Contestable Claims on Russia That M. McFaul and S. Sestanovich Make in Foreign Affairs

 I have read pieces by M. McFaul and S. Sestanovich in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs and would like to point out a number of contestable claims that they make on Russia and Ukraine.
Let’s start with “Moscow’s Choice.” Michael McFaul, FA, November/December 2014. In that piece Dr McFaul makes the following claims.

McFaul’s first claim: “In fact, in the five years that I served in the Obama administration, I attended almost every meeting Obama held with Putin and Medvedev, and for three of those years, while working at the White House, I listened in on every phone conversation, and I cannot remember NATO expansion ever coming up. Even months before Putin’s annexation of Crimea, I cannot recall a single major statement from a senior Russian official warning about the dangerous consequences of NATO expansion.”  I find it difficult to believe that Russian leaders would have made the following statements and inserted the following language into official document to highlight perceived threat by NATO, but keep mum on the issue when talking to the leaders of the country, which is NATO’s unquestioned leader:

  • 2010 Defense Doctrine: “The main external military dangers are: a) the desire to endow the force potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with global functions carried out in violation of the norms of international law and to move the military infrastructure of NATO member countries closer to the borders of the Russian Federation, including by expanding the bloc.”
  • Putin in 2008 “The presence of a powerful military bloc on our borders, whose members are guided by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty will be seen as direct threat to our national security.” Warning that Russia would react strongly to expansion of NATO to Ukraine and Georgia, Mr. Putin said: “Let us be honest with each other — we will treat you as you treat us.” (Hindu ,04.05.08).
  • Putin in 2008: ““We are against NATO's enlargement on the whole, in principle…As Bismarck said long ago, what really counts is potentials rather than goodwill intentions or statements …And all we see is that military infrastructure is getting closer and closer to our borders. Why?” (RIA Novosti, 05.31.08).
  • Putin in 2014: “We are constantly proposing cooperation on all key issues; we want to strengthen our level of trust and for our relations to be equal, open and fair. But we saw no reciprocal steps. On the contrary, they have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed us before an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the East, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. They kept telling us the same thing: “Well, this does not concern you.” That’s easy to say.” (, 03.18.14).
  • Dmitry Medvedev (when president) in 2008:  “In whose interest is it to maintain close contacts between Russia and NATO? It is in NATO’s interest of course. We get nothing from it. They have always done as they pleased. They have crept closer to our borders, set up their bases, taken in more and more new members. What do we gain from this? They do not propose their membership plan nor undertake any deep-reaching cooperation. The nuclear weapons targeted against the Russian Federation since the Soviet era remain so to this day, and as for the missile defense system being set up close to our borders, only a fool could believe it is directed against Iran.“ (, 09.19.08).
    • I’d also note that Putin touted possibility of demanding Crimea in 2008: “You know the Russian Federation lost tens of thousands of pieces of its historic territory as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And are we now to divide everything up again? Should we demand the return of the Crimea and parts of the territory of other former Soviet republics and so on?” (, 05.10.05).

McFaul’s second claim: “Even before Viktor Yanukovych’s election as president in 2010, Ukrainian leaders were not pressing for membership, and nor were the Ukrainian people

Ukraine’s push for NATO under Yanukovych’s predecessors:.


  • February 02.22.2005 NATO summit:
    • Yushchenko: "Ukraine clearly expressed its readiness to join up to an action plan related to NATO membership." (FT, 02.23.2005).
  • In April 2005 at the NATO-Ukraine Council (NUC) meeting of foreign ministers in Vilnius Allies and Ukraine launched an Intensified Dialogue on Ukraine’s aspirations to NATO membership, which meant accelerating talks with the ex-Soviet state on the military and political reform goals it must reach to be considered a membership candidate. (Reuters, 04.14.2005).
    • Ukraine's foreign minister Tarasyuk: We expect Ukraine to meet the conditions for NATO membership by 2008. (FT, 04.21.2005).


  • CFR taskforce report:  The United States should accelerate NATO membership for Russian neighbors such as Ukraine and Georgia (WP, 03.05.2006).
  • NATO ministerial in Sofia in April 2006:
    • Before ministerial:  Rice will seek the backing of her counterparts for Ukraine's entry to NATO’s "membership action plan.” (FT, 04.25.2006)
    • During the ministerial:
      • Rice: "NATO is a membership organization that has a lot of requirements and a lot of obligations that have to do with security," Rice said. "When NATO takes in members it is taking in members that can meet those obligations and that have the capabilities to do it." (Dow Jones, 04.27.2006).
      • Tarasyuk: "The aspiration to NATO membership is natural (and) Ukraine's course is irreversible.” (Dow Jones, 04.28.2006).


  • At a one-to-one meeting behind closed doors Rice and Yushchenko discussed Ukraine's possible accession to the NATO Membership Action Plan. (BBC, 01.23.2008).

Third claim: Sestanovich makes the following claim in “How the West Has Won,” S. Sestanovich,  FA, November/December 2014.:“Yanukovych’s fall was a historic event, but it did not, despite Russian claims, revive Ukraine’s candidacy for NATO membership….Ukrainian politicians and officials said again and again that this issue was not on the agenda.”
It is true that that Poroshenko denied any ambition to have Ukraine join NATO, but acting president and Rada speaker Turchynov and acting premier Yatsenyuk both said Ukraine’s membership in NATO is possibility. Yes, they made he following statements appeared only AFTER Russia had made a move in Crimea, but Sestanovich made no such distinction in his claim.

  • Ex-PM Tymoshenko: “I think that if Ukraine remains outside different systems of collective defense and security, Ukraine will remain a territory of instability, a territory of possible military conflict on the European continent.” (FT, 03.32.14).
  • Acting President and Speaker Turchynov: “Russia is very afraid that Ukraine will enter NATO… At the same time it is the Russian Federation that is constantly pushing Ukraine towards NATO with its actions and its troops, who are always located in the Crimea, and if it continues to do so, I don't rule out that this will happen.” (Interfax, 04.04.14).
  • Acting PM Yatsenyuk said the bill aimed to "scrap the non-aligned status of the Ukrainian state and establish a course towards membership of NATO." Asked about future NATO membership, Yatsenyuk said he realized the alliance was not ready now to admit Kiev, but added: "NATO in these particular circumstances is the only vehicle to protect Ukraine."  (Reuters, 11.14.14).
  • Acting PM Yatsenyuk said on September 3 that he hoped NATO would grant Ukraine the status of a "special partner, partner No. 1," and reiterated plans for the country to seek eventual NATO membership. (RFE/RL, 09.03.14).
  • Turchynov: "We are setting the aim to join the European Union within five years," he said. "Ukraine should become a member of the European Union and of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation." (Tass, 08.18.14).

PS I’d also like to note that I answered the following question by McFaul in in this piece “How Russia's Red Line in Ukraine Got Real”: “Both Russian television coverage and Mearsheimer’ s essay fail to explain why Russia kept its troops out of Ukraine for the decade-plus between NATO’s expansion, which began in 1999, and the actual intervention in Ukraine in 2014.”



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