Picture this – an ocean teetering on the edge of a waterfall, waiting for a single ripple to send it cascading down. That’s the dance we’ve been doing since the Cold War ended, with NATO on one side and Russia on the other, led by an ever-watchful, ballet-obsessed, bear-riding Putin.

Roll back the clock to a chilly morning in 1990’s Moscow. Imagine a chessboard where Secretary of State James Baker sat across from Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. Their pawns and rooks stood tall, echoing a complex, strategic dance of geopolitical power play. In this grand political arena, a toast was raised. And, as Gorbachev would later claim, a promise was etched into the annals of diplomatic folklore: NATO, the mighty queen on this global chessboard, would not sidestep “one inch to the east.”

A verbal checkmate, it seemed, had been agreed upon. An assurance offered over glasses raised and heated negotiations had seemingly drawn a boundary on the chessboard of global politics. But chess, as any seasoned player knows, is a game of strategy, foresight, and, sometimes, audacious gambits.

Fast forward three decades, let your gaze drift across the chessboard, and you’ll find that NATO’s queen has been quite the globe-trotter. Her footprints have ventured far and wide, imprinting more than a few inches in the eastern sand. NATO’s encroachment, while a strategic power play on the part of the West, has been like a knight’s ambitious foray into enemy territory.

From the Baltic states to the Black Sea, from Warsaw to Budapest, NATO’s game pieces have advanced forward, pushing the boundaries. A clever rook’s maneuver here, a bishop’s diagonal sidestep there, and the NATO presence has expanded, claiming squares on the chessboard that were once strictly off-limits.

And so, the game continues, pieces are moved, and strategies recalibrated. The chessboard, reflecting the world, never stays static. It ebbs and flows with the tide of geopolitics, reflecting the ever-evolving dance of power and ambition. For now, though, the kings, queens, bishops, knights, rooks, and pawns are poised, waiting for the next grand move in this high-stakes game of geopolitical chess.

The U.S. contests this narrative, pointing to the lack of any formal treaty to support Gorbachev’s claim. A promise, they argue, is only as strong as the paper it’s written on. But promises, even those of the gentlemen variety, carry weight.

NATO’s eastward gambit came as a direct threat to Russia’s sphere of influence and security buffer. In Putin’s eyes, every new NATO flag planted in the former Warsaw Pact territories is a dagger aimed at the heart of Mother Russia. It’s not just about territory; it’s about power, influence, and, crucially, trust.

Yet, from an American perspective, it’s not about encircling Russia but extending a protective shield, offering former Soviet satellites the security blanket they crave after decades under Moscow’s thumb.

The tension is palpable. A fine line exists between securing allies and poking the bear. Every step eastward is a risk-reward play, balancing the desire for collective defense against the reality of an increasingly hostile and isolated Russia.

How to move forward is the puzzle. If I’ve learned anything as a Navy SEAL, it’s that communication and understanding are key to resolving conflicts. We need to understand Russia’s concerns while clearly expressing our commitment to our allies. A good leader knows when to adapt, when to hold steady, and when to push the envelope.

And so, America and NATO’s dance with Russia continues, and there’s no doubt Putin is not happy with the news of increasing NATO membership along the Russian border.