February 1, 2008: US Ambassador to Russia Predicts the Ukraine War

Wikileaks: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08MOSCOW265_a.html

We could label this cable: “Russia never bluffs”

Ambassador Burns is current Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)


Date:2008 February 1, 14:25 (Friday) Canonical ID:08MOSCOW265_a
Original Classification:CONFIDENTIAL Current Classification:CONFIDENTIAL
Handling Restrictions– Not Assigned —
Character Count:9713
Executive Order:– Not Assigned — Locator:TEXT ONLINE
TAGS:NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization | PREL – Political Affairs–External Political Relations | RS – Russia | UP – Ukraine Concepts:– Not Assigned —
Enclosure:– Not Assigned — Type:TE – Telegram (cable)
Office Origin:– N/A or Blank —
Office Action:– N/A or Blank — Archive Status:– Not Assigned —
From:Russia Moscow Markings:– Not Assigned —
To:Joint Chiefs of Staff | NATO – European Union Cooperative | National Security Council | Russia Moscow Political Collective | Secretary of Defense | Secretary of State Linked documents or other documents with the same ID:08MOSCOW2653_a

C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 000265



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/30/2018


Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns. Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

  1. (C) Summary. Following a muted first reaction to
    Ukraine’s intent to seek a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP)
    at the Bucharest summit (ref A), Foreign Minister Lavrov and
    other senior officials have reiterated strong opposition,
    stressing that Russia would view further eastward expansion
    as a potential military threat. NATO enlargement,
    particularly to Ukraine, remains “an emotional and neuralgic”
    issue for Russia, but strategic policy considerations also
    underlie strong opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and
    Georgia. In Ukraine, these include fears that the issue
    could potentially split the country in two, leading to
    violence or even, some claim, civil war, which would force
    Russia to decide whether to intervene. Additionally, the GOR
    and experts continue to claim that Ukrainian NATO membership
    would have a major impact on Russia’s defense industry,
    Russian-Ukrainian family connections, and bilateral relations
    generally. In Georgia, the GOR fears continued instability
    and “provocative acts” in the separatist regions. End

MFA: NATO Enlargement “Potential Military Threat to Russia”

  1. (U) During his annual review of Russia’s foreign policy
    January 22-23 (ref B), Foreign Minister Lavrov stressed that
    Russia had to view continued eastward expansion of NATO,
    particularly to Ukraine and Georgia, as a potential military
    threat. While Russia might believe statements from the West
    that NATO was not directed against Russia, when one looked at
    recent military activities in NATO countries (establishment
    of U.S. forward operating locations, etc. they had to be
    evaluated not by stated intentions but by potential. Lavrov
    stressed that maintaining Russia’s “sphere of influence” in
    the neighborhood was anachronistic, and acknowledged that the
    U.S. and Europe had “legitimate interests” in the region.
    But, he argued, while countries were free to make their own
    decisions about their security and which political-military
    structures to join, they needed to keep in mind the impact on
    their neighbors.
  2. (U) Lavrov emphasized that Russia was convinced that
    enlargement was not based on security reasons, but was a
    legacy of the Cold War. He disputed arguments that NATO was
    an appropriate mechanism for helping to strengthen democratic
    governments. He said that Russia understood that NATO was in
    search of a new mission, but there was a growing tendency for
    new members to do and say whatever they wanted simply because
    they were under the NATO umbrella (e.g. attempts of some new
    member countries to “rewrite history and glorify fascists”).
  3. (U) During a press briefing January 22 in response to a
    question about Ukraine’s request for a MAP, the MFA said “a
    radical new expansion of NATO may bring about a serious
    political-military shift that will inevitably affect the
    security interests of Russia.” The spokesman went on to
    stress that Russia was bound with Ukraine by bilateral
    obligations set forth in the 1997 Treaty on Friendship,
    Cooperation and Partnership in which both parties undertook
    to “refrain from participation in or support of any actions
    capable of prejudicing the security of the other Side.” The
    spokesman noted that Ukraine’s “likely integration into NATO
    would seriously complicate the many-sided Russian-Ukrainian
    relations,” and that Russia would “have to take appropriate
    measures.” The spokesman added that “one has the impression
    that the present Ukrainian leadership regards rapprochement
    with NATO largely as an alternative to good-neighborly ties
    with the Russian Federation.”

Russian Opposition Neuralgic and Concrete

  1. (C) 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. 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. 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. In
    that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to

intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.

  1. (C) Dmitriy Trenin, Deputy Director of the Carnegie
    Moscow Center, expressed concern that Ukraine was, in the
    long-term, the most potentially destabilizing factor in
    U.S.-Russian relations, given the level of emotion and
    neuralgia triggered by its quest for NATO membership. The
    letter requesting MAP consideration had come as a “bad
    surprise” to Russian officials, who calculated that Ukraine’s
    NATO aspirations were safely on the backburner. With its
    public letter, the issue had been “sharpened.” Because
    membership remained divisive in Ukrainian domestic politics,
    it created an opening for Russian intervention. Trenin
    expressed concern that elements within the Russian
    establishment would be encouraged to meddle, stimulating U.S.
    overt encouragement of opposing political forces, and leaving
    the U.S. and Russia in a classic confrontational posture.
    The irony, Trenin professed, was that Ukraine’s membership
    would defang NATO, but neither the Russian public nor elite
    opinion was ready for that argument. Ukraine’s gradual shift
    towards the West was one thing, its preemptive status as a de
    jure U.S. military ally another. Trenin cautioned strongly
    against letting an internal Ukrainian fight for power, where
    MAP was merely a lever in domestic politics, further
    complicate U.S.-Russian relations now.
  2. (C) Another issue driving Russian opposition to Ukrainian
    membership is the significant defense industry cooperation
    the two countries share, including a number of plants where
    Russian weapons are made. While efforts are underway to shut
    down or move most of these plants to Russia, and to move the
    Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk earlier than
    the 2017 deadline, the GOR has made clear that Ukraine’s
    joining NATO would require Russia to make major (costly)
    changes to its defense industrial cooperation.
  3. (C) Similarly, the GOR and experts note that there would
    also be a significant impact on Russian-Ukrainian economic
    and labor relations, including the effect on thousands of
    Ukrainians living and working in Russia and vice versa, due
    to the necessity of imposing a new visa regime. This,
    Aleksandr Konovalov, Director of the Institute for Strategic
    Assessment, argued, would become a boiling cauldron of anger
    and resentment among the local population.
  4. (C) With respect to Georgia, most experts said that while
    not as neuralgic to Russia as Ukraine, the GOR viewed the
    situation there as too unstable to withstand the divisiveness
    NATO membership could cause. Aleksey Arbatov, Deputy
    Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, argued that Georgia’s
    NATO aspirations were simply a way to solve its problems in
    Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and warned that Russia would be
    put in a difficult situation were that to ensue.

Russia’s Response

  1. (C) The GOR has made it clear that it would have to
    “seriously review” its entire relationship with Ukraine and
    Georgia in the event of NATO inviting them to join. This
    could include major impacts on energy, economic, and
    political-military engagement, with possible repercussions
    throughout the region and into Central and Western Europe.
    Russia would also likely revisit its own relationship with
    the Alliance and activities in the NATO-Russia Council, and
    consider further actions in the arms control arena, including
    the possibility of complete withdrawal from the CFE and INF
    Treaties, and more direct threats against U.S. missile
    defense plans.
  2. (C) Isabelle Francois, Director of the NATO Information
    Office in Moscow (protect), said she believed that Russia had
    accepted that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually join NATO
    and was engaged in long-term planning to reconfigure its
    relations with both countries, and with the Alliance.
    However, Russia was not yet ready to deal with the
    consequences of further NATO enlargement to its south. She
    added that while Russia liked the cooperation with NATO in
    the NATO-Russia Council, Russia would feel it necessary to
    insist on recasting the NATO-Russia relationship, if not
    withdraw completely from the NRC, in the event of Ukraine and
    Georgia joining NATO.


Russia’s opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia is both emotional and based on perceived strategic concerns about the impact on Russia’s interests in the region. It is also politically popular to paint the U.S. and NATO as Russia’s adversaries and to use NATO’s outreach to Ukraine and Georgia as a means of generating support from Russian nationalists. While Russian opposition to the first round of NATO enlargement in the mid-1990’s was strong, Russia now feels itself able to respond more forcefully to what it perceives as actions contrary to its national interests.


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