The Russians assessed Nato as weak because it was weak

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022

War is the domain of paradox, contradiction, and boundless surprise, Edward Luttwak likes to say:

For the “post-Pacifist” German mainstream, the most bitter paradox of all is that the Russians might not have attacked Ukraine had they foreseen Germany’s response: that the Bundestag would cancel the new Russian gas pipeline, invest in regasification terminals, send weapons to Ukraine, reaffirm its fealty to Nato, and move to drastically upgrade its armed forces with a €100 billion injection.

The Russians could not possibly have known these things. The day before Putin launched his invasion, the German government declared that the new Russian gas pipeline would be inaugurated no matter what, and that they would send no weapons to Ukraine; it even affirmed it would prevent Estonia’s delivery of 122mm howitzers to Kyiv because those guns had briefly belonged to Germany when the West German army absorbed East Germany’s. Yet more egregiously, Germany also denied overflight permission for British transports delivering weapons to Ukraine. As for Nato, Germany reiterated its refusal to spend 2% or even 1% of its GDP for defence. If there were to be collective defence at all, let it be European, and directed by the decidedly civilian European Commission.


All this has now slipped into oblivion in today’s Europe, where Nato’s centrality and its US leadership are largely uncontested. The Russians assessed Nato as weak because it was weak, and therefore attacked Ukraine. Yet because they attacked, Nato is stronger than it has been for decades.


  1. Felix says:

    I got the sense that in the first days of the war, everyone was standing around waiting to know whether the Ukrainians would fight or roll over.

    They fought, their leader saying, “I want ammunition, not a ride” to Biden’s offer of an escape.

    And the rest was history.

    Now, whether that quote was planned, set up, and crafted? In our post-truth world, we all think like Middle Easterners. Nothing is as it seems. And how things play out has a magical quality of seeming inevitability. On Monday morning.

  2. Alpha says:

    War and preparation for war is deception.

    When weak, appear strong. When strong, appear weak.

    Putin failed to to recognize the West’s capacity to immediately strengthen NATO and should the need arise respond directly to Russia.

    After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Yamamoto assessed, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

    Much too early to tell, but Putin may have made the same mistake in Ukraine that the Japanese made in the Pacific.

  3. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “The Russians assessed Nato as weak because it was weak, and therefore attacked Ukraine.”

    Hmmm! Part of the trigger for Russia intervening in the Ukraine’s 8-year long civil war was the concern that NATO was working up to expanding into the Ukraine — which could have put nuclear missiles only 4 minutes flight time from Moscow. That was unacceptable — at least that is what the Russians themselves have said.

    If Russia had really believed that NATO was weak, then why would Russia have been concerned about a weak NATO advancing towards its border?

    Maybe Russia was concerned because they had seen the “defensive” NATO alliance invade the sovereign nation of Iraq, attack Libya, bomb Belgrade, and invade the sovereign nation of Afghanistan. Reasonable people might have sheltered severe doubts about NATO’s objectives for the Ukraine, and decided to pre-empt NATO before it could attack.

    Luttwak’s assessment is unconvincing. Russia’s move into the Ukraine was more likely driven by the (misapplied) strength of NATO rather than by any (perceived) weakness.

  4. Gregory Cochran says:

    “which could have put nuclear missiles only 4 minutes flight time from Moscow”

    Like it makes any difference.

  5. Capt Obvious says:

    More news, the sky is blue (at least in the East, can’t say what the West will call it tomorrow), F=mA and the only things certain are death and taxes. NATO only works on soft targets and the Russians knew the moment President Potato was inaugurated that Operation Annex Whatever parts of Ukraine was on.

    And, no, NATO still sucks and always will against a Peer level military. Pretty good at bombing civilians though.

  6. Lu An Li says:

    “As for Nato, Germany reiterated its refusal to spend 2% or even 1% of its GDP for defence.”

    The agreed amount that had been agreed upon. One conference agreed. A second affirmed. But still no 2 % from other than a few members of NATO.

  7. David Foster says:

    “concern that NATO was working up to expanding into the Ukraine — which could have put nuclear missiles only 4 minutes flight time from Moscow.”

    Many, perhaps most, US cities are within about 15 minutes flight time from Russian SLBMs. With depressed trajectories, coastal and near-coast cities are within perhaps 7 minutes…with hypersonic missiles, less…and missiles can be launched from any commercial-appearing vessels as well as submarines.

  8. Altitude Zero says:

    Whether it makes sense to us or not, the Russians announced repeatedly that they regarded Ukraine in NATO as a threat to their vital interests, and we continued to ignore them, and push NATO east. In a similar vein, the US regarded Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba as being utterly unacceptable, even though its unclear to this day whether this really gave the Soviets any actual additional capabilities, or at least any that warranted WWIII. Nations, (including us) are not always entirely rational, we should have learned that by now. Russia is obviously ultimately responsible for their own actions, but the US and NATO had many chances it help defuse the situation, and instead they escalated it, and this has made the world much more unsafe for everyone. Incidentally, you would have thought that, after 1941, the Russians would have learned not to trust the Germans by now…

  9. VXXC says:

    “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

    Pardon, that’s a myth. What he actually may have sad is the Japanese got a much sharper reaction than expected.

  10. If the US had invaded Mexico without just cause, you can be sure that both Russia and China would be sending weapons to Mexico and training Mexican soldiers and guerillas.

    Would the US then be justified in threatening China and Russia with nuclear oblivion in return? The entire situation becomes tangled beyond rational argument very quickly, when wars start out of the fever dreams of autocrats, with no justification.

    Russia invaded Ukraine, not the other way around. Russians are turning Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure to rubble and practicing genocidal rape, murder, torture, and population cleansing against Ukraine.

    None of this would have happened without Putin’s nightmares playing out in reality.

  11. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Soban: “Russia invaded Ukraine, not the other way around.”

    That is a rather over-simplified view, although it is the view being pushed into empty heads by the BBC, CNN, NYT and their ilk.

    NATO aggression started long ago, when “Our Guys” broke their promise not to expand NATO towards Russia’s borders. The war in the Ukraine started in 2014, when the US engineered a coup and installed a rather unsavory clique who began oppressing & murdering Russian-speaking Ukrainians. When the West intervened to try to stop that slaughter, the Ukrainian clique signed the Minsk accords to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east – but then refused to implement those agreements.

    Zelensky’s clique were gearing up for a military invasion of those Russian-speaking areas. NATO and the US were ignoring the pleas from Russia. So Russia pre-empted the Ukrainian clique by attacking.

    All Putin’s fault, of course. The man is worse than Trump!

  12. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    Any pretense of NATO being ‘merely a defensive alliance’ was definitively put to bed for anyone paying attention in the late 90s and early aughts, when ideas of Russia joining NATO were floated, and met with a resounding arcade of awkward shuffling and averted glances.

    The purpose of NATO’s existence is menacing Russia; it does not exist without this purpose; and as long as it continues to exist it will continue to pursue this purpose, regardless of what the situation, scenario, or circumstances are.

Leave a Reply