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Newly Declassified Documents show Gorbachev WAS Told NATO Wouldn’t expand eastward

by Dave Majumdar at the National Interest

Gorbachev and US president George H W Bush

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was given a host of assurances that the NATO alliance would not expand past what was then the East German border in 1990 according to new declassified documents.

Russian leaders often complain that the NATO extended an invitation to Hungary, Poland and what was then Czechoslovakia to joint the alliance in 1997 at the Madrid Summit in contravention of assurances offered to the Soviet Union before its 1991 collapse. The alliance has dismissed the notion that such assurances were offered, however, scholars have continued to debate the issue for years. Now, however, newly declassified documents show that Gorbachev did in fact receive assurances that NATO would not expand past East Germany.

“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,” George Washington University National Security Archives researchers Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton wrote. “That discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.”

Indeed, Russian Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin have complained bitterly about the expansion of NATO towards their borders despite what they had believed were assurances to the contrary.

What happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today?

Putin said at the Munich Conference on Security Policy in 2007.

No one even remembers them. But I will allow myself to remind this audience what was said. I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.’ Where are these guarantees? ibid

As the newly declassified documents show, the Russians might have had a point. While it was previously understood that Secretary of State James Baker’s assurance to Gorbachev that NATO would not expand “not one inch eastward” during a February 9, 1990, meeting was only in the context of German reunification, the new documents show that this was not the case.

Gorbachev only accepted German reunification—over which the Soviet Union had a legal right to veto under treaty—because he received assurances that NATO would not expand after he withdrew his forces from Eastern Europe from James Baker, President George H.W. Bush, West German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the CIA Director Robert Gates, French President Francois Mitterrand, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, British foreign minister Douglas Hurd, British Prime Minister John Major, and NATO secretary-general Manfred Woerner.

Indeed, as late as March 1991, the British were reassuring Gorbachev that they could not foresee circumstances under which NATO might expand into Eastern and Central Europe. As former British Ambassador to the Soviet Union recounted in March 5, 1991, Rodric Braithwaite, both British foreign minister Douglas Hurd and British Prime Minister John Major told the Soviet that NATO would not expand eastwards.

“I believe that your thoughts about the role of NATO in the current situation are the result of misunderstanding,” Major had told Gorbachev. We are not talking about strengthening of NATO. We are talking about the coordination of efforts that is already happening in Europe between NATO and the West European Union, which, as it is envisioned, would allow all members of the European Community to contribute to enhance [our] security.”

Of course, later, in 1994, Bill Clinton decided to expand NATO eastward despite the various assurances that the previous administration had offered Gorbachev—and despite legendary diplomat George F. Kennan’s repeated warnings.

Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton’s full report along with 30 of these documents can be found here.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.


  1. archie1954 says

    Both Bushes, Clinton and their NATO allies’ leaders are liars and cheats. That any nation would trust them is beyond reason. Their duplicity is too well known to allow for trust.

  2. Fair dinkum says

    Nasty Arrogant Turdlike Overlords.

  3. 0use4msm says

    I’m not surprised in the least that NATO broke its promise. What I do find mindboggling is that the Soviet Union didn’t find it necessary to have such an important issue ratified in an official treaty. How naive do you have to be as a superpower to think a gentleman’s agreement would suffice?

  4. BigB says

    I get the historical significance, and modern implications of the NATO betrayal: and the documents tell a tale …but to my mind, Gorbachev was as much the betrayer as the betrayed. Look at the cast list: James Baker, Bush the Greater Evil, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Helmut Kohl, Robert Gates, Francois Mitterrand, Margaret Thatcher, Douglas Hurd, John Major, and Manfred Woerner. That’s a capitalist one world governance tea party – to which Gorbachev would have been very much invited. Between them, they reestablished capitalism in East Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia (most of them were also architects of the Balkans War) Opinion is divided as to whether Gorbachev was just too stupid to restructure Stalin’s top down bureaucracy (perestroika) – or whether he was a globalist capitalist stooge …I think his one world hobnobbing with the Glitterati and cognescenti (Kevin Spacey?) tips the balance in favour of the latter. He was certainly feebleminded if he took the word of any of that bunch of criminals …or perhaps he was always part of the club???

    • Perhaps. My big beef with Gorbachev, however, is his work for water barons.

      • Big B says

        Global perestroika led and funded by America’s financial elite …his Foundation, Green Cross International, World Forum – bringing together the likes of Yoko Ono, Bill Gates, Al Gore, Ted Turner, Obomber, Bush the Greater Evil …in a ‘Brain’s Trust’ to vanguard the coming ‘paradigm shift’ …these bastards see human immiseration and climate change exploitation as a business opportunity? And Gorby is using his ‘influence’ to lead the way. To some, he is a hero of world peace – but he ain’t the Messiah …quite the opposite? What disconcerts me the most is that, on paper at least, I share his concerns; have a similar vision; and share (to an extent) the endgoal of a common humanity …only not with these bastards in charge!!! They mean to exploit everyone and everything, unless I’m very much mistaken!

  5. So, I lied about not expanding NATZO eastward. So, I lied about Milosevic being a war criminal. And … . Little people, what now?

    How could you believe me when I said I love you / When you know I’ve been a liar all my life / A rotten no good liar / A no good dog gone liar / All my no good dog gone life?

  6. Michael McNulty says

    With NATO troops on Russia’s borders under US insistence the US has become the new Iron Curtain.

  7. G darcy says

    That’s the reason why North Korea , quite rightly in my opinion, will not get rid of their weapons, they know what will happen once they do, they saw what happens , when they witnessed the events of Iraq, and Libya.

  8. rtj1211 says

    Have you not learned from the history of Native Americans thst assurances and treaties are not worth the paper they are written on where Americans are concerned?

    Americans have never had any respect for any legal assurances if it gets in the eay of global domination.

    No-one should ever extend such courtesies to American politicians, bankers or citizens working overseas. All should be considered as utterly worthless, expendable bits of acceptable collateral damage…..

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