“They wanted to be part of the safe, stable, prosperous West where Russia was outside at the time,” said the former NATO leader.
Labor Party member Robertson talked about an early meeting with Russian President Putin in 2000 and described the event as follows: “Putin said, ‘When are you going to invite us to join NATO?’ said Robertson, ‘We don’t invite anyone. “They are applying,” the Russian leader said, “We will not wait in line with a number of unimportant countries.”
RUSSIA: WE WILL NOT REJECT IF WE ARE AN EQUAL PARTNER
This is in line with what Putin told David Frost in a BBC interview close to his inauguration as Russia’s leader more than 21 years ago. Putin told Frost that “Russia will not refuse to join NATO if its views are taken into account as those of an equal partner.”
Telling Frost that it is difficult to see NATO as an enemy, Putin said, “Russia is a part of European culture. And I can’t imagine my own country separate from Europe and what we usually call the civilized world.”
STARTED TO BE SUSPECTED AFTER 2004
After the Orange Revolution street protests in Ukraine in 2004, Putin became increasingly suspicious of the west, which he accused of funding pro-democracy NGOs. He was further angered by NATO’s continued expansion into central and eastern Europe.
Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania chose to join the alliance in 2004; Croatia and Albania followed in 2009. Georgia and Ukraine were promised membership in 2008, but these countries remained outside.
ROBERTSON AND IRAQ INVASION
Robertson became the first and only NATO secretary general to enact the ‘common defense clause’, known as NATO’s fifth article, after the September 11 attacks.
Some NATO allies were uncomfortable with the use of Article 5, fearing that it would authorize the George W Bush administration to invade Iraq. Robertson said a minister asked him, “Does that mean we gave them a blank check to invade Iraq?” and he replied, “no, it’s not.”
After the attacks of 9/11, many NATO allies joined the United States to invade Afghanistan, with NATO assuming command of the mission in 2003.
Robertson said he urged the late US defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to keep US forces on the side of their NATO allies in Afghanistan after the military defeat of the Taliban.
Criticizing the chaotic US withdrawal two months ago, Raobetson nonetheless claimed that the 20-year long mission of western military forces made a difference despite the return of the Taliban. “I think Afghanistan will be a very different place in the future,” he said.