We Poked the Bear

“Most cynical has been the West’s Big Lie that Ukraine would enjoy eventual NATO membership. In 2008, at Washington’s behest, the transatlantic alliance told Georgia and Ukraine that someday they would be inducted. Western officials spent the last 14 years repeating that promise.

However, Tbilisi and Kiev are no closer to joining, an unofficial recognition that virtually no member wants to add either one. Yet Washington led the consensus rejection of Moscow’s demand that the two states be excluded in the future. Rather than admit the truth, alliance members prevaricated, even though admitting the truth might have forestalled Russia’s attack on Ukraine.”

“Long forgotten is Vladimir Putin’s conciliatory speech to the German Bundestag more than two decades ago. He explained:

“No one calls in question the great value of Europe’s relations with the United States. I am just of the opinion that Europe will reinforce its reputation of a strong and truly independent center of world politics soundly and for a long time if it succeeds in bringing together its own potential and that of Russia, including its human, territorial and natural resources and its economic, cultural and defense potential.”

He went on to declare: “One of the achievements of the past decade is the unprecedentedly low concentration of armed forces and armaments in Central Europe and the Baltic. Russia is a friendly European nation. Stable peace on the continent is a paramount goal for our country, which lived through a century of military catastrophes.”

However, his attitude changed as NATO advanced. Despite the mass amnesia that appears to have afflicted the Cold War’s victors, they offered numerous assurances to Soviet and Russian officials that NATO would not march ever eastward to Russia’s borders. For instance, reported George Washington University when it released a trove of declassified U.S. documents: “Secretary of State James Baker’s famous ‘not one inch eastward’ assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.”

The allies also whispered sweet nothings in the ears of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and those around him. Explained GWU: “Declassified documents from U.S. and Russian archives show that U.S. officials led Russian President Boris Yeltsin to believe in 1993 that the Partnership for Peace was the alternative to NATO expansion, rather than a precursor to it, while simultaneously planning for expansion after Yeltsin’s re‐election bid in 1996 and telling the Russians repeatedly that the future European security system would include, not exclude, Russia.”

In a detailed study, UCLA’s Marc Trachtenberg concluded that the allies originally promised to respect Moscow’s security interests. However, he added: “It was only later that U.S. leaders realized that the USSR had become too weak to prevent them from doing whatever they wanted. So by mid‐1990, the February assurances were no longer taken as binding. What Gorbachev called the ‘sweet talk’ continued, but the whole vision of a cooperative relationship based on mutual trust and mutual respect, it became increasingly clear, was at odds with the reality. All of this was, and still is, deeply resented in Russia.””

“Russian complaints continued. Early the following year a State Department cable (released by Wikileaks) reported: “Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests.””

“the problem is not that the allies ignored East European demands that Washington garrison states of little relevance to its own security. Rather, it is that the U.S. and its allies ruthlessly ran roughshod over Russian security interests in expanding NATO up to Russia’s border—just 100 miles away from St. Petersburg. Moreover, Washington repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to aggressively promote regime change, through financial and diplomatic support as well as military force.

Washington sought to impose its will not just in its own sphere of influence, the Western hemisphere, but in countries once part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Allied claims to be surprised and shocked by Moscow’s complaints are careless at best, dishonest at worst. The West thought there was nothing Russia could do. Alas, the U.S. and its allies were wrong.

Of course, the past will do little to solve the present. However, Washington policymakers should start learning from their mistakes. Two decades of disastrous wars have left thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of foreigners dead. To this toll can be added those dying in Ukraine, another unnecessary war spurred by Washington’s arrogance and myopia.”

https://www.cato.org/commentary/we-poked-bear#

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