Written by Vladimir Moss



     In 2007, during a security conference in Munich, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that in 1990, during negotiations over German reunification between Gorbachev, US Seretary of State James Baker and other Western leaders, the West promised Gorbachev that after reunification NATO would not expand eastwards from Germany into Central and Eastern Europe. The West denied this, saying that the only commitment made was that no NATO forces or structures would be stationed in the former East Germany after reunification – a commitment that was fulfilled. Gorbachev himself has confirmed the western version of events, adding that the question of NATO expansion further east from Germany was never discussed.[1] 

     But after the fall of the Soviet Union it was discussed… Drawing on recently declassified documents on the relationship between US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, James Goldgeier describes how the issue of NATO enlargement came to be put on the table: “Perhaps no issue provides a greater window into the nature of the relationship between the two presidents than their lengthy discussions from 1994 to 1997 about NATO enlargement. An undercurrent of their exchanges involved Clinton’s efforts to ensure that he did not harm Yeltsin politically while giving him a very bitter pill to swallow. Another recurrence was Yeltsin’s explanation of the damage this issue was doing to him while ultimately going along with Clinton’s various proposals. There was a brief moment in the fall of 1994 when Yeltsin believed that Clinton was reneging on a commitment not to rush the process and exploded at a Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) summit. The huge power imbalance between the two countries hung over the relationship and punctuated the presidents’ interactions.

     ‘In their meetings and phone calls, Clinton drove the agenda, as he did for nearly all of the issues they discussed over seven years. The two men genuinely got along, partly because they were similar political animals. But at the end of the day, the United States called the shots in the relationship. Clinton was always trying to make sure that Yeltsin knew he was giving him what he could, and Clinton expected Yeltsin to go along with his proposals. Generally, Yeltsin did. Throughout their conversations on enlargement, Clinton was eager for Yeltsin to know that the United States was keeping a promise Clinton made in September 1994 in one of their discussions in Washington (the declassified memcon of this exchange is not among the cache of documents recently released): namely, that he and his NATO colleagues would go slowly on expanding the alliance given Clinton’s (publicly unstated but understood) desire to see Yeltsin safely reelected in 1996. Meanwhile, Yeltsin focused Clinton’s attention on the domestic political ramifications of NATO enlargement. Interestingly, he did not raise the issue (as others later would) that the United States and its Western European allies had assured Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the 1990 negotiations over German unification that NATO would not expand eastward. 

     “In October 1993, when discussions first began in earnest about NATO’s future, the possibility of enlargement seemed quite distant. Secretary of State Warren Christopher explained to Yeltsin at the latter’s country dacha that the United States planned to pursue the “Partnership for Peace,” which would include all members of the former Warsaw Pact, and NATO enlargement would be considered only as a “longer-term eventuality.”

     “Christopher told Yeltsin, ‘There could be no recommendation to ignore or exclude Russia from full participation in the future security of Europe. As a result of our study, a ‘Partnership for Peace’ would be recommended to the [January 1994] NATO summit which would be open to all members of the [North Atlantic Cooperation Council] including all European and [former Soviet] states. There would be no effort to exclude anyone and there would be no step taken at this time to push anyone ahead of others.’ Yeltsin was obviously relieved. ‘This is a brilliant idea, it is a stroke of genius,’ he said. ‘It is important that there is an idea of partnership for all and not new membership for some.’ Yeltsin exclaimed, ‘It really is a great idea, really great,’ adding, ‘Tell Bill I am thrilled by this brilliant stroke.’

     “In late December, a few weeks before Clinton was to meet Yeltsin in Moscow after the NATO summit, the two men spoke by phone. The primary purpose was to discuss the recent Russian parliamentary elections and for Clinton to remind Yeltsin of how the United States had delivered on the economic assistance announced at their first meeting, in Vancouver, the previous April. Clinton stated simply, ‘I will be in Brussels for the NATO summit and in Prague before I see you and will want to discuss Russian participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace proposal.’ Yeltsin responded that he had recently met with NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner: ‘We discussed a plan of action for the countries of Eastern Europe to cooperate with NATO in a way that would not be at the expense of Russia and also a plan of action for Russia to join NATO.’ While Clinton did not respond to Yeltsin’s comment, their discussion was quite cordial; after all, as far as Yeltsin understood, NATO enlargement was not on the table in a serious way.

     “While the Clinton Library collection does not contain the declassified memcon from the presidents’ January 1994 summit in Moscow, nor the specific discussion they had regarding NATO that September in Washington, Clinton’s top Russia adviser, Strobe Talbott, has written that in the latter meeting Clinton told Yeltsin that NATO was going to expand but tried to reassure him that he had no timetable yet. ‘We’re going to move forward on this, but I’d never spring it on you.’ Clinton said there would be ‘no surprises, no rush, and no exclusion.’ He then added, ‘As I see it, NATO expansion is not anti-Russia. … I don’t want you to believe that I wake up every morning thinking only about how to make the Warsaw Pact countries a part of NATO — that’s not the way I look at it. What I do think about is how to use NATO expansion to advance the broader, higher goal of European security, unity and integration — a goal I know you share.’

     “Clinton knew Yeltsin was not going to be happy, so he kept emphasizing that he was promising not to spring anything on Yeltsin and that ‘no exclusion’ meant that Russia would be eligible to join someday. In reality, it was no exclusion in theory but not in practice. Russia was not going to become a NATO member. Even so, Clinton had reason to believe he was managing the process well; after all, Yeltsin told him in a phone call on Oct. 5, 1994, that ‘the Washington Summit proved a success. 

     “At their September meeting, Yeltsin asked Clinton to come to the CSCE summit in Budapest that December. The CSCE was being upgraded to the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), and Yeltsin wanted to signal that perhaps there could be alternatives to NATO in addressing European security. Clinton agreed to go. He kept that promise even after the 1994 midterm elections resulted in a Republican takeover of both houses of Congress for the first time in four decades. His White House team scheduled a congressional reception the night of the Budapest summit precisely to try to keep the president from leaving town. But Clinton’s foreign policy team said he had to go, and he did. It turned out to be the most disastrous public encounter the two presidents would have.

     “On Dec. 1, the NATO foreign ministers announced that they would complete a study by the end of 1995 (i.e., a half-year before the 1996 Russian presidential election) on how NATO would enlarge. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who had gone to Brussels to sign Russia’s Partnership for Peace program document and a document on a NATO-Russia dialogue, was ordered by a furious Yeltsin not to sign.

     “At the Budapest summit a few days later, Clinton gave what his deputy secretary of state, Talbott, described later as the ‘most in your face’ manifestation of the U.S. position on NATO enlargement. In remarks Talbott said were drafted not in his office but within the National Security Council (where National Security Adviser Anthony Lake had been pushing NATO enlargement for more than a year), Clinton declared, ‘We must not allow the Iron Curtain to be replaced by a veil of indifference. We must not consign new democracies to a gray zone.’ He added that ‘no country outside will be allowed to veto expansion.’

     “Yeltsin publicly responded, ‘Europe, not having yet freed itself from the heritage of the Cold War, is in danger of plunging into a cold peace.” Clinton was stunned and angered by the tone of Yeltsin’s remarks. Talbott, who was not on the trip, thought he might be fired for not having adequately prepared his boss for what would occur.

     “Soon, however, Clinton had things seemingly back on track thanks in part to visits by others in his administration, including Vice President Al Gore, to see Yeltsin. In advance of his own trip to Moscow in May 1995, Clinton called Yeltsin to discuss NATO. ‘We recognize how sensitive this issue is for you. That is why I want to assure you that this process is proceeding along a path that is consistent with what you and I agreed upon last September and that Vice President Gore reiterated to you when he saw you in December.’ Yeltsin responded, ‘I fully agree with you on that.’ Clinton added, ‘For the future stability of Europe, it is important that Russia is a vital part of the new security structures that are emerging. That means OSCE, the post-COCOM [the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls established by the West after World War II] regime, the new NATO—all of them. None of this can develop normally unless Russia is involved in the process.’ Yeltsin stated, ‘We’ll both have difficult discussions with regards to NATO, but I’m confident we’ll be able to find an acceptable solution for this issue.’ Clinton then reported that Secretary of State Christopher and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev had just described to him a proposal for the upcoming NATO foreign ministers’ meeting that would again affirm that there would be no acceleration of the enlargement process, announce a strengthening of the Partnership for Peace, and begin discussions about a NATO-Russia special relationship. presidents an theirengtscussions from 1994 to ’’

     ”Nevertheless, the issue remained an enormous sore spot for Yeltsin and a domestic political problem. In a three-hour meeting at the Kremlin on May 10, 1995, Yeltsin asked for a better understanding of what Clinton was doing on NATO enlargement ‘because now I see nothing but humiliation for Russia if you proceed. How do you think it looks to us if one bloc continues to exist while the Warsaw Pact has been abolished?’ He called it a ‘new form of encirclement’ and repeated his plea to develop a new pan-European security architecture 

     ‘“You and I are heading for elections,’ Yeltsin said. ‘The extremists and hardliners are exploiting this issue for their own purposes — on both sides. I am being attacked from both the right and the left on this. We need a common European space that provides for overall security. So let’s postpone any change in NATO until 1999 or 2000. … But for me to agree to the borders of NATO expanding toward those of Russia — that would constitute a betrayal on my part of the Russian people.’ Instead, Yeltsin said in desperation, ‘Let’s say that Russia will give every state that wants to join NATO a guarantee that we won’t infringe on its security.’

     “When Clinton asked rhetorically whether the United States still needed to maintain a security relationship with Europe, Yeltsin fired back, ‘I’m not so sure you do.’ Clinton tied his approach to the Victory Day ceremony for which he had come to Moscow and the lessons of history. ‘Our goal is for the U.S. to stay in Europe and promote a unified, integrated Europe.’ He was doing that, he said, by trying to make the Partnership for Peace important, keeping open the door to Russian NATO membership, creating a special NATO-Russia relationship, and ensuring that the NATO membership review process was a deliberate one. Clinton reminded Yeltsin of how this process had unfolded, that he had told Yeltsin in January 1994 that NATO was open to taking in new members, and that in December NATO had agreed to study how to do it. Responding to that study would take the first half of 1996, said Clinton. For Yeltsin, this time frame was vital, because, the Russian leader noted, ‘my position heading into the 1996 elections is not exactly brilliant.’

     “Clinton, however, had his own political concerns. He explained to Yeltsin that the Republicans were using NATO expansion in their effort to win over voters of Central European descent in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio. He suggested to Yeltsin that they accept what each other needed to do politically. Yeltsin would not have to embrace expansion. Clinton would not say he was slowing down the process. And meanwhile Yeltsin should sign the documents for Russia to join the Partnership for Peace and to establish a NATO-Russian dialogue:

     “‘So here is what I want to do. I’ve made it clear I’ll do nothing to accelerate NATO. I’m trying to give you now, in this conversation, the reassurance you need. But we need to be careful that neither of us appears to capitulate. For you, that means you’re not going to embrace expansion; for me, it means no talk about slowing the process down or putting it on hold or anything like that.’

     “Then Clinton told Yeltsin to sign the two documents. Yeltsin asked again that NATO move forward only after his election. Clinton reiterated the timetable, trying to reassure Yeltsin that nothing concrete would happen until after the summer of 1996. Yeltsin said they should publicly say they discussed the issue, understood each other, and would discuss the issue further at their next meeting. Clinton responded, ‘Good. So join PFP.’ Yeltsin agreed 

     “A few months before the NATO leaders’ 1997 announcement in Madrid that the alliance was inviting Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join, Yeltsin made one last effort to shape the future at a small meeting with Clinton in Helsinki on March 21. He opened by acknowledging the inevitable. ‘Our position has not changed,’ Yeltsin said. ‘It remains a mistake for NATO to move eastward. But I need to take steps to alleviate the negative consequences of this for Russia. I am prepared to enter into an agreement with NATO not because I want to but because it is a forced step. There is no other solution for today.’

     “Yeltsin sought a legally binding accord, signed by all 16 NATO members, that would make clear that NATO decisions would not be made ‘without taking into account the concerns or opinions of Russia.’ He also wanted assurance that no nuclear or conventional arms would move into the new members’ territory, ‘thus creating a new cordon sanitaire aimed at Russia. 

     “Then he put on the table what he most wanted. ‘[O]ne thing is very important: enlargement should also not embrace the former Soviet republics. I cannot sign any agreement without such language. Especially Ukraine.’ Recognizing he was unlikely to receive this, he changed tack slightly,

     “’I propose that in the statement we could accept the fact that Russia has no claims on other countries. In fact, regarding the countries of the former Soviet Union, let us have a verbal, gentlemen’s agreement — we would not write it down in the statement — that no former Soviet republics would enter NATO. This gentlemen’s agreement would not be made public.

     “Clinton responded that he was ‘trying to change NATO.’ He had language in the proposed agreement between NATO and Russia on nuclear and conventional forces. And he wanted to make sure they signed something before the NATO summit ‘so we can say to the world that there is a new NATO and a new Russia and that’s the right spirit,’ to which Yeltsin agreed. But Clinton added that he couldn’t make an agreement on former Soviet republics: ‘it would be a bad thing for our attempt to build a new NATO, but it would also be a bad thing for your attempt to build a new Russia.’ NATO was assisting the process of building an ‘integrated, undivided Europe,’ Clinton argued what Yeltsin was proposing would mean ‘Russia would be saying, “we have still got an empire, but it just can’t reach as far West.”’ Clinton didn’t want to come out of the meeting having discussed new lines being drawn in Europe, and he wouldn’t be able to go forward with a treaty because of Senate opposition.

     “Yeltsin tried again, saying that the Duma would likely make this a condition of its ratification of a NATO-Russia charter. He asked Clinton to tell him what he wanted to hear ‘one-on-one — without even our closest aides present — that you won’t take new republics in the near future; I need to hear that. I understand that maybe in ten years or something, the situation might change, but not now.’ Clinton shot back, ‘If I went into a closet with you and told you that, the Congress would find out and pass a resolution invalidating the NATO-Russia charter. I’d rather frankly that the Duma pass a resolution conditioning its adherence on this point. I just can’t do it. A private commitment would be the same as a public one. … I know what a terrible problem this is for you, but I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO.’

     ‘Yeltsin tried one last time to get what he wanted, but to no avail, and so they moved on to other items. 

     “At their last meeting, in Istanbul in November 1999, Yeltsin said to Clinton, ‘I ask you one thing. Just give Europe to Russia. The U.S. is not in Europe. Europe should be the business of Europeans. Russia is half European and half Asian. … Bill, I’m serious. Give Europe to Europe itself. We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles.’ This was, of course, not a statement the United States would take seriously, and it was hard enough for Russia to be taken seriously by the United States as an equal…”[2]

     This diplomatic dialogue has been quoted in detail because it illustrates several important facets of the immediate post-Cold War situation. First, the United States was able to ignore Russian objections to NATO expansion because it was now obviously the more powerful state. Yeltsin depended on American support on several important matters, such as loans from the IMF and his struggle against the Duma in October, 1993. Clinton, on the other hand, did not really need Russian support in anything (except, perhaps, the war against Islamic terrorism). Of course, Russia still had nuclear weapons (including those formerly stationed in Ukraine, according to the Budapest Memorandum of 1994). But she was not threatening to use them, even to keep NATO away from her borders; nuclear blackmail was no longer part of the armory of Russian diplomacy.

      Secondly, however, Russia was still powerful enough to threaten the states of Central and Eastern Europe who did not fully trust Russia’s supposed rebirth as a democratic nation. That is why Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia applied to join NATO and were admitted in 1997. So from the point of view of these states there was still good reason, even after the end of the Cold War, not only for the continued existence, but also for the expansion of NATO. In 2007 Putin disingenuously said: “We have the right to ask: against whom is this [NATO] expansion intended?” to which the obvious answer was: “Against you, Russia”. But neither in the 1990s nor in the 2000s could such an answer be voiced openly for fear of impolitely casting doubt on the stability of Yeltsin’s democratic regime or the morality of its successor. Nevertheless the real fear remained of a communist resurgence…

     Thirdly, even if the chances of such a specifically communist (i.e. Marxist-Leninist) resurgence could be discounted, a quasi-fascist one could not. The Russians had come to see themselves as a great empire, and this neo-Soviet imperial pride had to be dealt with carefully. Otherwise, just as Hitler had exploited wounded German pride in the 1930s to build his murderous Third Reich, so a new Russian leader might exploit wounded Russian pride towards a similarly destructive end…

     Fourthly, Clinton’s talk of an “integrated, undivided Europe” clearly envisaged an increased role for the European Union, which would be expanded to the very borders of Russia, including such former Soviet republics as Ukraine. Clearly, this was and is part of the globalist agenda of which both Clintons have been such enthusiastic supporters. Russia could not be part of the new integrated Europe, not only because of its still-unextirpated Sovietism, but also because it was, as Yeltsin said, half European and half Asian. Later, perhaps, the European and Asian parts of Russia could be divided, with the European part joining the European Union, and the Asian part - China.

     In a recent (2018) lecture in Yale University, the well-known Russian tele-journalist Vladimir Pozner, who claims to be independent of the Kremlin, said that there was indeed no reason for NATO to expand because, at the time of Putin’s speech in 2007, Russia had displayed no signs of aggression against her neighbours. This is true, just as it is true that Nazi Germany had not invaded any neighbouring country before 1938… But the signs of a communist and/or fascist revanche were already there for all to see in Putin’s domestic policies before 2007, just as they had been in Hitler’s before 1938. Moreover, just as Hitler then went on to invade Czechoslovakia and Poland, so Putin has gone on to invade Georgia and Ukraine. Was this justified defence against encirclement by hostile powers, or simply the outward manifestation of the inner beast? Time will tell…



October 26 / November 8, 2018.

St. Demetrius the Great Martyr.


[1]Steven Pifer, “Did NATO Promise Not to Enlarge? Gorbachev Says ‘No,’” Brookings Institution, November 6, 2014,

[2] Goldgeier, “Bill and Boris: A Window Into a Most Important Post-Cold War Relationship”, Russia & FSUDiplomacy, August 28, 2018,

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