Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Slovenia would be more comfortable under a Russian ‘security umbrella’ than NATO.
February 20, 2017
A new poll reveals that NATO’s controversial eastward expansion hasn’t really gone according to plan. Former Warsaw Pact member Bulgaria and former Yugoslav Republic Slovenia, which both joined NATO in 2004, say that they would feel safer being defended by the Russian military in the event of war than they would by NATO.
Perhaps more worryingly for NATO top brass are Turkey and Greece. Both joined the alliance in 1952 and have a history of being at odds with each other (to put it mildly) say that they too would feel safer being defended by Russia in the event of war.
If recent botched election forecasts from Brexit to Trump have taught us anything, it is that pollsters often manipulate questions to get the answers they want. Therefore, the results of this poll should be taken with the same pinch of salt as any other.
However, the poll does raise an important question. How united is NATO?
As President Trump continues to highlight, many NATO members are happy to receive the so-called benefits of NATO without paying their share of membership fees.
Currently, members of NATO are required to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense. Apart from the United States, only Greece, Britain, Estonia and Poland have met this target. The other 23 member states fall short.
The other reality the poll buttresses is that increasingly, Greece and Bulgaria are finding themselves looking more to Moscow than to Brussels or Washington. Greece has been economically decimated by Brussels and the typical response from America to Athens is ‘do as you’re told’.
Likewise, Bulgaria just elected Rumen Radev as president, a man who has made clear that he doesn’t follow the narrative that Russia is the enemy of all EU states and of Europe more generally.
Indeed, if not for Russia’s victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, Bulgaria would have likely waited decades longer to achieve independence from Ottoman Turkey.
Furthermore, Greece like Bulgaria is an Orthodox Christian country with historic fraternal relations with Russia.
Turkey’s position on this list, however, reveals that historical fraternity with Russia is not the only requirement for NATO skepticism. The same could be said of Slovenia, but the case of Turkey as a large state and long-time NATO member/historic Russian adversary, makes it a much more interesting study.
Turkey is one of Russia’s historical military foes, and under President Erdogan, things have been rocky, to say the least.
However, Turkey is becoming increasingly anti-America, anti-Europe and while not becoming a Russophillic power, Turkey is fast realizing that Russia is one of the only great powers that is willing to still deal pragmatically and respectfully with Ankara.
Obama’s failure to strongly condemn last summer’s failed coup Turkish attempt, America’s sheltering of wanted Turkish criminal Fethullah Gülen and Trump’s apparently less than impactful phone call with Erdogan, have been just some factors pushing Turkey towards Russia.
Furthermore, Turkey’s participation in the Astana Peace Conference has shown that it is the Russian-driven peace process for Syria which Turkey recognizes as an internationally prestigious forum.
The big stumbling block for better Turkish-Russian relations is not, however, Turkey’s continued membership (however, uneasy) of NATO. It is Turkey’s territorial and political ambitions for Syria, a Russian ally whose territorial integrity and political sovereignty, Russia has vowed to protect.
Even before one gets to Turkey’s continued illegal occupation of Cyprus and the sporadic threats against Greek islands from Turkish officials, including Erdogan, it is Syria where Russia is working hard to avoid a conflict between Syrian Arab Army forces and Turkish regulars as well as their go-to jihadists, the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’.
The fact that Turks see Russia as a better guarantor of safety than NATO demonstrates both a broad attitude of Turks being fed up with the west, but also a desire for Turkey not to waste time provoking Russia and her allies in Syria over Erdogan’s wounded pride.
The sooner Erdogan himself gets this message the better it will be for Turkey, Russia, Syria and the wider region.
NATO’s mission is increasingly out of date, ambiguous and at times downright non-existent. The alliance was formed as a united front to made war on the Soviet Union. So long as certain NATO members want to continue to fight a Cold War that has long frosted over, NATO will continue to be its own worst enemy.