Robert Gates Says NATO Expansion Is “Rapidly Changing Europe’s Geopolitics”

days after Finland and Sweden formally applying to join NATO — essentially an end to decades of neutrality on the global stage — former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the development “huge” and a major defeat for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was driven in part by a desire to prevent the country from joining NATO, which would put the military alliance right on the border with Russia. But last week’s move by Finland and Sweden suggests the plan has failed, Gates told Face the Nation on Sunday.

“I think it changes geopolitics in Europe in a dramatic way. Now he has NATO on his doorstep, not just in Ukraine and elsewhere,” Gates said, referring to Putin.

“He’ll have them at his border in Finland. And it’s amazing what he’s done, because he got Sweden to give up 200 years of neutrality,” Gates said. “So I think one of his many, huge miscalculations in invading Ukraine is that he drastically changed the geostrategic stance of Western Europe. And now that you’ve got the Swedes and the Finns in there, he really has Russia in a much worse place.” strategic position.” position than before the invasion.”

NATO’s 30 member states are now assessing applications from Sweden and Finland. If their bids are accepted, the two once neutral Scandinavian countries could join in a few months.

When the leaders of the two countries visited the White House last Thursday, President Biden said offered his “strong support” for their applications.

Gates, who served as defense secretary under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine could continue to damage Russia’s economy and affect the country in other ways. He also doesn’t believe that Putin could win the war by taking over Ukraine and “incorporating” it into Russia, but he said Putin could still get away with some strategic areas of Eastern Ukraine

“He has the potential to hold a lot of the Donbas. But I think in terms of moving on to Odessa or trying to bring about a change of government in Kiev or including Ukraine, I think if that wins , I don’t see that he can win,” Gates said.

“His invasion has weakened Russia and now has long-standing economic problems,” Gates said. “Europe, I think, is very serious right now about reducing its dependence on Russian oil and gas. So that will weaken Russia considerably.”

The former defense minister expressed doubts as to whether Putin’s biggest ally, China, would do enough to save Russia’s economy, in part because it would not want to become dependent on Russia for its energy resources.

“China will want to stay diversified,” Gates said. “They might buy some more Russian oil and gas, but nothing like what would be needed to replace the European market. Putin will remain a pariah… He really put Russia behind the 8-ball, economically, militarily, and because now people are going to look at the Russian army and say, ‘You know, this had to be this fantastic army. Well, they put on a good parade, but in real battles, not so hot.'”

Asked whether he believes Putin could resort to using a tactical nuclear weapon against Ukraine, Gates said it is unlikely.

“I think the chances of him using a tactical nuclear weapon are slim, but not zero,” he said. “There are no large masses of Ukrainian troops that would be knocked out by a tactical nuclear weapon. And if… [there’s no] military purpose, then its only purpose as a terror weapon is to try to break the will of the Ukrainian people. And I think that moment has come and gone. I don’t think there is anything that will break the will of the Ukrainian people at the moment.”

Gates noted that a nuclear attack on Ukraine could potentially affect mainland Russia as well.

“In that part of the world, and especially in eastern Ukraine, the wind usually blows from the west,” he said. “If you fire a tactical nuclear weapon in eastern Ukraine, the radiation will enter Russia. So I hope someone reminds him of that.”

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