NATO, the firefighter-arsonist

By: Rachel Marsden

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict heats up, the bloc is now portraying itself as a first responder to the flames it helped to fan

The French have a wonderful term: the firefighter-arsonist. It’s used to describe a person or entity that lights a match and creates a firestorm, only to subsequently rush and put out the flames to heroic applause and accolades. At this stage of the conflict in Ukraine, it’s hard to imagine a better term for NATO.

There’s currently a concerted effort underway within the transatlantic alliance to portray the conflict in Ukraine as a Russia-Ukraine standoff unrelated to NATO. Except that the US-led West, of which NATO is key pillar, was largely responsible for not only the ignition of the conflict, but also for amassing the tinder in the form of “foreign aid” to civil society groups known for mobilizing public opinion against Russia, for delivering weapons, for ear-bending public officials with promises of NATO or European Union integration, and for its clandestine training of anti-Russian neo-Nazi proxy fighters. The Canadian military is currently investigating how on earth its personnel allegedly became involved in the last of those endeavours, despite being warned as early as 2015 before the training operation began.

The whole idea of clandestine operations is that NATO’s footprint is reduced along with its visibility. It’s mission accomplished in that sense, apparently, since there’s no denying that many people honestly believe the thrust of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s statement in a March 8 press conference that “We do not seek conflict with Russia.”

You’re joking, right? My, but how things seem to have changed for the better over the past two weeks – at least rhetorically – since this conflict popped off militarily. Because, prior to that, the entire raison d’être of NATO since the Cold War had been to relentlessly promote anti-Russian sentiment in the West while continuing to arm country after country with weapons that inched ever closer to the Russian border in spite of promises the alliance wouldn’t expand eastward.

But NATO’s aggressive posture now, thankfully, appears to be starting to shift towards de-escalation. This may be the wisest thing it has done in its entire existence – not that there’s much competition in that regard. But here’s hoping that it continues.

It’s always good news when a party involved in a conflict backs down from requests to set off World War III, as was the case when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine – which is not a member of the bloc, despite it being treated by the US State Department as its guesthouse – and NATO had at least enough survival sense to refuse. The measure would have mandated that NATO shoot down any Russian fighter jet over Ukraine, which would have been considered an act of war against Russia itself.

Zelensky’s seeming realisation that NATO membership is far-fetched is also a sign of a return to reality for his NATO cheerleaders. “I have cooled down regarding this question a long time ago after we understood that ... NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine,” Zelensky said in an ABC News interview that aired on Monday. That realisation should be the beginning of a codified sovereign and neutral positioning of Ukraine between Eastern and Western interests – something Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, Ihor Zhovkva, reportedly confirmed to now be on the negotiating table, according to Bloomberg.

It’s also a favourable sign that when Poland offered to send its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine via an American airbase in Germany, Washington rejected the offer. With NATO member Hungary having refused weapons transit to Ukraine, that leaves just Poland for transit into Ukraine. Let that be another test of NATO’s newfound spirit of de-escalation.

So, what else could be contributing to Western officials’ change of heart? While NATO member countries – especially those in the European Union – have recently been keen to sanction and restrict anything that moves and remotely resembles something Russian, the economic hangover is starting to settle in already. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz now admits that Europe has “deliberately exempted” energy supplies from Russia from sanctions. “At the moment, Europe’s supply of energy for heat generation, mobility, power supply, and industry cannot be secured in any other way,” he added. “It is therefore of essential importance for the provision of public services and the daily lives of our citizens.”

The EU is now saying it will find other suppliers – eventually. But, in the meantime, energy prices have skyrocketed, with no end to their increase in sight.

Many in Washington were, of course, rubbing their hands at the dream of replacing Russia as The EU’s energy provider – which constituted the entire interest in sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia into oblivion – but the infrastructure required would take years to put in place, according to experts. So, it’s not like Washington is going to be able to capitalise on any of this before blowback from the conflict irreparably harms Europe.

The West’s insistence on playing with matches around a tinderbox has already led to an unwelcome backdraft for citizens everywhere, including their own. Here's hoping they can pass quickly to the firehose sequence by toning down their belligerence and genuinely attempting to secure peace.