Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.
On 24th of February 2022, Russia launched a War (a large-scale military invasion) of Ukraine, one of its neighbouring countries to the southwest, marking a steep escalation to a conflict that began in 2014. Several officials and analysts called the invasion the largest conventional military attack in Europe since World War II. The Russo-Ukrainian War began in 2014 following the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine across a broad front.
Ukraine was the most populous and industrialised republic after the Russian Soviet Republic, until regaining its independence in 1991, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia complains of the relentless Western betrayal of Russia by expanding NATO eastward after the end of the Cold War. Both Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov have used this to demand formal Western security guarantees and that NATO rules out future membership for Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics.
The Kremlin under Putin finds the security order developed in Europe since the end of the Cold War unacceptable. Fundamental to this order is the principle (enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act) that each sovereign state is free to choose its own alliances. Russia wants to create instead a buffer zone between itself and the West, thinning the US presence in Europe and once again dividing the continent into spheres of influence.
Putin’s reasoning is straightforward enough: he has long viewed NATO enlargement as a threat. To bolster his case, he argues that the Alliance’s ‘open door’ policy is in direct contradiction to ‘Western assurances’ given to the Soviet leadership in 1990 and to Russia after 1991. The West insists that no such assurances were ever made.
Putin’s claims of Western betrayal is not new. As early as 1993, his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, called NATO’s eastward expansion ‘illegal’. Four years later, Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a former adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev and head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, stated that several Western leaders had told Gorbachev that ‘not one country leaving the Warsaw Pact would enter NATO’.
Ten years after that, at the 2007 Munich Security Conference, Putin complained: ‘what happened to the assurances given by our Western partners after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact’? During the annexation of Crimea in 2014, he again spoke of the ‘treason’ of 1990. Then, amid massive Russian troop deployment on Ukraine’s eastern border in December 2021, Putin claimed that NATO has ‘brazenly betrayed’ his country with ‘five waves of expansion’ against Russian interests.
Did NATO make a binding promise to refrain from eastward enlargement, only to make a clandestine volte-face?
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, German and Soviet leaders had to confront a number of complex problems, including what would happen to the 380,000 Red Army soldiers stationed in East Germany (GDR) and when and how the USSR would give up its Allied reserved rights over Germany.
Eventually, Moscow agreed to withdraw its troops and to relinquish its rights as WWII victor power. As part of this negotiation, a unified Germany also gained full sovereignty. It was therefore free to choose its alliance affiliation, which resulted in it remaining a NATO member, even though Germany had substantially grown in size.
In Putin’s narrative, Moscow only conceded on these issues because NATO had assured the Kremlin that it would not expand ‘one inch eastward’. US Secretary of State James Baker uttered these much-quoted words on 9 February 1990. (They were not, as is sometimes claimed, made by US President George H.W. Bush, who had ultimately responsibility for American policy.) Baker’s main aim was to allay Soviet fears of a larger, unified Germany by offering assurances that neither NATO command structures nor NATO troops would be transferred to the ‘territory of the former GDR’.
Baker’s ‘not one inch eastward’ formula would have made it impossible to apply NATO security guarantees (especially Article 5) to the whole of Germany. Bush therefore suggested to Chancellor Helmut Kohl that he should, in the future, speak of a ‘special military status’ for the GDR. A meeting in Camp David on 24/25 February 1990 confirmed this wording. Special provisions and obligations as regards the GDR territory were subsequently included in the text of the Two Plus Four Treaty (under Articles 4 and 5), which formally re-established German unity.
This treaty placed significant restrictions on the deployment of foreign NATO troops and nuclear weapons on East German soil. In return for his willingness to compromise on these points, Kohl granted Gorbachev, in bilateral talks, a financial package totaling around DM 100 billion, in the form of loans and economic aid, (compensation) which financed the withdrawal of the Red Army soldiers.
To be clear, then, the talks in February 1990 were never about NATO expansion into Eastern Europe. They were confined to the specific issue of NATO’s defense in the wake of German unification – and the two issues should not be conflated. It is also important to remember that the Warsaw Pact was still in existence during these talks, making NATO enlargement somewhat of a moot point.
The real turning point: dissolution of the Warsaw Pact
The collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, and the preceding dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, led to a deterioration of relations between the Kremlin and the West – and, in turn, prompted the ‘war of narratives’ over the 1990 talks. The disappearance of the Soviet empire fundamentally changed Europe’s security policy parameters, since a security vacuum emerged in the so-called ‘Europe in between’ (Zwischeneuropa) – the ex-satellite states and ex-Soviet republics from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
Russia’s tragedy after the end of the Cold War might have had less to do with American triumphalism or the survival of NATO but more to do with Yeltsin’s failure to democratise Russia, (a political ideology, equivalent to asking Tony Ben to vote Tory!), create a stable market (capitalist?) economy, establish law and order, and build a partnership with the rest of Europe, the US and NATO.
The Us still maintain that the West extended him a ‘hand of friendship’ via the new North Atlantic Cooperation Council, a process of rapprochement that continued even after the sudden Soviet disintegration in December 1991.
As soon as the new Russian Federation sank into political chaos in 1993 (giving rise to ultra-nationalist voices), the governments of Zwischeneuropa embarked on an active search for security, which inevitably meant ever closer ties with the ‘institutional West’. Many US politicians, believing in the inexorable ‘universalisation of Western liberal democracy’, greeted this search with glee. It is crucial to remember, however, that according to the West (US) the push for NATO’s opening eastward above all came from the Eastern Europeans and Balts themselves. Contrary to the claims of the current Russian regime, of the NATO plans for institutionally driven expansion aimed at ‘encircling’ Russia. However, the ‘map’ dose not lie? NATO expansion (driven by whoever), is real, it is plain to see?
‘Spirit of the treaty’
Beset by chaos at home, an increasingly beleaguered Yeltsin turned to historical revisionism. He began to interpret the Two Plus Four Treaty as a ban on NATO expansion east of Germany, on the basis that it only permitted alliance activities on East German territory. He (and later Putin) claimed that the failure to mention Eastern Europe, together with the stipulated restrictions in relation to former GDR terrain, meant an implicit Western rejection of eastward enlargement. The ‘spirit of the treaty’, Yeltsin wrote to the new US President Bill Clinton in September 1993, ruled out ‘the option of expanding NATO territory eastward’.
Four years later, Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov declared that it would be ‘unacceptable for NATO’s infrastructure to move towards Russia’. Such an action, he added, would be ‘the real red line’. Yet at the same time, negotiations were taking place that would culminate in the NATO-Russia Founding Act (NRFA), signed in Paris on 27 May 1997. This Act, which paved the way for cooperation between the two sides, came well before the Madrid summit, during which the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were invited to join the Alliance.
Negotiations over NRFA had directly confronted the issue of expansion. At preliminary bilateral talks in Helsinki in March 1997, Clinton refused to respond to Yeltsin’s call for binding restrictions on the establishment of NATO security infrastructure in new member states. Yeltsin’s attempt to introduce a Russian veto into the Act – to be directed against a future round of expansion in the ex-Soviet republics, ‘particularly Ukraine’ – also failed. Rightly or wrongly, Russia clearly viewed (view), Ukraine as ‘the last straw’, the straw that broke the pact.
Even so, after all the display of public agreement before the world press following the Act’s signing, Yeltsin, in the face of domestic criticism, knowingly went on to miss-describe the content of the NFRA in a radio address to the Russian people as a reinforcement of NATO’s promise of ‘no nuclear weapons on the territories stationing of its new member countries – neither building up their armed forces near our borders […] nor making preparations for any relevant infrastructure.’ It was another key moment, for Yeltsin’s and has become a central motif of Russian state media (and Putin) since.
A close reading of ‘historical records’ in both East and West show that the narrative of broken promises is arguably not true, or is it? Depends on what side of the curtain you live?
Truth, it is said, ‘is the first casualty of war’, even more so in an age when misinformation spreads so rapidly. The reality is that most of us (none)? of us have much choice as to if we ‘go to war’ or not. In our names, for our benefit, for our good? A handful of men make that choice (on our behalf), to go to war, often completely regardless of our wishes.
In the international arena, Putinism is characterized by nostalgia for Soviet times and a desire to regain the situation before 1989 when the Soviet Union competed on a strong footing with United States in international affairs. The 1993 constitution declares Russia a democratic, federative, law-based state with a republican form of government.
State power is divided among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Diversity of ideologies and religions is sanctioned, and a state or compulsory ideology may not be adopted. 30 years on from the collapse of the USSR, Russia is economically & militarily strong again, Putin is a powerful (and therefore dangerous?) man who is now in a position of enormous influence. He doesn’t like anything non-Traditional like LGBT , Diversity, Progressivism, Immigration and Globalism
Putin wants a return to a traditional Russia you can see it on his mind? One might compare him to white supremacists in South USA?
According to public opinion surveys conducted by NGO Levada Center, Putin’s approval rating was 60% in July 2020. Putin’s popularity rose from 31% in August 1999 to 80% in November 1999, never dropping below 65% during his first presidency. Putin uses ‘energy’ as an instrument of international politics (so-called “pipeline diplomacy”).
Thanks for Reading