COPENHAGEN – Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is one of the great tragedies of our time, not only because of the tremendous human cost, but also because it is utterly pointless. Indeed, Russia’s leaders fundamentally misjudged the West’s intentions and created an entirely unnecessary confrontation that undermines both sides’ interests.
Russia and the West – with their closely interlinked economies and many overlapping political objectives in Europe and beyond – have much to gain from peaceful cooperation. But instead of working with Western powers to enhance shared prosperity, the Kremlin turned on its partners abroad.
The reason was simple: Russia viewed the gradual enlargement of the European Union and NATO – achieved through their “neighborhood” and “open door” policies, respectively – as carefully orchestrated attempts to encircle and threaten it. According to Kremlin rhetoric, by welcoming former Soviet countries, the EU and NATO were explicitly attempting to weaken Russia. This interpretation ultimately drove Russia to respond to Ukraine’s plans to sign an association agreement with the EU by annexing Crimea and attempting to create a “frozen conflict” in eastern Ukraine.
But Russia’s interpretation was patently wrong – and I can say so with full authority. As Prime Minister of Denmark, I chaired the 2002 EU summit in Copenhagen, where European leaders agreed on the bloc’s most expansive enlargement ever. And as Secretary General of NATO, I spent five years chairing the NATO-Russia Council to build cooperation with our largest neighbor.