Now I am sure some of the examples above might set some off on tangents that would derail the conversation, so lets get back to the question at hand: what if NATO (and presumably the European Union as well) did not expand into Eastern Europe? Would the Ukrainian Conflict be happening right now? Certainly it is fair to admit relations may be better between Russia and the West. There does appear to be evidence that promises were made that western military forces would not be stationed in the East, but if they were made they were never formalized. Still it is understandable that Russia could have felt betrayed by the West and thus this could explain some of the current problems the world is experiencing in Europe.
Yet that is just one of many factors influencing the current situation. Russia's conflict with the West is as much a cultural battle as it is anything else. Putin has made one of his goals to make Russia the world leader of anti-western culture. The differences between Russia's conservative values and the West's more tolerant society is not something that can be solved at the negotiating table. Either the Western world would require a major cultural shift following the end of the Cold War or Russia would need to completely isolate itself from the global economy to prevent some sort of conflict. And what about ethnic Russians who approve of Putin's presidency, but reside in parts of the former Soviet Union? Should we just assume that their desire to once again be a part of Russia would disappear in a world where the West stays out of East?
Assuming NATO leaders stands by their promises, and the leaders of the European Union follow their lead, Russia is unlikely to stay out of Eastern Europe. With the West ignoring them and Russia exerting political/economic pressure, one by one the Eastern Europe states would take their cues from Moscow. The Warsaw Pact might have fallen, but a new version would arise to take its place. Areas where there is a high percentage of Russian minorities could be ceded back to Russia. More former Soviet Republics could also be members of the Union State. Having regained its old influence, Russia would still position itself as the leader of the anti-western world, as its conservative culture clashes with Western Civilization. Conflict is likely inevitable somewhere, with the Yugoslav states or the Middle East being likely candidates for new proxy wars as a new Cold War begins.
Then again, perhaps Eastern Europe would resist. I am reminded of the Eastern Europe nation from Harry Turtledove's "Les Mortes d'Arthur" that came together after the Soviet Union collapsed in the near future. Perhaps abandoned by the West and terrified of a more powerful Russia, the Eastern European nations band together into their own political and economic alliance, something along the lines of the proposed Intermarium perhaps? A community of nations to keep Russia at bay and to compete with Western Europe for economic dominance on the continent. Perhaps they may even gain support from the United States not just as a convenient buffer against an old rival, but also as an alternative ally in case there is any dissatisfaction in Western Europe with American policy. Then again this doesn't prevent any conflict or from Russia inciting minorities to revolt as they are doing now.
Perhaps the one thing to take away from this counterfactual is that some sort of post-Cold War conflict between Russia and the rest of the world was inevitable. So what do you guys think of my scenario? I understand that because this is a current event and the terminology I was required to use, passions are likely to run high. Please keep all comments civil.
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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.