BOSTON - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is officially expanding, as Finland and Sweden are about to become full members.
It was something virtually unimaginable just six months ago, and it's being hailed by NATO leaders as a show of muscle and resolve against Russian aggression while unsurprisingly denounced by Vladimir Putin as an aggressively destabilizing act.
Says Rear Admiral (ret.) John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council in The White House, "The only destabilizing element on the European continent right now is what Mr. Putin is doing in Ukraine."
But while Russia's barbaric attacks on civilian targets cede the moral high ground to NATO's pushback, a local expert on international relations warns it may make the situation even worse.
"In some ways, we're also reinforcing Putin's prior narrative, his view - before the war broke out and NATO has taken these actions - that the West was united against Russia," says Prof. Joshua Shifrinson, an expert on NATO and post-Cold War international relations at Boston University. "And lo and behold, we're actually seeing Western unity against Russia. We're facing a really fraught and dangerous period of time in East-West relations."
The professor credits President Joe Biden with expert handling of the tough hand Russia dealt him, but he also repeats a classic warning - beware the law of unintended consequences. "I see the U.S. creating potential long-term fissures, long-term risks and long-term obligations it may not be able to meet, all while deepening potential confrontation with Moscow," he says.
So does this bring us any closer to an end of the war in Ukraine?
Prof. Shifrinson raises a crucial question: Would Putin retreat without significant concessions from Ukraine? And given what the Ukrainians have been through, would they be willing to concede anything?
Today's announcement is being called a blow to Russia, and it is. They've wanted to diminish NATO for years. But it's not a knockout blow, and Shifrinson wondered if the time may come when the U.S. and others say to Ukraine - like it or not, it's time to wrap this up.
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