In response to Russia's security proposal envisaging NATO's non-expansion to the East the alliance's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg claimed that the military bloc had never vowed not to enlarge, citing its founding documents and legal binding treaties. International observers have discussed Stoltenberg's stance and reasoning.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on 23 December with NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg to discuss the alliance's "dual-track approach to Russia" over Ukraine's security, according to the US State Department.
Earlier, on 21 December, the NATO chief said that "the age of spheres of influence is over", and that Ukraine could choose "its own path" in a reference to Moscow's notion that Ukraine's NATO membership constitutes a "red line" for Russia.
Stoltenberg echoed Blinken who stated in May 2021 that the United States no longer recognises "spheres of influence" seeing it as an idea "that should have been retired after the Second World War".
It is hardly surprising that Blinken and Stoltenberg unanimously dismissed Russia's concerns with regard to its sphere of influence, since NATO's agenda is largely dictated by Washington, according to Tiberio Graziani, chairman of Vision & Global Trends at the International Institute for Global Analyses.
This is a case where two different versions of world order collide and may result in a potential confrontation, warns Jo Jakobsen, political science and international relations professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
"NATO is an alliance in crisis that needs to survive to have an enemy identified in Russia," Graziani highlights. "Stoltenberg essentially reiterates this need and calls allies together by recalling the binding treaties that outline NATO's mission and function. Disregarding Putin's (and Lavrov's) statements expresses Stoltenberg's intention not, at least for the moment, to work to find shared solutions with the Kremlin."
The problem, however, is that Moscow "would interpret these signals and moves by NATO as offensive ones, which act to decrease further Russia’s security," Jakobsen underscores. "The price we all pay is an increase in tensions – and an increase in the likelihood of military conflict," the academic says.