The Alliance has military facilities in Afghanistan for the support of the Resolute Support mission, and in Kosovo for the KFOR mission.
NATO has civilian liaison offices in partner countries such as Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. These cannot be considered as "military bases".
Individual Allies have overseas bases on the basis of bilateral agreements and the principle of host-nation consent, in contrast with Russian bases on the territory of Moldova (Transnistria), Ukraine (the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) and Georgia (the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia).
Fact: Every nation has the right to conduct exercises, but it is important that they are conducted transparently and in line with international obligations.
To promote transparency, members of the OSCE, including Russia, commit to follow the rules of the Vienna Document. If an exercise exceeds 9,000 personnel, it is subject to notification, and if it exceeds 13,000 personnel, observers from OSCE states must be invited to attend the exercise. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has never opened an exercise to mandatory Vienna Document observation.
NATO's concerns about exercise ZAPAD 2017 were a direct result of Russia's lack of transparency. Both the scale and geographical scope of the exercise significantly exceeded what Russia had previously announced, including in the NATO-Russia Council. Allies made this clear to Russia at a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in October 2017.
Russia has also used large snap exercises, including with tens of thousands of troops, to intimidate its neighbours. This practice raises tension and undermines trust. Russia's intervention in Georgia in 2008 and illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 were masked by snap exercises.
Fact: The Cold War ended over 20 years ago. It was characterized by the opposition of two ideological blocs, the presence of massive standing armies in Europe, and the military, political and economic domination by the Soviet Union of almost all its European neighbours.
The end of the Cold War was a victory for the people of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and opened the way to overcoming the division of Europe. At path-breaking Summit meetings in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia played its part in building a new, inclusive European security architecture, including the Charter of Paris, the establishment of the OSCE, the creation of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and the NATO-Russia Founding Act.
Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has introduced sweeping changes to its membership and working practices – changes made clear by its adoption of new Strategic Concepts in 1999 and 2010. Accusations that NATO has retained its Cold War purpose ignore the reality of those changes.
Over the same period, NATO reached out to Russia with a series of partnership initiatives, culminating in the foundation of the NATO-Russia Council in 2002.
As reaffirmed by NATO leaders at the Brussels Summit in July 2018, "NATO does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia.This is NATO's official policy, defined and expressed transparently by its highest level of leadership. As an organisation which is accountable to its member nations, NATO is bound to implement this policy.
Fact: NATO was founded in 1949 by twelve sovereign nations: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. It has since grown to 29 Allies who each took an individual and sovereign decision to join this Alliance.
All decisions in NATO are taken by consensus, which means that a decision can only be taken if every single Ally accepts it.
Equally, the decision for any country to take part in NATO-led operations falls to that country alone, according to its own legal procedures. No member of the Alliance can decide on the deployment of any other Ally's forces.
Fact: For more than two decades, NATO has consistently worked to build a cooperative relationship with Russia.
NATO began reaching out, offering dialogue in place of confrontation, at the London NATO Summit of July 1990 (declaration here). In the following years, the Alliance promoted dialogue and cooperation by creating the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), open to the whole of Europe, including Russia (PfP founding documents here and here).
In 1997, NATO and Russia signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, creating the NATO Russia Permanent Joint Council. In 2002, this was upgraded, creating the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) (The Founding Act can be read here, the Rome Declaration which established the NRC here, the Lisbon NRC Summit Declaration here.)
We set out to build a good relationship with Russia. We worked together on issues ranging from counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism to submarine rescue and civil emergency planning.
However, in March 2014, in response to Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine, NATO suspended practical cooperation with Russia. At the same time, NATO has kept channels for communication with Russia open. The NATO-Russia Council has met ten times since 2016. The Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General also engage regularly with their Russian counterparts. We do not seek confrontation, but we cannot ignore Russia breaking international rules, undermining our stability and security.
Fact: At the London Summit in 1990, Allied heads of state and government agreed that "We need to keep standing together, to extend the long peace we have enjoyed these past four decades". This was their sovereign choice and was fully in line with their right to collective defence under the United Nations Charter.
Since then, thirteen more countries have chosen to join NATO. The Alliance has taken on new missions and adapted to new challenges, all the while sticking to its fundamental principles of security, collective defence, and decision-making by consensus.
Twice since the end of the Cold War, NATO has adopted new Strategic Concepts (in 1999 and 2010), adapting to new realities. Thus, rather than being disbanded, NATO adapted, and continues to change, to live up to the needs and expectations of Allies, and to promote their shared vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace.
Fact: NATO is a defensive alliance, whose purpose is to protect our member states. Military mobility is key to deterrence in peacetime and key to our collective defence in times of crisis. NATO is working closely with Allies to ensure that our bridges, roads, ports and rail networks are capable of transporting military equipment and personnel across our Allies' borders.
This is not a preparation for war. This is about updating the military requirements for civilian infrastructure at a time when we see increased challenges to our security, including as a result of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and ongoing destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.
NATO is cooperating with Allies and the European Union to remove bureaucratic hurdles to allow us to move forces across Allied territory. This involves sharing information on standards, requirements, and any challenges related to civilian infrastructure. We are also working closely with national governments and the private sector to ensure that infrastructure in Allied territory remains in top condition.
Fact: NATO has taken defensive and proportionate steps in response to a changed security environment. Following Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine, Allies requested a greater NATO presence in the region.
NATO personnel meet Russian arms control inspectors at Estonia's 1st Infantry Brigade in Tapa on 8 November 2017
In 2016, we deployed four multinational battlegroups ─ or "enhanced forward presence" ─ to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. In 2017, the battlegroups became fully operational. More than 4,500 troops from Europe and North America work closely together with home defence forces.
NATO's presence in the region is at the request of the host nations, and enjoys significant public support. A 2016 Gallup poll found that most people in Allied countries in the Baltic region associate NATO with the protection of their country. NATO forces uphold the highest standards of conduct, both on and off duty.
As part of NATO Allies' commitment to transparency, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania hosted Russian arms control inspectors in November 2017 and in March 2018. They toured a number of military sites, including some used by the multinational NATO battlegroups.
Fact: NATO's missile defence system is purely defensive and not directed against Russia. Bilateral agreements between the US and host nations do not allow missile sites to be used for any purpose other than missile defence.
The system defends against ballistic missiles from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. NATO invited Russia to cooperate on missile defence, an invitation extended to no other partner. Unfortunately, Russia refused to cooperate and rejected dialogue on this issue in 2013. Russian statements threatening to target Allies because of NATO's ballistic missile defence are unacceptable and counterproductive.
Fact: NATO is a defensive alliance, whose purpose is to protect our member states. Our exercises and military deployments are not directed against Russia – or any other country. Any claims that NATO is preparing an attack on Russia are absurd.
We announce our military exercises well in advance and they are subject to international observation. We notify Russia throughout the year about our exercises. In 2016, for example, Russian military experts visited 13 Allied exercises. This demonstrates the transparency of our military activities.
In direct response to Russia's use of military force against its neighbours, NATO has deployed four multinational battlegroups to the Baltic States and Poland. These forces are rotational, defensive and proportionate. They cannot compare to the three divisions Russia has established in its Western Military and Southern Military Districts. Before Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, there were no plans to deploy Allied troops to the eastern part of the Alliance. Our aim is to prevent conflict, protect our Allies, and preserve the peace.
NATO remains open to meaningful dialogue with Russia. That is why we have held ten meetings of the NATO-Russia Council since 2016. Talking to Russia allows us to communicate clearly our positions. The crisis in and around Ukraine remains the first topic on our agenda. We will continue our dialogue, including with representatives of Russian civil society.
Fact: NATO is a defensive alliance. Our purpose is to protect our member states. Our exercises and military deployments are not directed against Russia – or any other country. NATO enlargement has brought more stability and prosperity to Europe, including Russia.
All Allies reaffirmed at our Brussels Summit that "the Alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia.”
NATO has reached out to Russia consistently, transparently and publicly over the past 29 years. We set out to build a good relationship with Russia. We worked together on issues ranging from counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism to submarine rescue and civil emergency planning.
However, in March 2014, in response to Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine, NATO suspended practical cooperation with Russia. We do not seek confrontation, but we cannot ignore Russia breaking international rules, undermining our stability and security.
Fact: NATO's missile defence system is not designed or directed against Russia. It does not pose a threat to Russia's strategic deterrent.
Geography and physics make it impossible for the NATO system to shoot down Russian intercontinental missiles from NATO sites in Romania or Poland. Their capabilities are too limited, their planned numbers too few, and their locations too far south or too close to Russia to do so.
Russian officials have confirmed that the planned NATO shield will not, in fact, undermine Russia's deterrent. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's missile defence envoy, said on January 26, 2015, that "neither the current, nor even the projected" missile defence system "could stop or cast doubt on Russia's strategic missile potential."
Finally, the Russian claim that the framework agreement on Iran's nuclear programme obviates the need for NATO missile defence is wrong on two counts.
The Iranian agreement does not cover the proliferation of ballistic-missile technology which is an issue completely different from nuclear questions.
Furthermore, NATO has repeatedly made clear that missile defence is not about any one country, but about the threat posed by proliferation more generally. In fact, over 30 countries have obtained, or are trying to obtain, ballistic missile technology. The Iran framework agreement does not change those facts.
Fact: Every country which joins NATO undertakes to uphold the principles and policies of the Alliance, and the commitments which NATO has already made.
This includes the commitment that NATO poses no threat to Russia, as most recently stated at the Warsaw Summit.
Therefore, as the number of countries which join NATO grows, so does the number of countries which agree that "the Alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia."
Fact: This myth ignores geography. Russia's land border is just over 20,000 kilometres long. Of that, less than one-sixteenth (1,215 kilometres), is shared with NATO members. Russia has land borders with 14 countries. Only five of them are NATO members.
Outside NATO territory, the Alliance only has a military presence in two places: Kosovo and Afghanistan. Both operations are carried out with a United Nations mandate, endorsed by the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a member. In contrast, Russia has military bases and soldiers in three countries – Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – without the consent of their governments.
Fact: At the Brussels Summit in July 2018, Allies reaffirmed their full support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Stationing of US nuclear weapons on the territories of our Allies is fully consistent with the NPT. These weapons remain under the custody and control of the United States at all times.
Furthermore, NATO's nuclear arrangements predate the NPT. They were fully addressed when the treaty was negotiated.
Russia, however, has increased its nuclear rhetoric, stepped up nuclear exercises and regularly rehearses rapid nuclear escalation. Russia's actions and rhetoric do not contribute to transparency and predictability.
Fact: Moscow accuses NATO of violating an important part of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act related to new permanent stationing of forces. It's called the "Substantial Combat Forces" pledge. That pledge stated that in the "current and foreseeable security environment" NATO would "carry out its collective defence…by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces."
NATO has fully abided by this pledge. The four multinational battlegroups deploying to the eastern part of our Alliance are rotational, defensive and well below any reasonable definition of "substantial combat forces." There has been no permanent stationing of substantial combat forces on the territory of eastern allies; and total force levels across the Alliance have, in fact, been substantially reduced since the end of the Cold War.
Russia, which pledged to exercise "similar restraint" has increased the numbers of its troops along Allied borders, and breached agreements which allow for verification and military transparency, in particular on military exercises.
By signing the NATO-Russia Founding Act, Russia also pledged not to threaten or use force against NATO Allies and any other state. It has broken this commitment, with the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, the territory of a sovereign state. Russia also continues to support militants in eastern Ukraine.
Fact: At the Brussels Summit in July 2018, Allies reaffirmed their full support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). NATO's nuclear posture is fully consistent with the treaty.
At no point has NATO moved nuclear weapons to Eastern Europe. There have been no NATO nuclear exercises in the eastern part of the Alliance since the end of the Cold War.
It is Russia that has started to use its nuclear weapons as a tool in its strategy of intimidation. Russia has increased nuclear rhetoric and stepped up its nuclear exercises. Russian nuclear-capable bombers are flying close to Alliance borders.
This activity and this rhetoric do not contribute to transparency and predictability, particularly in the context of a changed security environment due to Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine.
Fact: NATO Allies take decisions by consensus and these are recorded. There is no record of any such decision having been taken by NATO. Personal assurances from individual leaders cannot replace Alliance consensus and do not constitute formal NATO agreement.
NATO's "Open Door Policy" is based on Article 10 of the Alliance's founding document, the North Atlantic Treaty (1949). The Treaty states that NATO membership is open to any "European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area". It states that any decision on enlargement must be made "by unanimous agreement". NATO has never revoked Article 10, nor limited the potential for enlargement. Over the past 65 years, 29 countries have chosen freely, and in accordance with their domestic democratic processes, to join NATO. This is their sovereign choice.
In addition, at the time of the alleged promise, the Warsaw Pact still existed. Its members did not agree on its dissolution until 1991. The idea of their accession to NATO was not on the agenda in 1989. This was confirmed by Mikhail Gorbachev himself in an interview with Russia Beyond the Headlines:
"The topic of 'NATO expansion' was not discussed at all, and it wasn't brought up in those years. I say this with full responsibility. Not a single Eastern European country raised the issue, not even after the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist in 1991. Western leaders didn't bring it up, either."
Newly declassified White House transcripts also reveal that, in 1997, Bill Clinton consistently refused Boris Yeltsin's offer of a 'gentlemen's agreement' that no former Soviet Republics would enter NATO: "I can't make commitments on behalf of NATO, and I'm not going to be in the position myself of vetoing NATO expansion with respect to any country, much less letting you or anyone else do so…NATO operates by consensus."
Fact: NATO took over the command of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2003.
Under NATO's command, the mission progressively extended throughout Afghanistan, was joined by 22 non-NATO countries and built up from scratch an Afghan National Security Force of more than 350,000 soldiers and police.
Threats to Afghanistan's security continue. However, the Afghan forces are now ready to take full responsibility for security across the country, as agreed with the Afghan authorities.
NATO is providing training, advice and assistance to the Afghan forces through the "Resolute Support" mission.
Fact: As with any sovereign country, the primary responsibility for upholding law and order in Afghanistan, including as regards the trade in narcotics, rests with the Afghan government.
The international community is supporting the Afghan government to live up to this responsibility in many ways, including both through the United Nations and through the European Union.
NATO is not a main actor in this area. This role has been agreed with the international community.
The NATO-led operation was launched under the authority of two UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR), 1970 and 1973, both quoting Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and neither of which was opposed by Russia.
UNSCR 1973 authorized the international community "to take all necessary measures" to "protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack". This is what NATO did, with the political and military support of regional states and members of the Arab League.
After the conflict, NATO cooperated with the UN International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, which found no breach of UNSCR 1973 or international law, concluding instead that "NATO conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties."
Fact: The NATO operation for Kosovo followed over a year of intense efforts by the UN and the Contact Group, of which Russia was a member, to bring about a peaceful solution. The UN Security Council on several occasions branded the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and the mounting number of refugees driven from their homes as a threat to international peace and security. NATO's Operation Allied Force was launched to prevent the large-scale and sustained violations of human rights and the killing of civilians.
Following the air campaign, the subsequent NATO-led peacekeeping operation, KFOR, which initially included Russia, has been under UN mandate (UNSCR 1244), with the aim of providing a safe and secure environment in Kosovo.
Fact: The Kosovo operation was conducted following exhaustive discussion involving the whole international community dealing with a long-running crisis that was recognized by the UN Security Council as a threat to international peace and security.
Following the operation, the international community engaged in nearly ten years of diplomacy, under UN authority, to find a political solution and to settle Kosovo's final status, as prescribed by UNSCR 1244.
In Crimea, there was no pre-existing crisis, no attempt to discuss the situation with the Ukrainian government, no involvement of the United Nations, and no attempt at a negotiated solution.
In Kosovo, international attempts to find a solution took over 3,000 days. In Crimea, Russia annexed part of Ukraine's territory in less than 30 days. It has sought to justify its illegal and illegitimate annexation, in part, by pointing to a "referendum" that was inconsistent with Ukrainian law, held under conditions of illegal armed occupation with no freedom of expression or media access for the opposition, and without any credible international monitoring.