Jens Stoltenberg did not admit that Russia invaded Ukraine because of NATO expansion

By: John Faerseth
September 20 2023

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Jens Stoltenberg did not admit that Russia invaded Ukraine because of NATO expansion

Source: Facebook/Marie Krarup


The Verdict False

Stoltenberg was referring to a well-known Russian draft treaty from December 2021.

Claim ID 9876bc00


On September 10, 2023, the Norwegian website Steigan published an article that included a claim that “during a speech in the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg clearly acknowledged that Vladimir Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine because of fear of NATO expansionism.”

The article quoted extensively from a piece by Australian journalist and blogger Caithleen Johnstone, published on the website Consortium News on September 9. Johnstone wrote that “Stoltenberg’s remarks would probably have been classified as Russian propaganda by plutocrat-funded ‘disinformation experts’ and imperial ‘fact checkers’ if it had been said online by someone like you or me, but because it came from the head of NATO as part of a screed against the Russian president it’s been allowed to pass through without objection.”

The Steigan article has been shared by several X (formerly Twitter) users and on Facebook by the Danish right-wing politician Marie Krarup. 

In fact

Stoltenberg referred to a draft treaty presented by Russia on December 17, 2021. Russia was already massing military forces on Ukraine’s borders amid concerns that it planned to invade. The draft treaty stipulated that NATO refrain from further enlargement, including the accession of Ukraine. Russia also demanded guarantees that NATO would not deploy military forces and weaponry in Europe besides what was stationed there on May 27, 1997. The date appears to be chosen because NATO committed to not permanently station substantial combat forces in new member states in May 1997.

Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic became NATO members in 1999. In 2004 they were followed by Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Albania and Croatia joined in 2009, Montenegro in 2017, North Macedonia in 2020, and Finland in April 2023. NATO deployed virtually no troops or equipment in new member states until Russia occupied Crimea in 2014. After that, it began to deploy relatively small multinational battlegroups in the Baltic states and Poland on a rotation basis. 

Steven Pifer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center on the United States and Europe and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told Logically Facts that he does not give much credence to claims that Russia invaded Ukraine out of fear of NATO expansion. “In 2021, on the eve of the invasion, there was no real enthusiasm within the Alliance for putting Ukraine on a membership track. Most NATO members were not prepared to go to war against Russia on Ukraine's behalf, although that may now be changing,” he says. Pifer believes that Russia’s demands were intended to be rejected. NATO operates on consensus, and reversing its open-door policy would require consensus among all 30 NATO countries. 

While Putin has cited NATO enlargement as a reason for war, his statements over the years belie that concern, says Pifer. “In particular, he showed little concern in 2022 when Finland – along with Sweden – announced its decision to seek NATO membership, despite the fact that Finland's membership more than doubles the border between NATO members and Russia.”

Pifer sees three reasons for Russia’s 2022 invasion: concerns that Ukraine was moving out of Russia's sphere of influence and toward the West, concerns that a Western-oriented, democratic Ukraine with a growing economy would cause Russians to question why they could not have the same rights as Ukrainians, and – most important – Putin’s distorted view of Ukraine as a “historical Russian land” and desire to restore part of the Russian empire that was lost when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. 

According to Norwegian fact checker Faktisk, Steigan has distinguished itself as Norway's most prominent spreader of Russian-controlled content. 

Eliot Higgins, founder of the investigative website Bellingcat, told Logically Facts, “Both Consortium News and Johnstone have zero credibility outside of the fringe circles they operate in.” He added that Consortium News is notorious for promoting fringe theories on topics like the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in 2014 and chemical attacks in Syria and that Caitlin Johnstone buys into a wide variety of fringe theories on a number of topics.

The verdict
Stoltenberg referred to a well-known Russian draft treaty presented in December 2021. He did not acknowledge anything new. The draft treaty had little chance of being accepted. We have, therefore, rated this claim as false. 

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