Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's recent public comments regarding NATO pose a credible threat to Western security if Russia achieves its military objectives in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in its Dec. 17 assessment.
Putin said in a Russian state television interview on Dec. 17 that fears of Russia fighting NATO members directly are "complete nonsense." He then said he plans to concentrate military forces near the Finnish border in retaliation for Finland joining NATO.
The ISW said that Putin's reassurances are better interpreted as threats.
"If Russia were able to achieve its stated maximalist objective of full Ukrainian capitulation...Russia would be able to deploy forces right up to NATO’s border from the Black Sea to the Arctic Ocean," the ISW said.
A Russian victory in Ukraine would require Western allies to prepare to defend themselves against direct attacks on NATO, incurring "astronomical" costs and causing high risks to global security.
"Support for Ukraine offers the West the best opportunity to avoid these costs and the expanded Russian threat," the report said.
The ISW also said that Putin's claims about Russia's disinterest in attacking NATO echo Moscow's repeated claims leading up to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine that it had no intention of invading.
Putin's remarks indicate that he believes the West is relatively weak and that a full Ukrainian surrender is possible, perhaps due to wavering Western aid to Kyiv. This assessment could prove dangerous to NATO countries as well as Ukraine.
"Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in part because he believed that NATO was weak — not because the Kremlin felt militarily threatened by NATO," the ISW said.
According to the ISW, Putin's long-term aim is to weaken NATO's alliance in order to more aggressively expand Russia's sphere of control, whether by territorial conquest or proxy governance of states it believes should be Russian subjects.
"Putin regards anything less than full Western surrender to Russian grand strategic objectives as insufficient," the ISW said.
"This zero-sum world view of geopolitics is indicative of Putin’s personal philosophy, which prizes power above all else and frames any compromise as defeat."