At a time when the United States is convulsed by anti-Russian hysteria and demonization of Vladimir Putin, a trove of recently declassified Cold War documents reveals the astounding extent of the lies, duplicity and double-dealing engaged in by the western powers with the collapsing Soviet Union in 1990.
I was covering Moscow in those days and met some of the key players in this sordid drama. Ever since, I’ve been writing that the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, were shamelessly lied to and deceived by the United States, Britain, and their appendage, NATO.
All the western powers promised Gorbachev and Shevardnadze that NATO would not expand eastward by ‘one inch’ if Moscow would pull the Red Army out of East Germany and allow it to peacefully reunify with West Germany. This was a titanic concession by Gorbachev: it led to a failed coup against him in 1991 by Communist hardliners.
The documents released by George Washington University in Washington DC, which I attended for a semester, make sickening reading (see them online). All western powers and statesmen assured the Russians that NATO would not take advantage of the Soviet retreat and that a new era of amity and cooperation would dawn in post-Cold War Europe. US Secretary of State Jim Baker offered ‘ironclad guarantees’ there would be no NATO expansion. Lies, all lies.
Gorbachev was a humanist, a very decent, intelligent man who believed he could end the Cold War and nuclear arms race. He ordered the Red Army back from Eastern Europe. I was in Wunsdorf, East Germany, HQ of the Group of Soviet Forces, Germany, and at Stasi secret police HQ in East Berlin right after the pullout order was given. The Soviets withdrew their 338,000 troops and 4,200 tanks and sent them home at lightening speed.
Western promises made to Soviet leaders by President George W. H. Bush and Jim Baker quickly proved to be empty. They were honorable men but their successors were not. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush quickly began moving NATO into Eastern Europe, violating all the pledges made to Moscow.
The Poles, Hungarians and Czechs were brought into NATO, then Romania and Bulgaria, the Baltic States, Albania, and Montenegro. Washington tried to get the former Soviet Republics of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. The Moscow-aligned government of Ukraine was overthrown in a US-engineered coup. The road to Moscow was open.
All the bankrupt, confused Russians could do was denounce these eastward moves by the US and NATO. The best response NATO and Washington could come up with was, ‘well, there was no official written promise.’ This is worthy of a street peddler selling counterfeit watches. The leaders of the US, Britain, France, Belgium and Italy all lied. Germany was caught between its honor and imminent reunification. So even its Chancellor Helmut Kohl had to go along with the West’s prevarications.
At the time, I wrote that the best solution would be for the demilitarization of formerly Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe. NATO had no need or business to expand eastward. Doing so would be a constant provocation to Russia, which regarded Eastern Europe as an essential defensive glacis against invasions from the West.
Now, with NATO forces on its western borders, Russia’s deepest fears have been realized.
Today, US military aircraft based on the coasts of Romania and Bulgaria, former Warsaw Pact members, probe Russian airspace over the Black Sea and the vital strategic port of Sevastopol. Washington talks about arming chaotic Ukraine. US and NATO troops are in the Baltic, on Russia’s northwestern borders. Polish right-wingers are beating the war drums against Russia.
In 1990, KGB and CIA agreed to the principal of ‘not one inch’ eastward for NATO. Former US ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock, confirms the same agreement. Gorbachev, who is denounced as a foolish idealist by many Russians, trusted the Western powers. He should have had a battalion of New York City garment district shyster lawyers to document his agreements in 1990. He thought he was dealing with honest, honorable men, like himself.
Is it any wonder after this bait and switch diplomacy that Russia has no trust in the Western powers? Moscow watches US-run NATO oozing ever eastwards. Today, Russia’s leaders firmly believe Washington’s ultimate plan is to tear apart Russia and reduce it to an impotent, pauper nation. Two former Western leaders, Napoleon and Hitler, had similar plans.
Instead of carrying on about Hitler’s duplicity after Munich, we should look at our own shameless behavior after 1990.
Top photo: Michail Gorbachev discussing German unification with Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Helmut Kohl in Russia, July 15, 1990. (Photo: Bundesbildstelle / Presseund Informationsamt der Bundesregierung.)