WHAT KREMLIN PROPAGANDISTS SAY:
Kremlin officials, propagandists, pro-Kremlin media are systematically spreading a narrative that ‘NATO threatens Russia on its borders.’ They claim that NATO is deliberately escalating the situation and provoking Russia by establishing new military bases and expanding the number of members. Russia warns that “flexing of muscles” will lead to armed incidents on the border.
Here’s what they say:
“We have made it clear that NATO’s move to the east is unacceptable,” said Vladimir Putin in December 2021. “The United States is standing with missiles on our doorstep.”
“NATO is an aggressive bloc, this is a bloc that was created for purposes of confrontation, and it continues to demonstrate its nature and to implement its, set by default, tasks," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in June 2022. "And this creeping expansion has its continuation, we are well aware of it."
“NATO’s reckless expansion eastwards, northwards or to other geographical areas undermines the very prospects to continue normal communication on European security,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in 2023 May.
This narrative is used as a rationale for Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, claiming the invasion was a necessary reaction to the aggressive actions of NATO. Kremlin propagandists argue that causing damage to Russia is part of NATO’s long-term strategy. This disinformation narrative is linked with other frequently observed narratives including ‘the war in Ukraine is a proxy war.’
WHAT ARE THE FACTS:
NATO is a defensive alliance whose purpose is to defend its member states. It does not have a ‘territory’ which can be expanded upon, rather, it consists of a number of sovereign member states.
The enlargement of NATO is not directed towards Russia. Each country that joins NATO does so of its own volition, and it is its right as a sovereign nation to determine its security principles. The claim about NATO "expansion" misrepresents the process of NATO enlargement. Its newest members, Finland, and Sweden, joined NATO, because of the changes in the security landscape, caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, the society in both of these countries expressed their support. 
The idea that NATO is encircling Russia is a myth. Russia has a land border of over 20,000 kilometres of which it shares with 14 countries, less than 13% of this border is shared with countries that are NATO members.
NATO does not establish military bases in the countries neighbouring Russia because they are preparing to attack. These decisions are a part of a deterrence strategy and came as a response to the annexation of Crimea and military conflict in Eastern Ukraine, which were both started by Russia.
NATO sought for dialogue and cooperation with Russia for over three decades. For example, in 1997, a “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation" was signed. In 2000, Vladimir Putin himself said that he would not oppose joining the Alliance. However, throughout the past ten years, Russia has persistently breached the fundamental principles upon which the collective security of Europe was established, for example, by annexing Crimea War in Ukraine has served as irrefutable evidence that Russia cannot be considered a suitable partner for NATO.
NATO has not directly entered the conflict in Ukraine and recognises Ukraine’s right at self-defence. All aid provided to Ukraine was provided mostly by countries as singular entities and not by NATO itself. For example, if Poland, Germany, or the US decide to provide tanks to Ukraine, they do so based on a decision of their respective governments and not NATO. The only country responsible for escalating the situation in Ukraine is Russia. Claims that NATO somehow provoked the situation remain a fabrication which serves to obscure the fact that Russia launched a war in Ukraine, breaking international law. The positioning of troops in NATO member states represents attempts to “maintain peace and safeguard the independence, security and territorial integrity of its members” and cannot be equated to escalatory behaviour.
Debunker is a series of disinformation-busting articles from Debunk.org which focus on dispelling the harmful lies and propaganda being pushed by pro-Kremlin sources. Check out the rest of the series at debunk.org/debunker.