Russia’s massive buildup of troops and weapons along its border with Ukraine creates a difficult puzzle for the West. For years, political and military leaders in the United States have focused mainly on the challenge from China, after Obama memorably declared a “pivot to Asia” in 2011. That pivot came after years—and trillions of dollars—spent fighting wars and counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Western European countries, meanwhile, were preoccupied with the flow of migrants to the continent and the threat of domestic terrorism. But Russia’s ominous moves in Eastern Europe are scrambling these priorities, as U.S. President Joe Biden called a meeting of NATO members on January 24, pledging to send American soldiers quickly to NATO member states in Eastern Europe. How is NATO looking at Russia now?

Anatol Lieven, the senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, is the author of Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry and two other books on Russia. In his view, the Ukraine crisis is changing perceptions of Russia, even as it deepens longstanding animosity among political and security elites. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s moves might well resuscitate NATO, which has struggled to find a new identity since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. As Lieven sees it, NATO isn’t going to fight Russia—in Ukraine or elsewhere—but the current confrontation is likely to lead to increased budgets for NATO and the U.S. military. And many European countries will welcome the increased American attention to Moscow, as Washington’s engagement will ease their ongoing worries of being left to deal with Russia on their own.

Michael Bluhm: How is the standoff at the Ukraine border affecting NATO’s view of Russia?

Anatol Lieven: Our security elites have long been deeply hostile to Russia. This became overt after the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 but was apparent in private long before that. It’s something inherited from the Cold War. After all, these institutions largely grew up during the Cold War, with Russia as the enemy.

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