Newly-Declassified Documents Show Western Leaders Promised Gorbachev that NATO Would Not Move “One Inch Closer” to Russia

Yves here. This is a more purely geopolitical piece than we normally run. The reason for featuring it is that this bit of history is vital to understanding current US/Russian relations.

Even though experts have acknowledged that Secretary of State James Baker promised Mikhail Gorbachev that the Western powers would not move NATO into former Warsaw Pact countries, they claimed that the Russians were naive to have taken this promise as meaningful. The argument went that the US regarded only obligations committed to writing as binding, while the Soviets regarded firm, unambiguous statement by parties authorized to negotiate as commitments.

As the post below describes in detail, the Russians have more basis for feeling abused by the US and its allies than the US defense above indicates. Not only did Baker repeat his “not one inch eastward” declaration on three separate occasions, many national leaders and top-level diplomats in NATO countries, such as Maggie Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and Francois Mitterand, both affirmed that they would respect the security interests of the former USSR and would also involve it in European “security structures.”

And as we’ve said repeatedly, when the Clinton Administration broke these commitments by moving NATO eastward in 1997, cold warrior George Kennan predicted that it would be the worst geopolitical mistake the US ever made.

By George Washington. Originally published at Washington’s Blog

The U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time it broke up and many other experts have said that the West promised Gorbachev that – if the USSR allowed German re-unification – NATO wouldn’t move “one inch closer” to Russia.

While Western leaders have long denied the promise, newly-declassified documents now prove this.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University reported Tuesday:

U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (

The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991, 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 subsequentSoviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.

The documents reinforce former CIA Director Robert Gates’s criticism of “pressing ahead with expansion of NATO eastward [in the 1990s], when Gorbachev and others were led to believe that wouldn’t happen.” The key phrase, buttressed by the documents, is “led to believe.”


The first concrete assurances by Western leaders on NATO began on January 31, 1990, when West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher opened the bidding with a major public speech at Tutzing, in Bavaria, on German unification. The U.S. Embassy in Bonn (see Document 1) informed Washington that Genscher made clear “that the changes in Eastern Europe and the German unification process must not lead to an ‘impairment of Soviet security interests.’ Therefore, NATO should rule out an ‘expansion of its territory towards the east, i.e. moving it closer to the Soviet borders.’” The Bonn cable also noted Genscher’s proposal to leave the East German territory out of NATO military structures even in a unified Germany in NATO.

This latter idea of special status for the GDR territory was codified in the final German unification treaty signed on September 12, 1990, by the Two-Plus-Four foreign ministers (see Document 25). The former idea about “closer to the Soviet borders” is written down not in treaties but in multiple memoranda of conversation between the Soviets and the highest-level Western interlocutors (Genscher, Kohl, Baker, Gates, Bush, Mitterrand, Thatcher, Major, Woerner, and others) offering assurances throughout 1990 and into 1991 about protecting Soviet security interests and including the USSR in new European security structures. The two issues were related but not the same. Subsequent analysis sometimes conflated the two and argued that the discussion did not involve all of Europe. The documents published below show clearly that it did.

The “Tutzing formula” immediately became the center of a flurry of important diplomatic discussions over the next 10 days in 1990, leading to the crucial February 10, 1990, meeting in Moscow between Kohl and Gorbachev when the West German leader achieved Soviet assent in principle to German unification in NATO, as long as NATO did not expand to the east.


The conversations before Kohl’s assurance involved explicit discussion of NATO expansion, the Central and East European countries, and how to convince the Soviets to accept unification. For example, on February 6, 1990, when Genscher met with British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, the British record showed Genscher saying, “The Russians must have some assurance that if, for example, the Polish Government left the Warsaw Pact one day, they would not join NATO the next.” (See Document 2)

Having met with Genscher on his way into discussions with the Soviets, Baker repeated exactly the Genscher formulation in his meeting with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze on February 9, 1990, (see Document 4); and even more importantly, face to face with Gorbachev.

Not once, but three times, Baker tried out the “not one inch eastward” formula with Gorbachev in the February 9, 1990, meeting. He agreed with Gorbachev’s statement in response to the assurances that “NATO expansion is unacceptable.” Baker assured Gorbachev that “neither the President nor I intend to extract any unilateral advantages from the processes that are taking place,” and that the Americans understood that “not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.” (See Document 6).

Here are two relevant excerpts from Document 6:


The National Security Archive report continues:

Baker reported: “And then I put the following question to him [Gorbachev]. Would you prefer to see a united Germany outside of NATO, independent and with no U.S. forces or would you prefer a unified Germany to be tied to NATO, with assurances that NATO’s jurisdiction would not shift one inch eastward from its present position? He answered that the Soviet leadership was giving real thought to all such options [….] He then added,‘Certainly any extension of the zone of NATO would be unacceptable.’” Baker added in parentheses, for Kohl’s benefit, “By implication, NATO in its current zone might be acceptable.” (See Document 8)

Well-briefed by the American secretary of state, the West German chancellorunderstood a key Soviet bottom line, and assured Gorbachev on February 10, 1990: “We believe that NATO should not expand the sphere of its activity.” (See Document 9).

Here is a related excerpt from Document 9:


The National Security Archives report concludes:

All the Western foreign ministers were on board with Genscher, Kohl, and Baker. Next came the British foreign minister, Douglas Hurd, on April 11, 1990.


Hurd reinforced the Baker-Genscher-Kohl message in his meeting with Gorbachev in Moscow, April 11, 1990, saying that Britain clearly “recognized the importance of doing nothing to prejudice Soviet interests and dignity.” (See Document 15)

The Baker conversation with Shevardnadze on May 4, 1990, as Baker described it in his own report to President Bush, most eloquently described what Western leaders were telling Gorbachev exactly at the moment: “I used your speech and our recognition of the need to adapt NATO, politically and militarily, and to develop CSCE to reassure Shevardnadze that the process would not yield winners and losers. Instead, it would produce a new legitimate European structure – one that would be inclusive, not exclusive.” (See Document 17)

Baker said it again, directly to Gorbachev on May 18, 1990 in Moscow, giving Gorbachev his “nine points,” which included the transformation of NATO, strengthening European structures, keeping Germany non-nuclear, and taking Soviet security interests into account. Baker started off his remarks, “Before saying a few words about the German issue, I wanted to emphasize that our policies are not aimed at separating Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union. We had that policy before. But today we are interested in building a stable Europe, and doing it together with you.” (See Document 18)

The French leader Francois Mitterrand  … continued the cascade of assurances by saying the West must “create security conditions for you, as well as European security as a whole.” (See Document 19) Mitterrand immediately wrote Bush in a “cher George” letter about his conversation with the Soviet leader, that “we would certainly not refuse to detail the guarantees that he would have a right to expect for his country’s security.” (See Document 20)

At the Washington summit on May 31, 1990, Bush went out of his way to assure Gorbachev that Germany in NATO would never be directed at the USSR: “Believe me, we are not pushing Germany towards unification, and it is not us who determines the pace of this process. And of course, we have no intention, even in our thoughts, to harm the Soviet Union in any fashion. That is why we are speaking in favor of German unification in NATO without ignoring the wider context of the CSCE, taking the traditional economic ties between the two German states into consideration. Such a model, in our view, corresponds to the Soviet interests as well.” (See Document 21)

The “Iron Lady” also pitched in, after the Washington summit, in her meeting with Gorbachev in London on June 8, 1990. Thatcher anticipated the moves the Americans (with her support) would take in the early July NATO conference to support Gorbachev with descriptions of the transformation of NATO towards a more political, less militarily threatening, alliance. She said to Gorbachev: “We must find ways to give the Soviet Union confidence that its security would be assured…. CSCE could be an umbrella for all this, as well as being the forum which brought the Soviet Union fully into discussion about the future of Europe.” (See Document 22)

The NATO London Declaration on July 5, 1990 had quite a positive effect on deliberations in Moscow, according to most accounts, giving Gorbachev significant ammunition to counter his hardliners at the Party Congress which was taking place at that moment.


As Kohl said to Gorbachev in Moscow on July 15, 1990, as they worked out the final deal on German unification: “We know what awaits NATO in the future, and I think you are now in the know as well,” referring to the NATO London Declaration. (See Document 23)

In his phone call to Gorbachev on July 17, Bush meant to reinforce the success of the Kohl-Gorbachev talks and the message of the London Declaration. Bush explained: “So what we tried to do was to take account of your concerns expressed to me and others, and we did it in the following ways: by our joint declaration on non-aggression; in our invitation to you to come to NATO; in our agreement to open NATO to regular diplomatic contact with your government and those of the Eastern European countries; and our offer on assurances on the future size of the armed forces of a united Germany – an issue I know you discussed with Helmut Kohl. We also fundamentally changed our military approach on conventional and nuclear forces. We conveyed the idea of an expanded, stronger CSCE with new institutions in which the USSR can share and be part of the new Europe.” (See Document 24)

The documents show that Gorbachev agreed to German unification in NATO as the result of this cascade of assurances, and on the basis of his own analysis that the future of the Soviet Union depended on its integration into Europe, for which Germany would be the decisive actor. He and most of his allies believed that some version of the common European home was still possible and would develop alongside the transformation of NATO to lead to a more inclusive and integrated European space, that the post-Cold War settlement would take account of the Soviet security interests. The alliance with Germany would not only overcome the Cold War but also turn on its head the legacy of the Great Patriotic War.

But inside the U.S. government, a different discussion continued, a debate about relations between NATO and Eastern Europe. Opinions differed, but the suggestion from the Defense Department as of October 25, 1990 was to leave “the door ajar” for East European membership in NATO. (See Document 27)


As late as March 1991, according to the diary of the British ambassador to Moscow, British Prime Minister John Major personally assured Gorbachev, “We are not talking about the strengthening of NATO.” Subsequently, when Soviet defense minister Marshal Dmitri Yazov asked Major about East European leaders’ interest in NATO membership, the British leader responded, “Nothing of the sort will happen.” (See Document 28)

When Russian Supreme Soviet deputies came to Brussels to see NATO and meet with NATO secretary-general Manfred Woerner in July 1991, Woerner told the Russians that “We should not allow […] the isolation of the USSR from the European community.” According to the Russian memorandum of conversation, “Woerner stressed that the NATO Council and he are against the expansion of NATO (13 of 16 NATO members support this point of view).” (See Document 30)

Thus, Gorbachev went to the end of the Soviet Union assured that the West was not threatening his security and was not expanding NATO.

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  1. Anti-Schmoo

    IIRC, the U.S. has, historically, not lived up to one treaty in its entire existence.
    Quite a remarkable accomplishment, no?
    Methinks the chickens are coming home to roost, yes?

    1. Jim Haygood

      Nice timing for the release of these archives on Dec 12th. Yesterday the WaPo posted an article “based on interviews with more than 50 current and former U.S. officials” titled “Doubting the Intelligence: Trump Pursues Putin and Leaves a Russian Threat Unchecked”:

      Axiomatic to the WaPo hacks authors is that NATO ranks right up there with the 1776 Declaration and the Constitution as a bedrock US principle. Trump’s doubts about NATO, including his demands that European members pay more, are presented as evidence (it is hinted) of his collusion with the evil Putin.

      Naturally the new archives released by GWU play no part in the WaPo story two days later, since they aren’t “fitted to the narrative.”

      History is bunk, as ol’ Henry Ford said: Americans live in the eternal now. Our PDS (Putin Derangement System) journos insist that Putin is bad to the bone, as all Russkis are, and there’s just no reason for it except for their dark slavic hearts which contrast so painfully with our bright pure red white ‘n blue ones. :-(

      1. Sid Finster

        Any time you hear or read a Russian conspiracy theory in the MSM or elsewhere, substitute the words “Jews” for “Russians” and the words “International Jewry” for “Russia”. Then re-read the sentence.

        See how ugly that sentence now looks?

        So why should we rightfully decry such racism against Jews or others, but applaud the same sort of racism when it is directed against Russians?

  2. Jfree

    Interesting to see these first draft of history discussions come out. At roughly the same time, Jeanne Kirkpatrick wrote an article directed more to a public discussion that the end of the 40-year Cold War could lead to America once again becoming a normal country in normal times. With its implication that NATO’s very existence might not even be necessary anymore.

    Gotta say the thing that most disappoints me is that none of these conversations ever actually occurred in any public – anywhere. There was absolutely zero public discussion about what a post-Cold War world and its mutual obligations might look like. Zero acknowledgement by any of the deep permastate types that the consent of the governed is even necessary. We the people are simply the bobbleheads to be manipulated by the lying sociopaths in power.

  3. vlade

    You cannot read this alone – I said so before, and will again.

    Any thing like this pretty much ignores the fact that all of the Visegad four (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) were pushing VERY strongly to get included in NATO, as for them at the time it was the one clear signal that they are not in the USSRs zone of dominion any more. Anything else would just not do.

    It was a symbol, more than anything else. You need to remember that all of those countries had Soviet troops (and nuclear weapons), some since WW2, and ALL of them had their citizens killed by Soviet troops (Czechoslovakia 1968, Hungary 1956, Poland pre-and post WW2) within living memory.

    Clinton resisted this (for a time, and I believe on advice of his security advisors), but in the end was won over. I have actually talked to a few people from V4 who were involved in this at a quite high level, so feel like I can comment.

    Ignoring the above is to me just a sort of different American bubble that says “everything (for one group good, for another bad) that happens in the world is because America wishes so”. It entirely ignores the history and the political situation in the area at the time.

    That’s not to say US couldn’t have played it better – but it was not “America wake up and said “let’s extend NATO for the kicks of it”” either.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Did you read the post? The commitments weren’t just from the US. They were also from the leaders of Germany, France, and the UK.

      The EU has been willing to say “no” to the much more geographically important Turkey for decades. Why does Poland have more clout?

      1. Quentin

        Maybe Poland has more clout because the rest of Europe and the US see Poland as part of their world. Not so much Turkey, which didn’t get into any European ‘game’ plan until the end of the Ottoman empire, especially beginning with Ataturk. Before that, it was more an enemy if anything. And Russia then? Well Russia has always been seen as the big, bad freak who refuses to comply and conform, submit, to the West’s deepest wishes.

        1. Carolinian

          I’m reading a book about the Crimean War and even in the middle of the 19th cent. there was widespread sentiment in England that the Russians were Slavic barbarians threatening the rest of Europe with their size, expansionist ambitions and different version of Christianity. So perhaps the current Russophobia has deeper roots than we realize and may center on Old Blightey with the cousins along for the ride. In this scenario Poland became the buffer zone against the Russians and was much quarreled over by the great powers.

          1. Ubietz

            Out of interest what is the book called?

            Religion is also a key element which links many historical events, alliances, and countries with Russia.

      2. vlade

        I can’t answer that – but the reality is, that US was giving V4 “No” answer when they were lobbying for it, and it took them years to get there.

        If US was so keen to do it, it would have been done by Bush, not Clinton towards the end of hist first term. Clinton told Havel (and I have it from a person who was in the room at the time) that his military/security advisors were telling him “No”.

        1. Donald

          What difference would it make to the Russians if Clinton was told not to do it and then did it anyway? You are arguing in effect that the US had good intentions and didn’t want to break its word, but that is a secondary issue. The issue here is that not only did the US break its word, but we have been misled about it.

          I was thinking about this in connection with a story about Yemen in the Intercept a couple of days ago. It seems that our ambassador to Yemen was more hawkish than some others in the Obama Administration. I think we should know as much as possible about how such decisions ar made and I thought the story was useful, but I can imagine how it would be spun if the mainstream press were ever pressured into covering our horrific role in Yemen with as much energy as they pour into Russiagate. They would look for a scapegoat like the ambassador and do everything they could to show that overall the US had good intentions.

          1. vlade

            My point is not the Russian grievance – that stands. I’d even agree with that it was a dumb move – but the whole treatment of Russia as a beaten country (when they very clearly didn’t feel like that) was beyong stupid, it was , and the West should have learned from history (how it ended with Germany post WW1).

            My point is that way too often I have seen this as “America does this, America does that” – without considering the wider picture. Yes, ultimately it was US decision (because they could have just keep saying no, although polish minority in the US is large – it’s larger than Jewish, although I suspect there is an overlap. Also, Albright was born in Czechoslovakia and emigrated after the communist takeover, so there you go, she might have played a role in turning Clinton around) – but it wasn’t that they were rushing to do it from day 0 and forcing the V4 to get into NATO just to do one over Russia.

            I suspect one of the reasons they actually agreed to it in the end was because they thought Russia was done for (who in the world cared for Russia in 1995-1998? Apart from looters, that is, both foreign and domestic), and NATO was just a fomality that would be gone in a decade.

            TBH, I also suspect that the first expansion Russia could have lived with – but the second expansion, especially taking in Baltics, and any suggestion of having NATO expand more towards Russia’s borders was, is and will be seen as a provocation and a direct threat by Russia. Russia feels safe only when it has a nice plump buffer, preferrably of aligned states.

            1. hemeantwell

              The “wider picture” is that the US was the preeminent military power at that time. That is a reality that could have been leveraged into a transition in the terms of competition between Russia and the West. Your suggestion that four small countries should bear any responsibility for US’ failure to follow through on its assurances and to use this opening to put an end to militarized competition and brinksmanship is impossible to take seriously. It ignores major players, e.g. the good old military-industrial complex (which here needs to be thought of in international terms), that were seriously threatened by the possibility of a wind-down in tensions.

            2. timbers

              My point is that way too often I have seen this as “America does this, America does that” – without considering the wider picture…Also, Albright was born in Czechoslovakia and emigrated after the communist takeover, so there you go, she might have played a role in turning Clinton around) – but it wasn’t that they were rushing to do it from day 0 and forcing the V4 to get into NATO just to do one over Russia.

              Trump came into office promising better relations w/Russia and look how that turned out. It “wasn’t that Trump was rushing into” worse relations w/Russia, but it still happened and in a very big hurry or “rush.”.

              I’d say the “Deep State” agenda was very much in a rush to start aggression against Russia.

              Was Trump? Bill Clinton? Bush? Certainly Hillary was. But maybe they were/are just puppets of the Deep State.

            3. visitor

              who in the world cared for Russia in 1995-1998? Apart from looters, that is, both foreign and domestic

              The general view of Russia as a goner was actually a post-1998 phenomenon because of the financial crash, bank failures, currency depreciation, state bankruptcy — and the realization of how corrupt, destitute and rotten the “new democratic Russia” was. The (in)famous article “Russia is finished” by Jeffrey Tayler was published in 2001 — at a time when Putin had just started taking control of things.

            4. Wukchumni

              My parents knew the Korbels in Denver in the 50’s, as an interesting aside to the conversation.

              I’m on the phone with my mom right now, and she relates that the idea that Madeleine didn’t know she was Jewish until 1997 is a bit preposterous as her mother looked very much the part, but it was a different era way back when, and anti-semitism was such that you might have been turned away on a hotel room when they asked your surname, in some quarters.

      3. MisterMr

        “The EU has been willing to say “no” to the much more geographically important Turkey for decades. Why does Poland have more clout?”

        In my opinion, there is some sort of european nationalism, by which I mean the idea that Europe should be a single big nation state, in most of Europe. This view is not as strong and obvious as single nation state nationalism, but it exists: for example Giuseppe Mazzini, one of the “founding fathers” of Italy, created two secret societies: the “giovine Italia” [young Italy] for the unification of Italy, and the “giovine Europa” [young Europe] for the unification of Europe, already in the 19th century before Italian unification.
        The whole idea of a “united Europe” is part of the reason of the EU, so it’s natural that Poland, which was already perceived as an European country, was welcome in the EU; Turkey on the other hand is not generally perceived as European so it’s less welcome (you can see this as racism, or as sense of identity, the difference is quite blurry IMHO).

        Russia too would have been welcome into the EU (in my opinion), but I don’t think the Russians would have accepted the loss of sovereignity that this entail.
        I think that this has to do with the fact that many (most) European countries were beaten quite hard in WW2, and even the two european “winners” of WW2 won only in the sense that the USA and the USSR won and they happened to be on the right side of the war at that time.
        So nationalistic identity and pride in most of Europe is, IMHO, a more complex thing than it is in the USA, and Europeans mostly welcomed the idea of a United Europe.
        Perhaps not coincidentially, the ones who appear to be the less attached to the idea of a “United Europe” are the British, who are the one who still may think they won WW2.

        1. Anon

          WW2 was “won” by Russia defeating Germany, while losing 30 million people. The US “won” WW2 by bombing a quarter million citizens at Hiroshima/Nagasake, while losing maybe 250,000 soldiers in the total war effort..

    2. Alex Morfesis

      A bit confused on this viceguard suggestion of nostalgia for the wehrmacht and pure hate for moscow…

      is it the food, the wine, or the women (kiss me muti) on the west side of the oder-neisse line ?

      Gentlemen prefer jackboots ?

      1. vlade

        Where do you see nostalgia for Wehrmacht?

        In 1990s, Soviets were the leaving occupants, who were there for 20+ years. They were thorougly despised – that’s a fact. Soviets in 1950s were still often seen as liberators by a majority of the population, but managed to squander that away with bloody suppression of Hungarians in 50s, and less bloody, but not less jackbooted supression of Prague Spring in 68 (in a way more, since Hungarians actually fought, while in Prague Spring the killed were unarmed civilians)

        1. whiteylockmandoubled

          Yes, the Soviets were hated occupiers, but so what? The stakes on this are and were enormous, both in traditional Great Power terms, and with the added dimension of nuclear confrontation.

          There were many steps that the US, UK, Germany and France could have taken to provide reassurances and security to the Eastern European states during the ensuing 20 years short of expanding NATO membership, beginning, of course, with economic integration. EU membership doesn’t necessarily require NATO membership.

          Yes, there were domestic “Captive Nations” political pressures in the U.S., but they could have been finessed with smart policy short of NATO expansion, and in fact, they were. I know it was a terrible strain, but US politicians heroically resisted that pressure for a full decade — the first expansion didn’t happen until 1999, more than half-way through Clinton’s second term.

          The U.S. and its allies made a set of commitments to Gorbachev, and then Bill Clinton broke those promises. Full stop. Bush then doubled down. Obama and Trump added Albania, Croatia and Montenegro because I guess it’s now a required machismo ritual. (interestinng coincidence that accessions just happened to be scheduled for the first six months after open-seat Presidential elections, no?) The consequences of those decisions are the responsibility of the inhabitants of the White House, and no one else’s.

          America really did this one.

        2. visitor

          Interestingly, Eastern Europeans detest each other as well: Romanians vs. Hungarians, Poles vs. Ukrainians, Bulgarians vs. Serbs, etc. Their execration of the historically dominating and boorish Russians is what brings them together — as well as their wariness of the overbearing and historically dominating Germany.

          1. Olga

            Detest is a very strong word… and not accurate in this case.There are historical grievances (such as Hungarians wanting to scrap the Trianon treaty), but most sane people have moved on… Same goes for “boorish” Russians – have you ever met a Russian or read a bit of history about Eastern Europe? And yes, the struggle against German domination dates back to 800-900AD.

            1. visitor

              The recent history, with savage civil wars in Yugoslavia, Moldavia and Ukraine, shows that there are enough wacky people imbued with detestation for their neighbours to overwhelm the sane ones. Echoes of what some Ukrainian groups tell about e.g. Poles make me think we should be wary of those old grievances.

              Yes, I did meet Russians. Actually, I worked with them. In fact, I hired some. Very nice guys and fun lads, very intelligent, conscientious and imaginative (my branch is IT — I view Russians as the elite there). Not boorish at all (but a bit cynical). On the other hand, the anecdotes they kept telling about how things were going with police, “businessmen” and politicians back home made it very clear that those are extremely boorish — and they were mostly the ones Eastern Europeans had to deal with. Those stories also explain why my Russian colleagues were so reserved initially, and opened up when they realized how different the interactions were in Western Europe. I also had Hungarians and Romanians working with me and the Russians — and there was absolutely no problem. All young generation though, they were schoolboys when the Eastern bloc collapsed. Time frame: early 2000s.

              A century ago, Russians had a positive image amongst Eastern Europeans (except Poles). The ones who were the target of contempt and detestation were the Austrians and the Turks. Perhaps the next generation will have entirely forgotten about the Russians of the Warsaw Pact, the COMECON and the “limited sovereignty”.

        3. Sid Finster

          Want to induce a spitting mad Donald Duck meltdown in a Polish person?

          Simply remind them that the only reason that there are Polish people alive in Poland today is because of the Red Army. Anyone who thinks that the Germans were going to stop at Jews is not familiar with Mein Kampf or Generalplan Ost.

          This is not to excuse anything else that the Soviets did in Eastern Europe, but at the same time, it is the only reason those Polish people are alive to nurse their russophobia.

        4. JerseyJeffersonian


          Lost in your one-sided account of the brave Hungarians is the fact that a non-trivial contingent of those invading the USSR during the Second World War were…Hungarians. There were a lot of fascists in Hungary, and no joke about it, and they willingly participated in the invasion. If you think that the losses in life and property caused directly by the invading Hungarian fascists to the Russian and Soviet peoples, both military and civilian, and the war crimes with which they were likely liberally festooned were not remembered, well, think again. And when the uprising began, those memories probably informed the severity of the Soviet response.

          The Hungarians took up arms and participated in a brutal and genocidal attack against the USSR during the Third Reich’s invasion. This was only slightly more than 10 years before the Hungarian uprising. Realistically, what did you expect the Soviets’ reaction to be to the uprising? Soviet intelligence was surely aware of the Gladio program, and this would only be seen as part and parcel of this western-guided and sponsored program.

          Were the deaths and repression that followed regrettable? Of course they were; I am not maintaining otherwise. But times were what they were largely due to what had gone before, and to elide that from the account is unbalanced.

          1. vlade


            Where did you read “brave Hungarian” in my account? I find the reading comprehension in a number of responses to my comment massively skewed by their prejudices and biases.

            Do you deny that Hungrian uprising in 1956 was bloody and jackbooted? I did not even go into the reasons, which are multitude of, but stated a fact. And another fact is, that after something like that, Soviets were seen as occupiers by Hungarians.

            How does that apply to Prague Spring? Soviets were incredibly popular up to then, seen as liberators, and then, literally overnight switched to occupiers.

            So it remains that Soviet troops were seen as occupiers, and as a result, the populations of CZ/Poland/Hungary _wanted_ to go into NATO. Ignoring this will not make the fact go away.

  4. The Rev Kev

    I am wondering what would have happened if NATO had not only expanded east but had also let the Russian Federation itself become part of NATO. Of course countries like Estonia and Lithuania would have squawked about that but they could have been simply told to have a large cup of shut the **** up. Either that or they would have been neutral countries with NATO to the west as well as the east (Russia). Can you imagine?
    Instead of NATO merely being the military wing of the western powers it would be one that stretched from Vladivostok right through to the Atlantic. Such an entity would have made it its job to stabilize all the Stans to the south of it as well as Afghanistan itself. There would never be the scenario, as is the case now, where China and Russia have been forced into a defensive alliance. Perhaps Russia would have become part of the EU. Imagine the trade possibilities.
    Instead the western powers got greedy, expanded up the the Russian border, lined it with Special Forces formations and future nuclear first-strike-missiles and holds NATO tank parades literally blocks away from the Russian border. Epic fail that.

    1. Chaos is the goal

      Nice thought but the military industry can’t have peace and harmony. NATO was very quick to start talking about islam as the next threat after the fall of the Soviet Union.
      UK even insisited that they needed their nuclear submarines to fight islam.

    2. JayDee

      It’s nice to ponder, but –

      The entire rationale for the existence of NATO in the first place was to counter Soviet/Russian expansionism in Europe. Adding Russia as a member would have made the treaty entirely moot, unless it were done as part of a broader transition of NATO away from military alliance toward an economic one. Like an EU with the US and Russia included.

      But NATO would cease to have any reason to exist in such a climate, barring the emergence of some other tangible threat to a unified US / European / Russian bloc. Since no such threat exists, NATO has remained a military alliance largely targeted at Russia, whose membership will never be considered for that reason.

      In the interim, the NATO mission has been expanded outside of Europe, until such time as Russia can again take center stage as NATO’s “evil empire” belligerent. This time possibly with China, North Korea and Iran as bonus threats, as their interests, militarily-speaking, will likely be more closely tied to Russian than to US ones, simply by virtue of geography..

      Since the end of the USSR, NATO has always been about providing an outlet for US militarism and hegemony, and keeping the MIC happily and gainfully occupied. The WOT just can’t begin to measure up to a good, old-fashioned, full-blown superpower arms race in that regard.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        You either are too young to remember what happened in 1989 or forgot it. The USSR was over. The US was going to get a peace dividend. Russia was going to be brought into the fold. Your argument is revisionist history.

  5. andyb

    The entrenched USG neocons will foster a demonization of Putin (and Russia) until they achieve WWIII; but an objective evaluation of Russian superiority in weapons suggests that theirs is a suicide mission. Peruse the saga of the USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea, and the US military fear of Soviet defense missile systems, to understand.

  6. jfleni

    Blowback: Kim Jong-Un, China, Russia, etc, etc, “We’ll never believe you again, you lying Yankee [obscenities], a pox on you! And who can blame them?

  7. Joel

    When are historians going to start saying that the Clinton presidency was one of the most disastrous in American history?

    The more we know, the more it seems much bad and little good came out of it, except that it wasn’t as bad as its immediate successor.

    1. visitor

      except that it wasn’t as bad as its immediate successor.

      In so far as the major consequences of the policies and decisions taken by Clinton actually occurred during GWB’s presidency, there is little to choose between them.

      Extraordinary renditions? Clinton. Military interventions without UNO resolutions? Clinton. Complete dismantling of the financial sector leading to untrammeled speculation? Clinton. Bombing of foreign countries as a standard policy? Clinton (though with old-fashioned aeroplanes and long-range missiles, not drones, so there was innovation with Bush).

      1. UserFriendly

        Yeah, they have been nothing but bad and worse my whole life. This country is the single entity responsible for by far the most human pain and suffering of all time.
        You can draw a clear line from the great depression to Hitler, but even without that; I’d still say we win at being the evilest empire once you factor in climate change.

    2. Amfortas the Hippie

      At the time(clinton era), I was leery of Billary, but I couldn’t put my finger on it…I was too busy being young and wild and crazy, as well as keeping body and soul together.
      …and it was preinternet.
      so one had to find alternative narratives regarding the shape of the world where one could…people on street corners in the Montrose(Houston) handing out Lyndon Larouche newsletters, later street people on the Drag in Austin handing out Zines from Zendik Farms, still wet with ink, or the odd John Bircher at the aa meeting, the closet Klansman at the beer joint…as well as more respectable outlets(William Greider comes to mind).
      More to the point of this story, growing up listening to my Half Cherokee Grandad talk about perfidy on the part of the US, I guess I have always been immune to the usual flagwaving superpatriotism…the US gov is not to be trusted. Ever.
      It’s only since I finally got on the Web, circa 1999, that I’ve been able to sift through all the chaff, and look at things like the foreign press and FOIA Docs, that that Feeling has hardened into Certainty.
      The more I learn, the more I find that I loathe my country.(see: history of the CIA, for just one egregious crime spree in our name)
      That sucks…especially since expressing such dislike is the quickest way to getting lynched in the places I’ve spent my life(Texas and the South).

      1. urdsama

        That is not what Joel said.

        There has been a steady stream of articles and government disclosures that have shown the Clinton years were less than the rosy picture commonly painted.

        This just adds to that narrative. Nothing is being said that we should have had more Bush the elder. But perhaps Clinton wasn’t the answer either.

    3. rkka

      The screwing over of Russia began under the Bush I administration. It was Bush I who insisted that the Russian Federation take responsibility for the entire debt of the USSR. It was the Bush I administration who insisted that the Russian Federation remain current on that debt, until the new Russian government had totally exhausted its foreign currency reserves. Bush I wanted the new Russian Federation bankrupt & powerless, subject to any US whim.

      Clinton merely followed in his footsteps.

    4. JayDee

      I’m not so sure. One could argue that Clinton and GW Bush both thoroughly screwed us, just in differing ways. But Clinton was so erudite and intellectual compared to GW that being screwed under his watch almost hurts more, as it seemed more purposeful, calculated and sinister. Bush struck me as more of a laughable sock puppet acting on others’ behalf to steamroll us.

      I suppose it’s all a matter of perception. But I certainly agree they were both awful.

  8. Louis Fyne

    the reneging of Baker’s promise + regime change in Iraq + regime change in Libya + near regime change in Syria demonstrate to everyone outside of Nato that the US/the West can’t be trusted to honor international law—regardless of the administration (Dem or Rep).

    And other countries will act accordingly

  9. P Fitzsimon

    In the book “Who Lost Russia”, the author, Peter Conradi, mentions a political lobby group funded by the defense contractors to promote NATO expansion to the East in the 1990s. Does anyone have information concerning this group and its influence?

      1. RWood

        Olga, you mention the MICC, while to others, it’s the MIC. What discourse or determination leads you to that difference? I’m asking because I agree, and want further documentation, and the elimination of the last “C” is constant, and a great misperception.

        1. JayDee

          Good point. I too have lately taken to using the shorthand version MIC, omitting the other C. But I do understand the relevance of that other letter – it’s the governmental enablers who interface with, and provide funding for, the MIC in a synergistic, endless loop.

  10. David

    I was there. I’ve never believed that western leaders were being deliberately deceitful about NATO expansion – they were as much victims of events as anything else, and the situation was moving incredibly fast. Remember that the conversation with Gorbachev (Document 9) dates from February 1990, barely three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when western capitals were in shock, and the priority was a peaceful reunification of Germany and the exit of Soviet forces stationed there. At that stage, as the situation changed almost daily, nobody much was thinking about NATO expansion. Indeed, many were wondering if NATO would go on at all.
    Vlade is quite right that there was pressure from the V3 (later 4) for closer ties with the West, and this eventually turned into membership, but this was not being discussed in early 1990, when the V3 themselves did not want to move from one military bloc to another, and when it would have been seen as a gratuitous insult to the Soviet Union. On the other hand, there was a lot of worry about the stability of some of the ex Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet successor states.
    The real issue was the future of NATO itself. NATO had all sorts of pragmatic political advantages for all sorts of nations, including many in Europe, and it was necessary to find something for it to do. In the absence of a threat, enlargement was more or less all it could do, and so that was what it spent a long time doing. By the late 90s, with Yeltsin in charge, Russian opposition was less of an issue. In the end, NATO stumbled into enlargement, telling itself that it would be confined to the V3/4 and that would be it. But as a number of us pointed out at the time, once you start, there’s no logical point at which you stop. And so Ukraine.

    1. ape

      Why believe they weren’t intentionally lying, beyond the fact that it’s a better morality play then?

      They promised the USSR they wouldn’t move East. They USSR started to fall apart, with the cooperation of the West (remember the referendum in the USSR and so on). There was no longer a USSR to hold a claim on the promise — now it was Russia and a number of free floating states.

      The clearest bet is that they didn’t “lie” to the USSR — they worked to make the promise irrelevant by collapsing as much of the USSR as possible. This was intentional — from their viewpoint, a “best case”. Of course, the predictable consequences were a nightmare, but from their point of view worth it.

      All intentional, and whether it was “deceit” or not is simply word games to keep the moral high ground for the few folks left that believe that there’s significant morality at international scales.

    2. JayDee

      That’s a bit of a weird statement – that in the absence of a military threat, all a military alliance could do was expand.

      There’s a strange dissonance there, in that it refers to a military alliance in terms of an entity with some need for a purpose, rather than as an artificial agreement among governments in pursuance of their mutual safety in the face of a known threat. As such, it entirely ignores the other, and far superior, option which clearly presented itself, which was to dissolve the alliance in the absence of any ongoing threat engendering its’ continuation. Which would have been the obvious course to take, if the nations involved truly thought that peaceful coexistence was possible, or even desirable. But they clearly didn’t.

      It’s like entering into a marriage while requiring a prenuptial contract – it pretty much makes a mockery of any real sense of commitment from the get-go, a realization which is (or should be) patently obvious to everyone involved.

      I’m not knocking your assessment, by any means. I just find it interesting that you put it that way. Why is it that the “peaceful” option is always the one chosen last? And how can anyone ever develop or engender any real trust while always hedging their bets? At some point, someone has to unilaterally sacrifice some security in exchange for trust, just to start the ball rolling, don’t they? Otherwise all negotiations are futile. And it seems to me that is what the USSR/Russia did in the 90’s, and we then knifed them in the back.

  11. Alex

    I’m grinding my teeth when I think about that time when it was possible to effect a genuine reset of relations between Russia and the West.
    Another problem, and much more significant one, was that Russia adopted capitalist at the very unfortunate moment of the domination of neoliberalism which led to many catastrophic decisions.

    1. Anarcissie

      I find it hard to believe that Gorbachev, or indeed anyone in international politics, would trust the US government or US ruling class absent some sort of material verification, guarantees, even hostages. That requires some explanation.

  12. RBHoughton

    The article notes dishonesty originated in the Department of Defense. Why am I not surprised?

    One the most attractive features of NATO is that it emasculates all its members before the most powerful one. The strongman gets to know what the others can do militarily and adjusts for that. Its like a secret society – once in, you can’t leave even if you want to. So joining the NATO gang for security actually brings submission. Should the strongest one withdraw into domestic contemplation the others will just wither away. Horror of horrors, peace might break out. Doubtful? What did we see in Serbia and Bosnia? Remind me.

    1. wilroncanada

      The Warsaw Pact was USSR military colonialism. NATO was US military colonialism. What does an imperial power do when its “enemy” vacates a space, asking for neutrality? It takes over, demanding tribute. The tribute in this case was neoliberalism, to the benefit of US business, especially the MIC.

      1. rkka

        The Warsaw Pact enforced the peace of Europe. Not the Yugoslav Wars started about a month after it dissolved itself.

  13. Olaf Lukk

    NATO was formed in 1948 response to the Soviet refusal to withdraw from the Eastern European nations it continued to occupy with Soviet troops and control with puppet governments after WWll. The Soviet response was to form the Warsaw Pact- consisting of those very same nations: (East) Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslavakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania. The only time Warsaw Pact troops were used militarily was to put down rebellions by its own members: Hungary in 1956; Czechoslavakia in 1968.

    The collapse of the Soviet empire- its Eastern European “sphere of influence”- began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and culminated in the collapse of the Soviet “union” in 1991. In subsequent years, all of the Warsaw Pact members, plus the illegally annexed and occupied Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, having reclaimed their sovereignty, also made a point of joining NATO- to ensure that a reawakened Russian bear did not return to do even more damage.

    Western leaders in 1990, seeking to reassure Gorbachev regarding German unification, had no standing to negotiate away the future foreign policies of those nations which had endured half a century of the failed Soviet experiment and were still within the Soviet “sphere of influence”. In any case, how do you keep a “promise” to a political entity- the USSR- which no longer exists?

    The nations of Eastern Europe chose to join NATO; they were not coerced into doing so. Russian actions in Ukraine have validated their pragmatism in joining NATO. Although Putin described the demise of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th Century”, Russia does not have some sort of divine right to rebuild the Soviet empire and it “sphere of influence”. NATO is not a threat to Russia; it is only a threat to those who would seek to rebuild its lost empire.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Sorry, NATO is a club, just like the EU, which has refused entry to Turkey. NATO decides who to let in. Outsiders don’t have any rights, any more than Quebec could demand to join France.

      1. Olaf Lukk

        “NATO decides who to let in”. Precisely! All of the former Warsaw Pact members, plus the Baltic states, asked to join NATO, and were granted membership. Don’t the nations of Eastern Europe- after fifty years of Soviet (Russian) domination, have the right to decide their own future, and to decide which alliances to join?
        Considering the post WWll history of Eastern Europe- the Soviet domination until the Soviet collapse- Russia complaining about NATO expansion is tantamout to a burglar complaining that his victims have installed a burglar alarm.

        1. Lambert Strether

          > Don’t the nations of Eastern Europe – after fifty years of Soviet (Russian) domination, have the right to decide their own future

          The issue is the limits within which they have such a putative “right.” I am hard-pressed to think of a single historical example where nation A had a “right” to join an military alliance composed of nations B, C, and D. In the absence of such a showing, I don’t think nation A has any such “right.” And what body would grant such a “right,” in any case? And how could such “rights” be granted without making a nonsense of military alliances?

          1. Olaf Lukk

            I am at a loss to make sense of your logic.The “rights” of a nation to decide its own future, and which alliances it might choose to join, are inherent in it’s sovereignty. The body which would grant such a right is the nation itself. Such a “right” does not “make nonsense of military alliances”- it affirms their value.

        2. rkka

          “Considering the post WWll history of Eastern Europe- the Soviet domination until the Soviet collapse- Russia complaining about NATO expansion is tantamout to a burglar complaining that his victims have installed a burglar alarm.”

          You’re referring to the least warlike, least bloody 46 years of European history. The start of the next 46 has been much more bloody & warlike, and it looks very much like there’s more to come, despite, or more probably, because, of the fact that NATO’s aggregate military spending is 12x Russia’s.

          But then, the origins of the last big European bloodletting originated in the West, so why should anyone be surprised that the next one will originate there too.

          1. Olaf Lukk

            That “least warlike, least bloody 46 years of European history” you refer to were also known as the Cold War. Consider the perspective of the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, who were forcibly annexed into the Soviet “union” in 1940, and did not regain their sovereignty until 1991. Would you seriously expect them to not seek NATO membership, but merely hope that the Russians decide not to return?

            As for the “origins of the last European bloodletting originated in the West”, I presume you mean in Hitler’s Germany. Possibly Stalin’s devil’s bargain with Hitler- the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact- helped make that possible?

      2. xenophon61

        Turkey has been a NATO-member country since the ‘50s.

        In fact, it has been receiving military aid by the US, for decades.

        Perhaps you can understand the irony of turkish fighter jets over the Acropolis (and the ensuing dogfights), or the occupation of northern Cyprus.

        An accurrate metric of their involvement is the allied (i.e) NATO activity at the airbase of Incirlik.

        It, apparently, has diminished — echoing Erdogan’s attempts to establish an asian-focused diplomacy — but it’s there.

        To my mind, the world’s fourth largest military just can’t unsubscribe from NATO, no matter what.

    2. rkka

      “NATO was formed in 1948 response to the Soviet refusal to withdraw from the Eastern European nations it continued to occupy with Soviet troops and control with puppet governments after WWll.”

      NATO was formed in 1949 in response to the Soviet refusal to submit to Truman’s dictate, demanding being treated as a victorious ally instead.

      Fixed that for you. You’re welcome.

      “NATO is not a threat to Russia”

      In reply, I merely observe the record of NATO members conspiring to wage aggressive war, (Iraq, Libya, Syria).

      1. Olaf Lukk

        You are correct in citing the date of NATO formation. It was April 4, 1949. NATO was the successor to the Treaty of Brussels, dated March 17, 1948, described in Wikipedia as “a mutual defense against the Soviet threat… the precursor to NATO”.

        JUst what was “Truman’s dictate”? That the Soviet Union withdraw from Eastern Europe, rather than treating it as captured territory?

        I disagree that NATO conspired to wage aggressive war in the Middle East. I think that George Bush and his fellow neocons deserve the credit for that. In any case, the role of NATO during the Cold War should not be conflated with the present day. Different era, different circumstances.

        1. Plenue

          “I disagree that NATO conspired to wage aggressive war in the Middle East. I think that George Bush and his fellow neocons deserve the credit for that.”

          You almost get it. NATO policy is what the US says it is. NATO is the modern Delian League.

          Also NATO destroyed Libya in 2011, years after George W. Bush left office. And the only reason it didn’t go on to destroy Syria is because Obama’s red-line lies went over with the public like a wet squib.

    3. Peter VE

      “Russian actions in Ukraine have validated their pragmatism in joining NATO.” I thought it was the US which overthrew the elected government of Ukraine?

      1. Olaf Lukk

        That depends on which websites you get your information from.

        The decision of the Ukrainian president in 2013, Viktor Yanukovych, to reject closer ties with Europe and the West in favor of closer ties with Russia, resulted in the 2014 Euromaidan protests and subsequent bloodshed, resulting in Yanukovych fleeing to Russia and the protection of his Russian patrons.

        It is a staple of conspiracy theorists that American neoliberals, masterminded by the dastardly Victoria Nuland and her American NGOs, aided and abetted by Nazis miraculously resurrected form WWll, overthrew the elected government. Or maybe- just maybe- Ukraine had tired of being treated like a Russian backwater, and wished to join the European Union, in order to achieve the quality of life it offered?

        Ukraine still has a problem with endemic corruption. That is not the fault of the West or its neocons. It is the result of a history of Russian domination, which prevented the establishment of the rule of law, and established oligarchy and deference to Russia as a norm.

        Maybe Ukraine, for once, should be alowed to determine its own furure?

        1. Lambert Strether

          I think you’re confused. The elected Ukrainian government wasn’t overthrown by Nazis. However, the coup was most definitely aided and abetted by home-grown Ukrainian fascists, who identified with Nazis. They may well have preferred to have joined the EU, rather than be a “Russian backwater.” The two propositions are not mutually exclusive, especially when you throw in the corruption; it’s not like fascism doesn’t have a European history, after all.

        2. Plenue

          A lot wrong in this comment, but just to focus on a couple things:

          There was a coup. Whether it was foreign backed or not doesn’t change the fact that it happened. Government buildings were taken by force, the President fled in fear of his life, and then after the fact the attempt to get a formal impeachment measure passed failed to get the required 75% of votes.

          As for Nazis “miraculously resurrected form WWll”, are you seriously going to try and deny the existence of far-right Ukrainian ultra nationalists at this stage? Such denial was cute, in a disgusting way, in 2014, but four years on it’s just pathetic. Ukraine has numerous groups, chief among them the Svoboda party, that are literally fascist. They regularly hold commemorations of Third Reich collaborator Stepan Bandera. They have real influence on politics, and did so even before the 2014 coup ( Further, as the formal Ukrainian military battered itself to pieces attempting to drive what Kiev claimed were still its own citizens from Donbass, they relied ever more on Neo-Nazi militias, complete with Nazis symbols engraved on their equipment. Actually, I would go so far as to say that there’s nothing ‘Neo’ about them and that these far-right Ukrainians are the closest thing left in Europe to actual Nazis, having a direct line lineage back to WW2 fascists.

          1. Basil Pesto

            To add to this, Mark Ames has done great work bringing the troubling modern nazist tendencies in Ukraine to wider attention, and highlighted the work of others as well. I was more or less unaware of it until I started paying attention to his twitter etc. It is quite disconcerting.

  14. John Gilberts

    Speaking of NATO and moving closer to Russia, this alarming development….

    Canada Takes Initiative Among NATO Countries in Deciding to Provide Heavy Weapons To Ukraine

    “The decision by Washington’s junior partner in Ottawa is a blow to human rights organizations and others in the US and internationally who argue that increasing the arms flow to the regime in Kiev will only escalate Ukraine’s violence against the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine…”

    What is worse, some suspect both that Canada is acting as a stalking horse for the US in this, and that it could also be possible for US weaponry to get to Ukraine via Canada. Both Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, as well as the powerful Ukrainian Canadian ultranationalist lobby, with its close links to the Atlantic Council and American Ukraine hawks like John McCain, have pushed for this and it appears now to have been successful.

  15. Basil Pesto

    That italicised ‘promised‘ in the first sentence strikes me as a bit pearl-clutchy. Like, I understand that NATO’s eastward expansion is foolish and unnecessary, but in the great scheme of the in toto childishness of the cold war, does this kind of duplicitousness really surprise anyone? To put it another way, say that “the west” had somehow collapsed instead of the Soviet Union. Does anybody really think the Soviets wouldn’t have given similar assurances to NATO countries and then expanded the WP westward? To put it yet another way, has no-one played Sid Meier’s Civilization?? c’mon

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