In Russian discourse, NATO’s front – including its talk of “fair democracy” and “human rights” and unfounded accusations towards Russia – constitutes a smokescreen hiding its ulterior motive of geopolitical gains; the US “rhetoric of moral values” is “only on the surface. “Real facts are hushed up” and “accusations made to divert attention”. Conflict is created from nothing by “instrumentalizing” and “speculating” in universal values. To Russia, NATO’s values are fake, but its hostility is real. The Kremlin sees offensive geopolitics as the primordial driving force at NATO’s core – a posture described as “genetic” and a reflex. It is NATO’s “desire” that the course to deter Russia be “irreversible”. Moreover, NATO is seen as unpredictable: it may undertake hostile acts at any time for no reason. NATO is “archaic”, “full of emotions”, and “acts without explaining the reasons”.

The official Russian NATO discourse is a conspiracy theory (conceived in a common-sense way): it holds that NATO is the vehicle in an anti-Russia plot in which the USA pulls all the strings. In this conspiracy discourse, NATO as an organization has very limited agency: it is sometimes described as merely an “instrument” that can be “moved” to sow division and build walls. Agency lies with the USA; NATO is the Americans’ “powerful tool” for “strong influence in Europe”. The USA “decides the bloc discipline”, “makes all the decisions in NATO”. Russia is targeted: the “thesis” of “Russian aggression” features prominently in this conspiracy theory. Indeed, “anti-Russian attitudes […] are born in Washington […] and then implemented in Europe within the framework of the notorious ‘transatlantic solidarity’”.

The pervasive notion of secrecy and hidden agendas bolsters such conspiracy thinking; “But when our Western partners put forward the slogan ‘either with us or against us’, addressing it to our neighbours, including the countries of the former USSR, this is actually a veiled way to turn someone into an enemy”. Like in a good orchestra, many Western countries, practically on a daily basis, accuse Russia of threatening someone”. Someone must be conducting the “orchestra” – the USA is implied. This logic of conspiracy eradicates any uncertainty as to intent, thus serving as an important mechanism by which the strategic Other is established as hostile.

A core concern in Russian texts is how NATO/USA/West installs governments favorable to US foreign policy goals and can dictate the terms of other countries’ policies through an overarching strategy of instigating “color revolutions”. Here, the NATO/US/Western approach centers on “imposing block status” and “values” on other nations, under the “guise of spreading democracy” and by playing to socioeconomic problems. Armed struggle, fought “according to the art of war”, is indicated as part of the color revolution approach, intensifying this “destructive process”. After forcibly removing legitimate national governments, the NATO/USA/West can enjoy unhindered access to the resources in these states. Color revolutions – an “evil” employed by the West to “achieve political and economic goals” – serve to create civil war, tension and chaos. Indeed, conditions in countries that have experienced military aggression in the classical sense and in those that have experienced “color revolutions” are practically identical.

The established truth is that NATO’s dangerous means may involve anything from playing to the popular “protest potential”, “organizing “fifth columns”, issuing “ultimatums”, or using traditional military means and “information war”. The latter features strongly and is said to take place in both traditional and social media, where it is repeatedly invoked in expressions such as “propaganda”, “the active use of double standards”,  “influencing public opinion”, “unleashing anti-Russian hysteria in the press”, and claims that Russia is “made an enemy” through “traditional stories of aggressive Russians”.

In sum, according to the Russian script, the hybrid Western toolkit includes any means available – be it cooperation with terrorists in Syria or “the bad guys” in Ukraine, their customary “double standards”, or NATO enlargement and military build-up, which will be put to use against Russia whenever possible.

In contrast to NATO’s deceptive and malign behavior, texts construe Russia’s own ways as open and benign. Russia would be “ashamed” to act like the USA, forcing its will upon others. Russia wants “mutually beneficial”, respectful cooperation based on “natural” and “lawful” interests (especially economic), or, in the security field, “natural alliances” such as CSTO in the case of Afghanistan. The Kremlin is “willing to cooperate with anybody” and “always ready for dialogue,” including with NATO member states. Its approach includes “finding compromise solutions” and “protecting civilians”, and settling crises through “political and diplomatic measures”. Unlike NATO, Russia does not engage in fostering enemy images. As tensions in Europe rise, it is Russia, not NATO, that has noted the need “to resume cooperation between Russia and NATO in order to resolve the accumulated problematic issues”. Russia is pragmatic, full of good will and shuns politicization, focusing instead on “purely technical aspects”.

Any Russian measures in the economic sphere are said to be merely counter-measures. Moscow does not want to break off relations with NATO, but “had no choice” but to recall Russia’s chief military representative to NATO in 2014. As Russia carries out formidable militarization on its own side of the re-emerging East/West fault-line, these activities are consistently portrayed in MOD texts as “transparent” and conducted according to the rules, in “full openness”. Any new military activities – be they expanding or establishing new military bases, initiating snap military exercises, large-scale military exercises, long-range aviation aircraft flights or developing missiles to neutralize threats such as the missile defense system – are said to be “in response”, “retaliatory measures”, or “forced” by the activities of the other party. With this framing, even the modernization of the nuclear weapons arsenal, the development of high-precisions weapons and intensive combat training become necessary, defensive measures.

Russia generally represents NATO as a two-faced actor, hiding its true agenda of incessant expansion behind the “invented” “thesis” of Russian threat and distractions like “instrumentalized” universal values. This idea of a false West hiding the real reasons for its value agenda has deep roots in Russian thinking. Analysis has also shown how all spheres and actions are entangled, seen as part of NATO’s war-like campaign targeting Russia. The entrenched worldview in the Kremlin is that the West with NATO is threatening to destroy Russia. Russia deems conspiracy as the signature tune of both NATO and the USA. The “lesson learned” as per official speech post-Crimea thus seems to be that Russia should never trust NATO promises again – anywhere.

The constant invoking of NATO activity as hostile in contrast to Russia’s alledgedly reactive and defensive posture serves as the core legitimizing argument for the upgrading and modernization of the Russian military – already a practical reality. However, in facing this practical reality it will be up to NATO, not Russia, to judge the underlying intentions. Here emerges the larger picture of a downwards spiraling of mutual securitization between two actors who both claim to be seeking security only.

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