Readings in Nonviolence: Russian threat? By Jan Oberg


In the following piece Jan Oberg provides some really important points correcting and challenging western views of Russia. We would not necessarily agree with all his points as stated, or what is omitted; issues come to mind about the Finland-Russia war of 1939, how the Soviet/Russian state controlled its empire in eastern Europe after the Second World War, the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 (not dealt with in this piece), and the extent, if any, to which you can say Russia “has created a society that is admirable” without very considerable qualification regarding repression and the suborning of democracy. However most of his points are spot on. – Ed.

Russia Is Not a Threat to NATO or Neutral States. Full Stop.

By Jan Oberg

from Transcend Media Service

NATO just turned 75 – amid its deepest crisis ever, no matter what they say. During all these years, we have heard repeatedly that the “Russians” – the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact and today’s Russia – are coming!

But while the Soviets/Russians have invaded other countries, they’ve never invaded a NATO or a neutral country in Europe. And when the First Cold War ended a good 30 years ago, and archives were opened, allegedly no plans were found for an out-of-the-blue attack on and occupation of any such country – but there were plans for how to roll back attacking Western forces if they should try.

If your predictions have been so consistently wrong over seven decades, wouldn’t it be common sense to ask: Why is it that we’ve been wrong all the time? Why do we spend trillions on guarding ourselves against a permanent threat that never happens – a bit like waiting for Godot in Beckett’s equally absurd drama?

The intellectually nonsensical (see later) NATO goal that all members must spend at least 2% of the GDP that used to be seen as a ceiling has rapidly turned into the floor.

And why do NATO countries these years move in the direction of a war economy where guns take priority over butter to such an extent that their economies and welfare will be fundamentally undermined? This will be a main reason they will lose out more quickly than otherwise to the up-and-coming new actors in the emerging multi-polar world, China, India and Africa in particular?

Virtually all that is needed to support those militarism-promoting and dangerously wrong predictions and policies are one or more of these four assertions or mantras:

The Russians are coming.

Putin is a dictator, an evil man.

Look at his full-scale invasion in Ukraine – out-of-the-blue and unprovoked.

After Putin has taken Ukraine, he will not be satisfied but will move on to take other countries.

This is repeatedly stated without any evidence or probability, simply postulated. This is also the scenario stated by the US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, in early March 2024 – from which he concluded that “if Ukraine fell, NATO would be in a fighting Russia.” The Swedish Chief of Defence has argued that Putin could do a partial invasion of Southern Sweden (Skåne).

Why is Russia not a threat to NATO or neutral states?

Let’s now go back to the Russian threat that isn’t. Here follow some arguments – with no priority intended.

1 • Russia lost at least 25 million people in the 2nd world war. The Russians know better than most what war means.

2 • Russia sees a need for a security zone of some kind because it is Russia that has been invaded three times since 1812 – Napoleon, the White Revolution and Hitler – not the other way around, but handling an occupied NATO member is not productive or possible.

3 • Russia has the largest reservoir in terms of natural resources and does not need to try to grab those of others – like the US and others the oil in the Middle East.

4 • Russia has learnt from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact around 1990-91 that you cannot follow the NATO countries in terms of military expenditures without militarising yourself to death, i.e. undermining your civilian economy.

5 • That points to the fact that Russia’s economy is very small in comparison with those of the 32 NATO countries.

6 • Russia’s military expenditures were 8% of NATO’s up to its invasion of Ukraine. It is true that military expenditures do not translate directly into capabilities to start wars, fight and sustain them. On the famous other hand, starting a war against an adversary with 12 times larger military expenditures and a vastly bigger economy would be madness, suicide or a Himalayan, fatal miscalculation based on complete irrationality. Putin and the people around him do not suffer from such diseases.

7 • These limitations make it extremely unlikely that Russia would succeed, if it tried, in building anything faintly similar to the US global empire or be an imperialist’ as it is often called. It has a few bases abroad, but not 600+ like the US. Russia is not an imperialist power.

8 • If it invaded a NATO country (or any other for that matter), it would face a new problem: Occupied people will invariably work against their occupiers. How would Russia, with its relatively limited military resources, be able to administer, secure and develop a series of countries – and have none of them or a “Rest-NATO” arm to get them back?

9 • If aggression against NATO or neutral states – or against states around the world – was, so to speak, in the Russians’ genes, why haven’t they done much more of it? In the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet Union’s global reach, particularly in Africa as well as the Middle East—politically and militarily—was much bigger than Russia’s today.

10 • Putin’s post-Cold War Russia has invested predominantly in getting Russia back on its feet after the complete and disastrous disintegration back then – and it has created a society that is admirable with a stronger economy than most have predicted – and also remained quite resistant to history’s most intense and wide-ranging sanctions imposed by EU and NATO countries. Invading a NATO country would undermine or destroy all that.

11 • Vladimir Putin has been president for more than 20 years. If he was a true expansionist or “imperialist,” how come he has not invaded one country after the other – also inspired by the US and NATO countries that have been doing that sort of thing permanently, not the least in the wake of 9/11?

12 • If Russia is such a formidable threat, why has it not built over 600 military bases worldwide like the US and hundreds more to match France and the UK in that field? (See the answer in 13).

13 • While the Soviet Union represented another competing ideology until its dissolution – Soviet Communism, planned state economy, one Communist Party, etc. – Russia today can not possibly be perceived as a systemic or ideological threat.

14 • All Russian leaders, including Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Putin, and Medvedev have expressed an interest in working with NATO, building ‘a European’ house’ as Gorbachev called it. Former NATO S-G Robertson has informed us how he discussed a sort of NATO membership with the Soviet Union, and when Putin raised the issue, he was told by NATO that Russia would have to queue up after little Montenegro. The Soviet Union asked to become a NATO member in 1954, was turned down and then established the Warsaw Pact in 1955. These Russian attempts – in vain, however – can hardly be seen as only negative, more perhaps like a little Western brother who wants to join the larger brother rather than kill him.

15 • President Putin has repeatedly stated that he sees Russia as – at least also – a European culture and state, that without interchanges between Western Europe and Russia throughout history, Russia would not have been what it is today. Western Europeans in NATO and the EU have never had a similar attitude to Russian culture; they had no problem or hesitancy cutting it off after the invasion of Ukraine.

16 • Vladimir Putin has never said to NATO that “if so and so happens – or if you do this or that – Russia will invade your country.” His style has been to appeal to NATO not to continue the policy of expansion; one example is his speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. Overall, Russia’s attitude to NATO has been much more defensive after the end of the end of the Cold War than during it.

17 • Whatever you may think of Russia’s President, he is neither inexperienced nor a hothead or a suicidal fool. And he did not fall ill or become a maniac during the day of February 23, 2022.

NATO is not ‘defensive’ and has operated for the last 25 years in gross violation of its own Treaty.

If some or all of the 17 points above are reasonable, NATO has only one task now: Mind its own business.

If you read NATO’s Treaty of 1949 – – it is basically a copy of the UN Charter. It argues that conflicts shall be transferred to the UN and solved by peaceful means, and then it adds Article 5, which states that if one NATO member is attacked, the others shall come to its defence. The alliance’s words are indeed defensive, but since its first out-of-area operation – the ruthless 78 days of bombing of Yugoslavia from March 24 to June 10, 1999 – it has pursued offensive policies and operations in gross violation of its own Treaty.

NATO countries’ massive involvement in Ukraine, using it as a bridgehead or proxy for weakening Russia – or trying to defeat it once and for all – is the peak point of this criminal policy down the slippery slope.

Those who call NATO ‘defensive’ lack basic insights in these matters – or practise opportune ignorance.

An alliance – and members of it – that

  • acts way outside its own membership circle,

  • conducts offensive military operations far away,

  • lacks a legal mandate as in Yugoslavia,

  • builds on offensive rather than defensive deterrence,

  • pursues forward defence and deployment,

  • bases itself on nuclear weapons, and

  • insists on using nuclear weapons also against a conventional attack,

simply cannot by any definition of the concept be characterised as ‘defensive.’

This is another example of a militarist humbug. ‘Defensive’ is for domestic consumption; of course, you cannot admit to your citizens that you’re offensive and threatening to others. And no country facing NATO confrontation would perceive it as ‘defensive.’ So, ‘defensive’ is for the NATO world, not the rest of the world.

– This article is taken from Transcend Media Service #845, 22 – 28 April 2024,

Jan Oberg is director of the independent Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research in Sweden.