Clues from Russian Views: Has the NATO Summit Become Music to Moscow’s Ears?
This week has seen NATO allies adopt a number of important decisions at their summit in Vilnius, including more than 4,400 pages of new defense plans that provide for the pact to have 300,000 troops ready to move to its eastern flank within 30 days; the setting of 2% of GDP as the floor rather than ceiling of member states’ annual defense expenditures; further integration of their missiles defenses, and the transformation of the NATO-Ukraine Commission into a NATO-Ukraine Council. Despite the latter, the July 11-12 summit’s outcome left Kyiv wanting, as the summit’s communique declared that Ukraine would be invited to join the alliance but failed to specify how or when. To the Ukrainian leadership, that lack of a specific deadline must have felt like the Bucharest summit of April 2008 all over again. Unhappy with the July 2023 summit’s then-draft communique language on Ukraine’s membership prospects, Volodymyr Zelensky lashed out, calling the lack of a concrete timeline “unprecedented and absurd.”
To the pro-war camp in Russia, however, that lack seemed to be one, if not the only, piece of good news to emerge from the summit in Vilnius, with one pro-government columnist, Mikhail Rostovsky, describing differences between some of the alliance’s members and Ukraine as “music to Moscow’s ears.” Music or not, the summit did demonstrate that “the chances of Ukraine’s victory have decreased,” in the view of Dmitry Kozelev, editor of liberal-minded Republic.ru.
Below you will find a sample of reactions to the July 11-12 summit by Russian figures, media outlets and one organization, including not only the government, but also opposition figures. The entries are listed in alphabetical order.
- Anatoly Antonov: Russian Ambassador to the United States: the NATO summit showed that Western states engage in an “open falsification of truth” and an “aggressive line regarding Russia.” He added: “There is nowhere for us to retreat… we do not have doubts that the goals of the SVO will be met.” (Kommersant, 07.12.2023)
- Dmitry Drize: journalist working for a newspaper that is owned by a pro-Putin business tycoon: “The West has done all it could. At least for today… As for the Russian position, the former partners showed wisdom in one way or another — at least they did not go to war themselves.” (Kommersant, 07.12.2023)
- Yuri Fedorov: liberal opposition/military expert: “The admission of Ukraine to NATO has been postponed until what Washington calls a ‘peace agreement’ with Moscow has been reached, and so long as the Ukrainian political system, which is in fact quite democratic, does not correspond to American ideas about democracy.” Without the Membership Action Plan, there are no conditions, and “If there are no specific conditions, the only remaining are promises. A promise, as Talleyrand once remarked, “is good because you can always refuse it.” (Istories, 07.13.2023)
- Abbas Gallyamov: liberal opposition/political scientist: “The refusal of the West to name a specific date for Ukraine's entry into NATO looks like an attempt to prevent the Kremlin from mobilizing public opinion for a ‘patriotic war.’ … The West acts very conservatively. It proceeds from the principle that ‘the best is the enemy of the good.’ Why destabilize the situation if it develops more or less in a way that suits you?” (Abbas Gallyamov/Telegram Channel, 07.12.2023)
- Ivan Ivanov: pro-government/author of a Telegram Channel, Fighter-bomber: “They weren’t accepted, which is logical; they are fulfilling their function well anyway,. … Today, only one country decides whether Ukraine will join NATO,” he added. “That is Russia.” (NYT, 07.12.23)
- Konstantin Kosachev: chairman of the Russian Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee: “Everyone understands that this [Ukraine joining NATO] would be the first act of the third world war. But [Zelensky] definitely counted on something like ‘at 6 pm after the war.’" (Kommersant, 07.13.2023)
- Yury Kotyonok: pro-government/Russian military blogger: referring to the rejection of NATO Article 5 guarantees, and Washington opting for long-term intelligence sharing and military ties: “In the case of Israel, this works thanks to a motivated army, effective intelligence agencies and the presence of a nuclear baton. In the case of Ukraine, this will not work due to total corruption, continuous intra-elite conflicts and the absence of any unifying factor, except for hatred, which in the long run turns out to be the weakest foundation of all possible.” (Voenkor Kotyonok/Telegram Channel, 07.12.2023)
- Aleksandr Kots: pro-government/Russian military blogger: commenting on UK Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace’s statement that Ukraine should be more grateful for Western aid: “And what, in fact, is wrong? The Kyiv authorities are quite seriously convinced that they are protecting ‘holy Europe’ from the ‘Katsap-Mongolian hordes.’ And we are sure that they have the right not even to ask, but to demand anything they want from Western patrons. Ukraine, in their understanding, is the navel of the Earth, the fourth Rome and Babylon in one bottle.” (Kotsnews/Telegram Channel, 07.12.2023)
- Dmitry Kozelev, editor of opposition-minded Republic.ru, “So far, it looks like the NATO summit … concluded unfavorably for Ukraine. … It can be assumed that the richest Western countries… have not yet decided whether it is worth maintaining the defense of Ukraine in the same volume if the counteroffensive will have a weak result. … However, military assistance continues, and even new packages are being agreed upon. A declaration of support for Ukraine was signed. The Armed Forces of Ukraine still have time to succeed in the counteroffensive. This is not the case when you can say that it's over. But the chances of Ukraine's victory have decreased, the summit has demonstrated this.” (Kozelev/Telegram Channel, 07.12.2023)
- Fyodor Lukyanov: editor in chief of “Russia in Global Affairs”: “Despite the demonstration of unity, differences within NATO are obvious and significant… a group of states is crystallizing, which not only stand for an increase in this participation but in principle tend to accept the physical involvement of their armed forces in hostilities. And they certainly stand for the maximum militarization of the entire Russian-NATO border area - from the construction of military bases to the deployment of nuclear weapons.” He adds that unlike in the Cold War, there are no “clearly established rules of conduct that would be based on the alignment of forces.” (Global Affairs, 07.12.2023)
- Dmitry Medvedev: Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation: “Ukraine is a 404 country.” He added that “realists in NATO” understand that “quite apparently” Ukraine will never join. (Kommersant, 07.11.2023)
- Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman:
- Ukraine’s admission into NATO would be “potentially very dangerous for European security.” (FT, 07.11.23)
- Russia is closely watching the NATO summit in Vilnius, which he said had already started to demonstrate “a strong anti-Russian attitude.” Peskov said Russia would analyze developments at the summit and would take measures in response to guarantee its security. In wide-ranging comments on Tuesday, Peskov called France’s decision to supply Ukraine with long-range missiles a mistake. He was also critical of Turkey’s decision on July 10 to clear the way for Sweden to join NATO. (NYT, 07.11.23)
- Sergei Poletayev: founder of the pro-government Vatfor project: “Ukraine continues to be a tool for the West, and the same signal is being sent to Ukraine: you are our outpost, our battlefield with Russia, our weapon, ram, whatever, but you are not one of us. And all decisions aim to ensure that Ukraine remains this weapon for as long as possible so that it can continue to fight — at least until the end of the conflict, no other issues are being discussed.” (Russia in Global Affairs, 07.13.2023)
- Ivan Preobrazhensky, liberal opposition/political scientist: “Zelensky was well aware that Ukraine now has no chance of joining NATO.” Talking about Zelensky’s public discontent with the “weakness” of the allies: “I'm not sure it had a guaranteed opportunity to get this repeal of the NATO accession plan… Accordingly, it achieved all this, and then Zelensky, knowing full well that the diplomatic game is over, and it is not worth exacerbating relations, lowered the degree [of rhetorical pressure] so that all Western leaders understood that this was only a diplomatic game, and not real discontent on the part of Ukraine.” (Republic.ru, 07.14.2023)
- Vladimir Putin, Russian president: “As for Ukraine’s NATO membership, as we have said many times, this obviously creates a threat to Russia’s security. In fact, the threat of Ukraine’s accession to NATO is the reason, or rather one of the reasons for the special military operation. I am certain that this would not enhance Ukraine’s security in any way either. In general, it will make the world much more vulnerable and lead to more tensions in the international arena. … With regard to security, we have said many times that all countries have the right to ensure their own security and to choose the path to get there which it believes is the best for it. …There is only one limitation related to the fact that while striving to achieve the security of one country, the security of another country must not be jeopardized.” (Kremlin.ru, 07.13.23)
- Mikhail Rostovsky, journalist with pro-government MK newspaper, wrote a column entitled “Putin’s Victory in Vilnius,” in which he celebrated the summit’s failure to initiate Ukraine’s entry into the alliance. “Disagreements between official Kyiv and its ‘active fans’ broke out to the surface in the ugliest form possible. The amount of mutual irritation has also become obvious: both sides of the alliance between Ukraine and the West consider the other one to be a freeloader. All this is music to Moscow’s ears.” (MK.ru, 07.14.23)
- Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “They [NATO] sweetened the pill by saying that Ukraine’s path to full integration has moved beyond the need for a Membership Action Plan. At the same time, Ukraine will be the main expendable element in the hybrid war NATO has launched against Russia. Resolved to escalate the conflict, the bloc has promised Kyiv that it will supply more modern and more long-range weapons so that this conflict of attrition will last as long as possible.” “Having swallowed Finland and (almost swallowed) Sweden… NATO is trying to bring military confrontation to the Arctic.” (MID, 07.12.2023)
- Pro-war Russian Telegram Channel Rybar, run by former Russian Defense Minstry press officer Mikhail Zvinchuk: reposted a digest of the “truly important NATO Summit decisions,” listing enhanced NATO troop and airspace presence in the Baltic region and the mandated 2% GDP defense spending. (Rybar/Telegram Channel, 07.12.2023)
- Pro-war Russian Telegram Channel Starshe Eddy: reposted a note arguing that the refusal to allow Ukraine to join NATO shows that the West must: “publicly [rein in] Kyiv” because Zelensky and his circles had started to “dare too much.” (Starshe Eddy/Telegram Channel, 07.11.2023)
- Telegram Channel Wargonzo, which is edited by pro-war journalist Semyon Pegov: argued that the refusal to allow Ukraine to join NATO comes from the “absence of battlefield successes” and that the West will try to “sweeten the pill with further various military supplies.” (Wargonzo/Telegram Channel, 07.11.2023)
- Boris Yunanov, liberal opposition/journalist, responding to Zelensky’s criticism of the communique: said NATO “rejects any comparisons with Bucharest-2008. Then one thing was absent — tens of billions of dollars and euros and hundreds and thousands of weapons in the form of assistance. At that time, some NATO countries did not take off, figuratively speaking, the last bulletproof vest to give to Kyiv. Then, finally, there was no universal solidarity and support.” (Republic.ru, 07.13.2023)
- Maria Zakharova, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation: “The Summit failed before it even began.” (Kommersant, 07.11.2023)
 Russian-language acronym for the Special Military Operation, which is what the Kremlin has insisted Russia’s war against Ukraine should be called.
This item is part of Russia Matters’ “Clues from Russian Views” series, in which we share what newsmakers in/from Russia are saying on Russia-related issues that impact key U.S. national interests so that RM readers can glean clues about their thinking. Photo shared by NATO under the Alliance's fair use press license.