“Not One Inch”: A Brief Review of the Archives on NATO Expansion and Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Although the Joe Biden administration and much of the major media contend that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has nothing to do with NATO expansion, U.S. Army Col. Douglas Macgregor (ret.) told Valuetainment Founder Patrick Bet-David that Vladimir Putin has opposed “the movement of NATO to his borders” for “at least 15 years” because he sees such expansion “as a threat.”

Macgregor’s view is shared by the University of Chicago’s Distinguished Service Professor John Mearsheimer, considered one the world’s leading scholars on “realist” foreign policy. He argues that Russia considers NATO expansion into Ukraine as an “existential threat,” a position it has publicly held since at least 2008.

Yet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the conflict “was never about NATO enlargement” or “about some threat to Russia’s security.” Blinken also claims that Russia’s assertion that it was promised NATO would not spread eastward after the collapse of the USSR is false.

On Bet-David’s June 28 PBD Podcast, Macgregor explained that Putin has “been talking at least for 15 years about his opposition to the movement of NATO to his borders. He’s made it very clear that he regarded it as a threat. One of the reasons he moved into Crimea was that he saw that becoming a NATO naval base principally for the U.S. Navy, obviously in the Black Sea. So, he moved on that first and then said, look, this has got to stop.”

Declassified documents in the National Security Archive at George Washington University show that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, starting in 1990, was given many assurances by U.S. and European leaders that they would not expand NATO eastward to Russia. “Not one inch eastward,” said then-Secretary of State James Baker.

The archives document that one of the earliest assurances to Gorbachev came from a speech by the German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, in January 1990. In a cable to Washington, DC, the U.S. Embassy stated that Genscher made clear that NATO should rule out an “expansion of its territory towards the east, i.e., moving it closer to Soviet borders.”

In a February 10, 1990 meeting between German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Gorbachev, the archive reports that the “West German leader achieved Soviet assent in principle to German unification in NATO, as long as NATO did not expand to the east.”

The archive further states, “Not once, but three times, [U.S. Secretary] Baker tried out the ‘not one inch eastward’ formula with Gorbachev…He agreed with Gorbachev’s statement in response to the assurances that ‘NATO expansion is unacceptable.’”

Baker also assured Gorbachev that “not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.”

After being briefed by Baker, Chancellor Kohl told Gorbachev, “We believe that NATO should not expand the sphere of its activity.”

On May 31, 1990, President George H.W. Bush said to Gorbachev, “[W]e have no intention, even in our thoughts, to harm the Soviet Union in any fashion. That is why we are speaking in favor of German unification in NATO…Such a model, in our view, corresponds to the Soviet interests as well.”

In 1991, British Prime Minister John Major assured Gorbachev, “We are not talking about the strengthening of NATO.” As for NATO inclusion of East European countries, Major said, “Nothing of the sort will happen.”

After a meeting in July 1991 with NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner, a Russian memo reads, “Woerner stressed that the NATO Council and he are against the expansion of NATO (13 of 16 NATO members support this point of view).”

The archive article concluded, “Thus, Gorbachev went to the end of the Soviet Union assured that the West was not threatening his security and was not expanding NATO.”

After Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin became the first president of the Russian Federation, serving from 1991 to 1999. Vladimir Putin became president in May 2000, serving until 2008. He then returned to the presidency in 2012.

According to Professor Mearsheimer, author of “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin,

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Zero Hedges

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