Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has warned that the European Union (EU) is militarizing at a record rate and is aggressively trying to contain Russia. Lavrov has claimed that there is now “very little difference” between the EU and NATO. His comments were apparently made in reference to a Jan. 19 EU-NATO declaration on their “strategic partnership,” which calls Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine “the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades.”
The declaration encourages the fullest possible involvement of NATO members that do not belong to the EU and EU members that are not part of NATO, but it does not state that NATO will ensure the security of the EU. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long complained about NATO’s expansion, particularly towards his country, and has partly used that as a justification for invading Ukraine.
Finland, after decades of neutrality following its defeat by the former Soviet Union in World War II, joined NATO earlier this month seeking protection under its security umbrella. Sweden, an EU member, is also seeking NATO membership and is hoping for final approval soon. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg recently declared that Ukraine’s “rightful place” is in the military alliance and pledged more support for the country on his first visit to Kyiv since the invasion.
Lavrov was asked whether the war in Ukraine was a miscalculation since Moscow strongly opposed NATO’s expansion and the invasion sparked Finland’s membership, with Sweden next and Ukraine hoping for a roadmap to join. Lavrov claimed that NATO never had any intention of stopping and pointed to recent EU-NATO declarations and actions that saw non-NATO members Sweden and Finland “increasingly taking part in NATO military exercises and other actions that were meant to synchronize the military programs of NATO members and neutral states.”
Lavrov claimed that Russia was promised on several occasions that NATO would not expand, but said “those were lies.” He claimed that NATO sought to break Russia apart but ended up making it stronger and bringing it closer together. He concluded by saying, “So, let’s not make any hasty conclusions now as to what this will all end in.”
The statement by Lavrov comes amid rising tensions between Russia and the West, with Moscow’s military buildup near the Ukrainian border and in the Black Sea region, causing concerns among Western powers. The EU has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia, while NATO has increased its military presence in the region in response to Moscow’s actions. The situation has also prompted Ukraine to seek closer ties with the West, including NATO and the EU.
The conflict in Ukraine began in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, leading to a separatist insurgency in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The fighting has resulted in the deaths of over 13,000 people, with the situation remaining tense, especially after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.