As recent studies show, after the unification of Germany in 1990, Western leaders really promised Moscow not to expand NATO eastward, but with the collapse of the USSR, "they did not see the point in this."
In many ways, today's "unruly" geopolitical position of Russia is explained by one "turning point of modern history," which strengthened Moscow's opinion that the West has violated its promise not to continue NATO expansion eastward, columnist Leonid Bershidsky wrote in Bloomberg.
Until now, experts have argued, what exactly did Russia promise the West. Representatives of the alliance insist that the whole story about the guarantees of NATO's non-expansion is a "myth". To clarify this issue, George Washington University specialists collected and analyzed numerous declassified documents in recent years. And, as these papers show, high-ranking officials from the United States, then united Germany and Great Britain, really guaranteed the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze that NATO would not approach Russia's borders. At the same time, as follows from the documents, Western politicians also had in mind the countries of Eastern Europe.
As the author notes, in 1990 the consent of the USSR for German unification was sought by German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. He understood that the guarantees of NATO's non-enlargement were an indispensable condition for cooperation with Moscow, which he informed the German public, as well as allies, including Great Britain. The United States, eager to preserve Germany rather than give it a neutral status, also supported Genscher's point of view.
So, at that time, US Secretary of State James Baker told Shevardnadze: "Neutral Germany will undoubtedly acquire its own nuclear potential. And Germany, strongly tied to a reformed NATO, that is, NATO, which is to a lesser extent a military organization and more political, will not need its own arsenal. And, of course, there must be iron guarantees that NATO's jurisdiction or the forces of the alliance will not move to the east. And this should be done so that the eastern neighbors of Germany were satisfied. "
The same idea that NATO will not move "an inch" to the east, Baker repeated and Mikhail Gorbachev. Such was the "concession the Western bloc offered in exchange for keeping Germany in NATO." In turn, the director of the CIA Robert Gates made a similar proposal to the head of the KGB, Vladimir Kryuchkov.
While all these discussions continued, the USSR insisted on creating on the basis of the OSCE a common security structure in Europe. Representatives of the Western bloc agreed, but stressed that they want to preserve NATO by making the alliance "more open for cooperation with the USSR" and other countries of the Warsaw Pact. And even in March of 1991, six months after the reunification of Germany, British Prime Minister John Major still asserted in a conversation with Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov that NATO was not going to the east and that he himself "does not see the circumstances now or in the future , under which the countries of Eastern Europe would become members of the alliance.
However, none of these promises ever resulted in specific agreements. The Soviet Union was almost bankrupt and needed help and money from the West, writes Bershidsky. Moscow was not in a position to demand something: "That is why Gorbachev, who does not like to admit that he was in a desperate situation and could not resist, now says that the West has kept its promises."
Then the US spoke with the Soviet Union as a "winner with a loser" - they did not care too much about the fulfillment of promises and guarantees. The power of the Soviet leaders almost melted before our eyes, so Washington saw no reason to keep its word, the author explains: "So later, when the USSR finally collapsed, and the countries of Eastern Europe wanted to protect the winners of the Cold War, no one saw them either ".
And here is the time to return to Vladimir Putin and his position. "Of course, he carefully studied the Soviet documents 1990-1991 years" - he even quoted them. And now the Russian leader wants to communicate with the West just as he communicated with the USSR at that time: to mislead, to make false promises and concessions. Today, Western interlocutors like this approach is "annoying," they believe that it is impossible to negotiate with Putin, since no one understands what he really wants.
"But he perceives it differently: he thinks he speaks as a winner," Bershidsky is sure.
At some point in his life, the Russian leader may have been interested in Western ideas - when he worked for the mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. But studying the history of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which Putin considers a "tragedy," convinced him that the West understands only the language of power. Putin's position with respect to the West is based on "comprehensive cynicism and mistrust," and the story of how the promise of NATO's non-enlargement was violated is an "excuse," although, apparently, it is not unreasonable to "give up fair play."
That's why, the journalist stresses, with the West the West will not achieve anything. Moreover, it is unlikely that any successor to Putin will forget the story of the broken promise - it is too firmly ingrained in the "DNA of the Russian authorities".
"For many years, and maybe even decades, to maintain confrontation with Russia will be easier than trying to restore confidence," concludes Bershidsky.