By Jamie Dettmer
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his key aides have repeatedly claimed that Western powers broke promises they made not to expand NATO during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
At his annual year-end press conference in Moscow in December, Putin accused NATO of deceiving Russia into giving assurances in the 1990s that it would not stretch “an inch to the East ”- promises made to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during negotiations between the West and the Soviet Union on German unification, the Russian leader said.
“They deceived us – vehemently, blatantly. NATO is getting bigger, “Putin said. He cited former US Secretary of State James Baker as Exhibit No. 1 in his indictment and cited a remark Baker made to Gorbachev in 1990, saying, “NATO will not move an inch further east.
The Russian leader has frequently claimed that NATO is a scam, accusing Western powers of taking advantage of a weakened and disoriented Russia as the Soviet Union crumbles. And the West’s alleged deception and violation of a solemn pledge not to expand featured prominently as an important element in Putin’s foreign policy narrative that portrays Russia as a victim and an injured party.
In a speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007, he asked: “What happened to the assurances that our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact?
And then again in a speech from the Kremlin after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula in 2014, he accused Western leaders of “having lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed in front of us. a done deal. This happened with the expansion of NATO to the East.
After the speech, former US Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer said in an essay: “Western leaders never made a commitment not to expand NATO,” but the story “so matches well in the image that the Russian leader seeks to paint of an aggrieved Russia, exploited by others and more and more isolated, not because of its own actions, but because of the machinations of a deceptive West.
Most authoritative Western scholars and historians who have studied diplomatic notes, meeting minutes and transcripts published by both sides since the 1990s dispute the notion that NATO made any formal commitments.
And Western leaders vigorously protested Putin’s narrative, saying there was never an agreement not to expand NATO in Central Europe. Last week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, on the eve of bilateral talks between US and Russian diplomats in Geneva, told reporters: “NATO has never promised not to admit new members. It could not and would not – the “open door policy” was a fundamental provision of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty that founded NATO. “
Blinken referred reporters to Mikhail Gorbachev’s 2014 remarks on Russia Beyond, a multilingual project run by the non-profit organization of the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. During the interview, the former Soviet leader was asked why he had not requested a document to legally encode what Baker had said about not moving “an inch further east.”
What Baker meant
Gorbachev explained that Baker’s remark was taken out of context and replied: “The subject of ‘NATO expansion’ was not discussed at all. But another question was raised: “To ensure that NATO’s military structures do not advance and that additional armed forces are not deployed in the territory of the former GDR. [German Democratic Republic] after German reunification. Baker’s statement was made in this context.
Gorbachev added: “The agreement on a final settlement with Germany stipulated that no new military structure would be created in the eastern part of the country; no additional troops would be deployed; no weapons of mass destruction would be placed there. He’s been obeyed all these years.
But Gorbachev said in the interview that what has happened since 1990 with more countries deciding to join NATO was “a violation of the spirit of the statements and assurances given to us in 1990,” well that he did not specify.
Researchers believe Gorbachev means the West described the coming era as East-West security cooperation with the United States working with Russia on the development of a new inclusive European security. This inclusive security structure has not materialized, although Putin’s critics argue that the fault lies more with Russian adventurism than with NATO.
Gorbachev also acknowledged in May 1990, at the time of the signing of German reunification, that NATO expansion was likely, saying he was aware of “the intention expressed by a number of representatives of countries of Eastern Europe to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and then join NATO “.
Declassified US, Soviet, German, British and French documents published online in 2017 by the George Washington University National Security Archives in the US capital suggest Gorbachev had reason to be unhappy later.
“The documents show that several national leaders envisioned and rejected Central and Eastern European membership in NATO from early 1990 until 1991, that discussions of NATO in the context of the negotiations for German unification in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, ”the Archive notes in its assessment of the documents displayed.
Boris Yeltsin got angry when the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and the Baltic states joined NATO in waves from 1997. Yeltsin blamed then-US President Bill Clinton, who argued that NATO did not break its promises and maintained, as did subsequent US administrations, that sovereign independent states have the right to choose whether or not to join alliances.
Russian diplomats say the principle that countries can choose their alliances should not override Moscow’s core security needs and concerns. For Moscow, “the old principles of security on the continent no longer work. NATO’s expansion has created a new military and political landscape, ”recently noted Fyodor Lukyanov, an influential Russian analyst on international affairs.
“Russia will have to change the system,” he said in a commentary, suggesting that countries adjacent to Russia should “retain their sovereignty but stay out of the geopolitical melee.”
Western policymakers say Russia actually agreed to enlargement when in 1997 it and NATO signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security. In this political agreement, which aimed to build East-West confidence and establish habits of consultation and cooperation, NATO pledged to avoid permanently stationing large combat forces in the territories of the former states. of the Warsaw Pact which had joined the Western alliance. It could, however, rotate detachments to conduct exercises and maintain the interoperability and integration of alliance forces.
Yeltsin wanted a Russian veto on any further expansion included in the Founding Act, but Western leaders rejected it. NATO has avoided stationing substantial forces in the countries of Central Europe, although some of its leaders have argued, since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, that Russia had broken its commitments in the Founding Act to show the same restraint as NATO with force deployments. , military accumulations and incursions.