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Russia remakes history over NATO’s eastern expansion

by

The Globalist

The Russian invasion of Ukraine poses a fundamental challenge to the post-Cold War order, which has kept Europe relatively stable and at peace for the past 25 years. With his policy of aggressive nationalism and hegemonic aspirations, Russian President Vladimir Putin openly challenges the principles of sovereignty, self-determination and democracy on which this order was built.

Putin’s world view — and indeed that of many members of Russia’s elite — is premised on a perceived need to restore Russia to its former position of influence and greatness in the “near abroad” and — by extension — in the world.

Russia and the West have competing narratives to explain Putin’s action. Putin and those seeking to “understand” him now often argue that the United States has violated a deal made with Russia about not expanding NATO.

And they maintain that Russia’s actions today can be explained by the fact that NATO’s 1999 enlargement threatens Russia.

There is only one little problem with this wonderful saga — it is just that, a saga, but not a fact of diplomatic or political life. The two key facts are these:

1. There are no agreements or treaties that prohibit NATO from accepting new members.

2. There also were no secret assurances not to expand NATO eastward, which are now hinted about.

It is now alleged that promises were made to then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in 1989-1990. The purported proof is offered in now declassified reports of the Kohl and Baker talks with Gorbachev.

Baker, speaking at the American Academy in Berlin on Oct. 7, dismissed the claims as baseless.

On Oct. 16, Gorbachev confirmed Baker’s assertion, saying that the “topic of ‘NATO expansion’ was not discussed … not brought up in those years.” Likewise, Hans Dietrich Genscher, former German foreign minister, also affirmed Baker, “This was never the subject of negotiations, and most certainly not a negotiation result.”

The now declassified reports show that U.S. President George H.W. Bush, Kohl and Gorbachev shared their concerns — and resolve — about three developments:

1. The disintegration of the East German SED regime.

2. The Soviet leader’s decision for a united Germany to remain in NATO.

3. Uncertainty about the status of the 380,000 Soviet soldiers in East Germany and understanding that only the Bundeswehr, not foreign forces, would be stationed in the territory of the former East Germany after unification.

Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in 1989-1990 also fought against a catastrophic Soviet military intervention that would deny East Germans the right to decide their own fate, as Gorbachev promised.

The reason for that was largely economic: The Soviet Union simply could not afford to continue policies that cost 25 percent of the Soviet GDP.

Eventually, Gorbachev agreed to German unification and its membership in NATO. Putin has scorned Gorbachev’s refusal to use the 380,000 Soviet soldiers in East Germany to keep control over the country.

Gorbachev agreed that nations could decide which alliances to join. The issue of NATO taking new members in 1990 was not on the agenda. After all, the Warsaw Pact still existed in 1990.

The West did not disappoint Gorbachev for his support of Germany. He did not come away empty-handed. He achieved agreements for:

1. A new German-Soviet treaty.

2. A CSCE Conventional Forces in Europe treaty reducing the number of military forces in Europe.

3. A German-Polish treaty settling the Oder-Neisse border, which established stability on the Russian border.

4. NATO also assured Russia repeatedly that it was not a threat to the Soviet Union.

5. NATO changed its strategy to make nuclear weapons truly of last resort, minimizing the principle of “first use.”

6. The Allies changed both “forward defense” and “flexible response” concepts that had been against Eastern European and Soviet territory.

7. NATO also extended a hand of friendship to establish diplomatic liaison with NATO and later signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

Furthermore, Bush also instructed that, as far as the U.S. was concerned, there would be no “dancing on the Wall” — i.e., no triumphalism over the end of the Cold War.

Despite all of these facts, the argument of new NATO members as a threat to Russia continues. It is true that the West’s discussion of a Military Action Plan for Georgian NATO membership in 2008 provoked Russia. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened to block that effort.

But what about offering NATO membership for former Warsaw Pact countries? The first efforts in that direction, which occurred in 1992-93, were sidelined into an effort of “Partnership for Peace.”

I participated in the U.S.-German bilateral talks with Frank Wisner and Richard Holbrook with Germany’s then-defense Minister Volker Rühe in 1993. At that time, the U.S. government deflected Poland’s and the Baltic countries’ early request.

During the breakup of Yugoslavia, U.S. President Bill Clinton then did lead the effort toward NATO enlargement in order to bring peace and stability to Europe.

His first priority in that regard took place in Bosnia, to end the bloodshed there — an effort that found Russian support. Clinton pursued a dual-track policy of NATO enlargement for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — but only in 1999, 10 years after the unification of Germany.

Russia’s diminished sphere of influence

The internal Russian crisis, and the consequent withdrawal from international politics, left Russia on the periphery of post-Cold War Europe, not NATO.

Clinton also agreed to the NATO-Russia Founding Act that declared: “NATO and Russia do not consider each other as adversaries.” The act led to cooperation with Russia and Clinton brokered a deal with President Boris Yeltsin to have Russia participate in the United Nations IFOR Mission to secure peace in Bosnia.

In 1999, when NATO bombed Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s army to end ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Russia’s leader at the time, Yeltsin, indeed objected.

This Kosovo military action led to the U.N. principles on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in cases of ethnic cleansing, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ironically, Putin tried to invoke R2P in defense of ethnic Russians in Ukraine in 2014, but R2P principles would only allow intervention in cases of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, none of which were occurring in Ukraine when Putin invaded the country.

The following annexation of the Crimea also violates international law. However, in Crimea no one was killed — not one of the R2P criteria were addressed. Protecting ethnic Russians in a peaceful Ukraine was not a basis for its annexation.

Finally, it is important to understand Putin’s responsibility. As a KGB officer in Dresden, he personally witnessed the demise of Russia’s power. He obviously drew his own lessons from his experience.

Ukraine is essential for Russia and its security mindedness. However, the precursor of Kiev’s street demonstration around the Maidan in 2014 is found in the streets of Moscow, when Yeltsin led the street demonstration that forced an end to the coup against Gorbachev.

For Putin, street protests are the greatest threat to the Russian Federation yet — and they must be stopped.

When Viktor Yanukovych crushed the Kiev street demonstrations that were an expression of public rejection of his decision not to sign the EU agreement and when Putin subsequently invaded and annexed Crimea, they undermined historical sympathy in Germany for Russia.

German “understanding” of Russia does emanate from strong emotions against war and what Nazi Germany wrought on Russia in World War II.

Merkel, despite these deep-seated concerns that dominate the talk shows here in Germany, has won approval for sanctions against the invasion and continuing presence of Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

Let’s hope sanctions help bring Putin back into the international community of peace-making countries.

J.D. Bindenagel is a former U.S. ambassador and currently the Henry Kissinger Professor for Governance and International Security, University of Bonn. © The Globalist 2014

  • Robert2011GB

    J.D.Bindenagel’s “article” can be summarized in one line:

    “Everything America does is right; everything Russia does is wrong”.

    Just who is threatening who?

    Today Nato warplanes are based only 90 miles from St. Petersburg.

    If Nato is truly peaceful and poses no threat whatsoever to Russia then why on Earth wasn’t Russia given Nato membership after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

    • JAFO

      Nato allowed these former Soviet countries into Nato to protect their security. Russia doesn’t play by the rules. If Russia did, they wouldn’t buzz Nato ships or resume Bear bombing runs. Former Soviet countries still lived in fear when the Soviet Union broke up. Russia did this to themselves. Because Nato offered Russia membership and Putin even thought about it for awhile.

    • JAFO

      The EU was created to stop the Frogs and Krauts from starting another World War. Nato was created to stop the Soviets from invading Europe. Nato doesn’t bother Russia. Only Russia has a problem with Nato because the Soviet Union lost the cold War. Russia should put up some mini blinds or something, lol. Perhaps some privacy fence, hahaha.

    • JAFO

      Only Russia is making a big deal out of nothing by invading countries, like, it’s still the 1940s. The last time I checked: Nato hasn’t invaded any countries in Europe, lol. Don’t quit your day job. Hence, I’ll take extra mustard on my footlong sandwhich, lol.

  • timepass

    Amongst other things there needs to be a law that prevents these Bindenagel types from spewing absolute nonsense. If this person thinks Russia has designs of hegemony, a peculiarly American trait, he really needs help. Shame on Japan times for publishing such rubbish.

  • seezus

    The Gorbachev interview from where the writer claims he confirmed Baker’s assertion reads like this:
    “The topic of “NATO expansion” was not discussed at all, and it wasn’t brought up in those years. I say this with full responsibility. Not a singe Eastern European country raised the issue, not even after the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist in 1991. Western leaders didn’t bring it up, either. Another issue we brought up was discussed: making sure that NATO’s military structures would not advance and that additional armed forces from the alliance would not be deployed on the territory of the then-GDR after German reunification. Baker’s statement, mentioned in your question, was made in that context. Kohl and [German Vice Chancellor Hans-Dietrich] Genscher talked about it.
    Everything that could have been and needed to be done to solidify that political obligation was done. And fulfilled. The agreement on a final settlement with Germany said that no new military structures 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. It has been observed all these years. So don’t portray Gorbachev and the then-Soviet authorities as naïve people who were wrapped around the West’s finger. If there was naïveté, it was later, when the issue arose. Russia at first did not object. The decision for the U.S. and its allies to expand NATO into the east was decisively made in 1993. I called this a big mistake from the very beginning. It was definitely a violation of the spirit of the statements and assurances made to us in 1990. With regards to Germany, they were legally enshrined and are being observed”
    I wonder what Gorbachev meant he said in the last paragraph that NATO expansion eastwards was a big mistake and was definitely a violation of the spirit of the statements and assurances made to them in tech 1990.

    This writer’s assertion that genocide has to occur to warrant intervention is cynical. Iraq was invaded before Saddam could unleash the fictional WMDs that Bush admin talked about. Tomahawk missiles were were sent from aircraft carriers from the Mediterranean into Libya before Gaddafi reached Benghazi to wipe out the ‘rats’ as he promised. I also remember vividly the West doing absolutely nothing to stop the genocide in Rwanda. In fact, France was complicit in that mess. In fact, Susan Rice, now Obama Admin’s security advisor, was then Clinton Admin’s point person for Africa Affairs refused to call whatever was happening in Rwanda a genocide because of the mid-term elections in the U.S. Yes, let’s do nothing because the Democrats losing in mid-terms is more catastrophic than a group of persons being wiped off the face of the planet. That was the logic.

    U.S officials, former and current, seem to be suffering from amnesia. It’s obvious that Russia is involved in the ongoing in Ukraine. It’s obvious that the U.S. and European allies are involved in the same scale. It’s obvious that Russian media is lying about Russia’s involvement. It’s obvious that Western press is equally lying and demonising Russia to it’s audience. CNN, BBC, NYT, WashPo, Der Spiegel, France 24. They lie just like they lied about WMDs in Iraq. Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty is non-existence, just like those of EU & NATO affiliates and CTSO/CIS member states. Nothing new or unique there. There isn’t that many countries in the world that can claim to be independent or sovereign. If they are not extorting aid (military and otherwise) from the West through guilt-tripping like Rwanda and Israel, they are getting Chinese money or subsidised gas from Russia like Belarus, Kazakhstan and the rest. It’s called realpolitik. At least Russia is honest about it. The West is still colouring it with “protecting Ukraine’s path to democracy and territorial integrity” and other nonsense western politicians spew. It’s laughable.

    • JAFO

      Don’t think too much because it makes your response long and stupid. Offer us some proof without you making us believe: you own all of the proof. I never buy snake oil without proof.

  • dingding

    Americans are lying again, Russia is threatened by NATO, what Russia did is the right thing to do. China should follow through and get the whole south china sea. NATO and US are weak and pathetic they have no chance against PLA

    • JAFO

      We can sit here and point fingers at Nato or Russia all day, but it still doesn’t erase the facts: Russia invaded Ukraine and took a part of Ukraine without Ukraine’s consent. I can offer a similar situation: Spain annexes Puerto Rico from the USA and invades Florida after they take Puerto Rico.

      • dingding

        Ukraine belongs to Russia, the problem are the illegal immigrants who occupied Ukraine then claims it as their own. Just like Taiwan

    • JAFO

      What Russia did was illegal under international law. This is why former Soviet Republics decided to join Nato because they knew this day would eventually come again.

      • dingding

        illegal? so invading Iraq and Afghanistan were legal?

    • JAFO

      Russia wouldn’t dare invade a Nato country. Putin might be a shirtless brute, but Putin doesn’t have the balls to invade a Nato nation with US Servicemen standing guard. American lives would be lost if such an action was undertaken. America may be soft sometimes in foreign policy, but if you shoot at Americans, you better believe the Americans are going to shoot back.

      • dingding

        US servicemen are gays. lol our PLA will have an easy time against them. Russians can handle those gay boys

    • JAFO

      I don’t think you know what you’re talking about, kiddo. I think you’ve played too much Battlefield on Xbox 360 on the Russian side. Regardless, don’t quit your day job. By the way: I’ll take extra ketchup on my hamburger, Burgerboy!!

      • dingding

        burger boy? Americans like you are the burger flippers not us

    • JAFO

      Goodnight, kiddo..

  • dingding

    Japan playing like a puppet saying whatever the Americans wants, that is why japan is reaping karma with all those earth quake and tsunamis. Japanese are cowards can’t stand up to the usa

    • JAFO

      Can you offer us proof? Are you sure you’re not a Hillbilly from Texas because I could’ve swore.

      • dingding

        proof of what that the Japanese are cowards? lol they have lost their marbles after the US bombed them now they just yanks bt lickers. lol.

    • JAFO

      Either way, it’s past your med time!!

    • JAFO

      Get it, past your med time. Honestly, I truly hope you seek help before you go bonkers one day.

    • JAFO

      Goodnight, kiddo.

  • JAFO

    We can sit here and point fingers at Nato or Russia all day, but it still doesn’t erase the facts: Russia invaded Ukraine and took a part of Ukraine without Ukraine’s consent. I can offer a similar situation: Spain annexes Puerto Rico from the USA and invades Florida after they take Puerto Rico.

    • JAFO

      What Russia did was illegal under international law. This is why former Soviet Republics decided to join Nato because they knew this day would eventually come again.

      • dingding

        those former Soviet Republics will soon be Russia. lol with the help of China

    • JAFO

      Russia wouldn’t dare invade a Nato country. Putin might be a shirtless brute, but Putin doesn’t have the balls to invade a Nato nation with US Servicemen standing guard. American lives would be lost if such an action was undertaken. America may be soft sometimes in foreign policy, but if you shoot at Americans, you better believe the Americans are going to shoot back.