We broke a promise to Russia – Will it lead to all-out war?

A document dated March 1991 shows that discussions between the West and Russia made it clear that NATO would not expand past East Germany an agreement that it appears to have reneged on.

The military standoff between the Ukraine and Russia stems from the latter’s demands for NATO to curb its expansion in to Eastern Europe, in what it sees as a threat to its security.

The key text in the minutes from the meeting quotes US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Canada Raymond Seitz saying:  “We made it clear to the Soviet Union, in the 2+4 talks, as well as in other negotiations that we do not intend to benefit from the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe,” “NATO should not expand to the east, either officially or unofficially.” Euroweeklynews

A British representative also mentions the existence of a “general agreement” that membership of NATO for eastern European countries is “unacceptable.” West German diplomat Juergen Hrobog said of the 1991 agreement: “We had made it clear during the 2+4 negotiations that we would not extend NATO beyond the Oder River (then the boundary between East Germany and Poland). We could not therefore offer Poland and others membership in NATO.”

The document was found in the UK National Archives by Joshua Shifrinson, a political science professor at Boston University. It had been marked “SECRET” but was declassified at some point. Shifrinson tweeted he was “honoured” to work with Der Spiegel on the document showing that “Western diplomats believed they had indeed made a NATO non-enlargement pledge.”

“Senior policymakers deny a non-expansion pledge was offered. This new document shows otherwise,” Shifrinson said in a follow-up tweet, noting that “beyond” the Oder by any standard includes Eastern European countries to which NATO started expanding just eight years later.

In December 2021 Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a major press conference that: “The West had promised the Soviet Union NATO would not expand “a single inch” to the east, but “brazenly deceived” and “cheated” Moscow to do just that.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance: “had never promised not to expand.” In an interview with Der Spiegel later, Stoltenberg repeated that “there has never been such a promise, there has never been such a behind-the-scenes deal, it is simply not true.”

NATO admitted Poland, Hungary, and Czechia in March 1999. The next round of expansion in 2004 included the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, placing NATO’s eastern frontier just 135 kilometers (84 miles) from St. Petersburg.

In a series of security proposals made public in December, Russia demanded NATO publicly renounce expansion to the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia and withdraw US forces to the 1997 boundaries of the bloc, among other things. The US and NATO have rejected this, arguing the alliance’s “open door” membership policy is a fundamental principle for them.

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