Speaking today at a news conference, Russian military chief General Nikolai Makarov warned that the continued expansion eastward by NATO raised the risk that small border conflicts could escalate into a major war, including the possible use of nuclear weapons.
Makarov cited the number of former Warsaw Pact powers already absorbed by NATO, as well as the effort to include both Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance, as dramatically raising the prospect of border conflicts in the area.
“In certain conditions, I do not rule out local and regional armed conflicts developing into a large-scale war, including using nuclear weapons,” the general warned. Russia’s military expenditure has dropped dramatically since the Soviet Union era, and the nation increasingly relies on its nuclear arsenal for conventional defense in the case of a major war.
The brief 2008 Russo-Georgian War provides a major example, as Russia’s military overwhelmed the tiny republic, but in doing so revealed a military force with significant holes in its modernization efforts. If Georgia had started the same war as a NATO member, the conflict almost certainly would have brought in other NATO members, and unable to rely on sheer numbers Russia might’ve had to turn to nuclear weapons in its defense.
At the same time, Ukraine seems largely disinterested in joining NATO since the most recent election, and Georgia’s behavior in the war, coupled with President Saakashvili’s harsh crackdowns on domestic dissent, have raised considerable questions in NATO on whether they would make a suitable member.