FLASHBACK: Current CIA Director William J. Burns Warns About NATO Enlargement Increasing Tensions with Russia

On March 5, 2022,  Wikileaks tweeted about a cable where former U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns expressed his concerns about North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) enlargement on Europe’s traditional sphere of influence.

This cable was originally published on February 1, 2008. In the cable, Burns argued that at the time “Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region.”

Burns added that “Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests.”

The former CIA director called attention to the inter-ethnic tensions in Ukraine that could emerge if Ukraine were to join NATO:

Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war.  

Burns is currently serving as the Director of the CIA.

The former ambassador’s instincts about NATO proved to be correct as Russia is now invading Ukraine over the fact that the NATO question was never fully settled. The question of Ukraine constitutes an existential matter for Russia. Just like the U.S. would never tolerate Russia or China establishing a military alliance in Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, Russia would not tolerate external actors establishing a military alliance in Ukraine.

Other figures such as former Congressman Ron Paul, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, and University of Chicago international relations professor John Mearsheimer have warned about the dangers of NATO enlargement.

Unfortunately, these figures were ignored as both parties in DC have maintained the goal of NATO expansion. Now, we’re witnessing a brutal war with a nuclear power ravaging a politically fragile state. 

This entire conflict could have been avoided if the U.S. was more explicit about halting NATO expansion — something that a country like Russia views as an existential threat to its overall security architecture.

That is the tragedy of great power politics. 

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