(ANTIMEDIA) — When the media talks about Russia’s activities in neighboring Europe, Russia is typically portrayed as the aggressor. Russia’s standard response is usually that it has been forced to protect its interests because the U.S. is actively trying to contain the country within a host of NATO allies, which would essentially put American troops and missiles alongside its border despite assurances at the end of the Cold War that NATO would not expand into eastern Europe.
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However, western critics are still debating whether such a promise ever existed, as is NATO itself. As a result of this attempt to rewrite history, NATO has continued to expand as far into eastern Europe as possible, with Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic all joining in 1999. The alliance has broadened its reach in the years since, ultimately to Russia’s detriment.
In an article for Foreign Affairs in December 2014, Mark Kramer, director of the Harvard Project on Cold War studies, stated he had “examined the declassified negotiating records and concluded that no such promise was ever offered.”
“Mary Elise Sarotte (“A Broken Promise?” September/October 2014) points to my article as an example of the history she intends to correct,” Kramer wrote, “but she provides nothing that would change my judgment about what happened. As I wrote, the question of NATO’s possible expansion eastward arose numerous times during negotiations Gorbachev conducted with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and U.S. President George H. W. Bush. Viewed in context, however, it is clear that they were speaking solely about expanding the alliance into East Germany.” [emphasis added]
Kramer’s assertion is that while it has been previously understood that then-Secretary of State James Baker had assured Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would expand “not one inch eastward” during a meeting that took place on February 9, 1990, the context was that of German reunification, not wider Europe.
However, as the National Interest recently learned, even Kramer’s assessment appears to be incorrect due to the release of some further declassified material.
“The [recently declassified] documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991,” George Washington University National Security Archives researchers Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton wrote in the National Security Archives. “That discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.”
According to the National Interest — and Russia continuously argues — Gorbachev only accepted the proposal for German reunification (which Gorbachev could have vetoed) due to these assurances that NATO would not expand into Eastern Europe. This sequence of events is similar to how Russia was duped out of using its veto power on a U.N. Security Council Resolution in Libya in 2011 after having received assurances that the NATO coalition would not pursue regime change.
“I believe that your thoughts about the role of NATO in the current situation are the result of misunderstanding,” Major told Gorbachev, according to British Ambassador Rodric Braithwaite’s diary entry of March 5, 1991. “We are not talking about strengthening of NATO. We are talking about the coordination of efforts that is already happening in Europe between NATO and the West European Union, which, as it is envisioned, would allow all members of the European Community to contribute to enhance [our] security.”
The documents also show that Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders received assurances against NATO expansion from Baker; President George H.W. Bush; West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher; West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl; former CIA Director Robert Gates; French leader Francois Mitterrand (who told Gorbachev he was in favor of “gradually dismantling the military blocs”; Margaret Thatcher; British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd; and NATO secretary-general Manfred Woerner.
Having perused the relevant documents, Savranskaya and Blanton concluded that “Gorbachev went to the end of the Soviet Union assured that the West was not threatening his security and was not expanding NATO.”
We would do well to bear this in mind the next time the U.S. saber-rattles Russia for wanting to protect its borders against NATO aggression. That being said, very few newspapers have paid any headline attention at all to this story or its implications even though it continues to be a major source of conflict between the two countries that hold the majority of the world’s nuclear weapons.