In a Victory Day speech on 9 May 2022 President Putin accused NATO of launching an active military build-up on territories adjacent to Russia.

Reports say Mr Putin had demanded prior to the war that NATO turn the clock back to 1997 and reverse its eastward expansion, removing its forces and military infrastructure from member states that joined the alliance from 1997 and not deploying “strike weapons near Russia’s borders”. 

This seemed faithful to Mr Putin’s statement at the NATO-Russia summit 2008 where he, serving as the then Prime Minister reportedly declared that if Ukraine joined NATO, Russia could contend to annex the Ukrainian East and Crimea. 

It is arguable that this is a nostalgic feeling for the former Soviet Union or a fear of possible threat as the Kremlin has said that it feels threatened by NATO’s expansion to the east and, above all, fears that Ukraine, a country in which it can exert influence, will end up joining NATO.

Meanwhile, Mr Putin’s vehemence to reconcile the past threatens his idealistic Soviet republic as the invasion has pushed Finland and Sweden to set aside decades of neutrality and seek NATO membership, although both countries now face opposition from Turkey in accessing membership. Concurrently, Switzerland which was granted “eternal neutrality” at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 is experiencing a wake up call. As thousands of Swiss citizens took to the streets when Russia began its “special military operation” into Ukraine, condemning the aggression and demanding support for Ukraine. Many also offered their homes to Ukrainian refugees, for whom the Swiss government has offered visa-free collective protection. Now, they are asking how they can be neutral in a war like Ukraine; a recent opinion poll reveals that while two-thirds of Swiss still opposed the idea of joining NATO, more than half (52%) were in favour of joining a European defence union.

Franklin Foer, a writer at the Atlantic magazine argues that Putin is less concerned about Ukraine joining NATO than he is about Ukraine becoming part of Europe “with its insistence on rule of law.”Now, sadly, as the war marches on, it has become apparent that President Putin’s only goal is a ‘submissive Ukraine’. 

By Funmi Obieze-Okorro

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