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Russia - NATO Relations

Russia's main demand is a commitment from NATO to end its further expansion into former Soviet republics — especially Ukraine. "We don't trust the other side," Russia's chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said 10 Jsnuary 2022 bilateral talks with the U.S. finished. "We need ironclad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees. Not assurances. Not safeguards. Guarantees. With all the words — 'shall, must' — everything that should be put in."

The draft proposals on security that Russia sent to Western powers in December 2021 would ban NATO from deploying its weapons and forces in countries in Central and Eastern Europe that joined the alliance after 1997. In effect, that would downgrade membership for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia and Bulgaria to symbolic status at best.

Western leaders never pledged not to enlarge NATO. The Germans, Americans, British and French agreed in 1990 that there would be no deployment of non-German NATO forces on the territory of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). The Soviets never raised the question of NATO enlargement other than how it might apply in the former GDR.

Russia Beyond the Headlines interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev in October 2014, "The topic of “NATO expansion” was not discussed at all, and it wasn’t brought up in those years. I say this with full responsibility. Not a single Eastern European country raised the issue, not even after the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist in 1991. Western leaders didn’t bring it up, either. Another issue we brought up was discussed: making sure that NATO’s military structures would not advance and that additional armed forces from the alliance would not be deployed on the territory of the then-GDR after German reunification. Baker’s statement ... was made in that context. ... The agreement on a final settlement with Germany said that no new military structures would be created in the eastern part of the country; no additional troops would be deployed; no weapons of mass destruction would be placed there. It has been observed all these years. So don’t portray Gorbachev and the then-Soviet authorities as naïve people who were wrapped around the West’s finger."

Gorbachev was, as he declared in May 1990, conscious of “the intention expressed by a number of representatives of East European countries to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and subsequently join NATO.” Yeltsin failed to get a Russian veto on further NATO expansion... but he claimed publicly to have succeeded.

In the West, multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991. Discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory. Subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.

The first concrete assurances by Western leaders on NATO came on 31 January 1990, when West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher spoke at Tutzing, in Bavaria, on German unification. Genscher made clear “that the changes in Eastern Europe and the German unification process must not lead to an ‘impairment of Soviet security interests.’ Therefore, NATO should rule out an ‘expansion of its territory towards the east, i.e. moving it closer to the Soviet borders.’”

On February 6, 1990, when Genscher met with British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, the British record showed Genscher saying, “The Russians must have some assurance that if, for example, the Polish Government left the Warsaw Pact one day, they would not join NATO the next.”

As late as March 1991, according to the diary of the British ambassador to Moscow, British Prime Minister John Major personally assured Gorbachev, “We are not talking about the strengthening of NATO.” Subsequently, when Soviet defense minister Marshal Dmitri Yazov asked Major about East European leaders’ interest in NATO membership, the British leader responded, “Nothing of the sort will happen.”

The dissolution of the USSR came in December 1991.

Russia sanctioned NATO expansion. In August 1993 Yeltsin, in talks with the Polish leader, Lech Walesa, conceded Poland’s right to join NATO, a concession that left his colleagues thunderstruck. More formally Russia did the same with the NATO Russia Founding Act in 1996.

M.E. Sarotte wrote "In 1997, in order to facilitate enlargement talks with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the alliance negotiated the NATO-Russia Founding Act (NRFA) with Moscow. Washington would not agree to binding restrictions on establishing NATO security infrastructure in new member-states, however, so Mr. Yeltsin tried to get a Russian veto on further expansion inserted into the accord. He failed but claimed publicly to have succeeded, largely to win over his domestic opponents. Mr. Yeltsin’s misrepresentation of the NRFA created a widespread sense that Moscow was once again being deceived.... In Mr. Putin’s telling, Russia lost its former status not because of the Soviet collapse but because it was cheated by the West—an easier narrative to accept."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said 18 October 2021 that his country was suspending its mission to NATO. He said the move was a response to the expulsion of eight Russian staff at the military alliance's mission days earlier. NATO said the individuals expelled were in fact "undeclared Russian intelligence officers." The expulsions meant that half of the Moscow team were prohibited from working at NATO's Brussels headquarters. "As a result of NATO's deliberate moves, we have practically no conditions for elementary diplomatic work and in response to NATO's actions we suspend the work of our permanent mission to NATO, including the work of the chief military envoy," said the foreign minister.

Practical cooperation between Russia and NATO was suspended in 2014, in response to Moscow's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Nevertheless, the two had maintained open channels of communication to facilitate high-level military-to-military coordination. As Russia showed no sign of withdrawing from Crimea anytime soon — which was NATO's condition to return to normal relations — this situation was likely to continue for a long time to come.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said 07 Januar 2022 that "NATO never promised not to admit new members. It could not and would not – the “open door policy” was a core provision of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty that founded NATO. The Russian president at the end of the Cold War, Mikhail Gorbachev, was asked directly about this in an interview in 2014, and said very clearly that the topic of NATO expansion was not discussed at all in negotiations about German reunification that led to the end of the Cold War. There was no promise that NATO wouldn’t expand. Secretary of State James Baker said the same thing. Membership in the Alliance has always been a decision between NATO and countries that aspire to belong – no one else. And in the Istanbul Charter for European Security, Russia itself affirmed the right of countries to choose or change the security arrangements that they have, including alliances."

Western leaders never formally pledged not to enlarge NATO. But the supposed violation of pledges not to enlarge NATO are a key element in Putin’s narrative against the West. “The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991,” George Washington University National Security Archives researchers Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton wrote. “That discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.”

NATO General Secretary Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990 said at the time that: ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.” The Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany is also known as the Two-plus-Four Treaty because it was signed by the two Germanys, plus the US, the Soviet Union, Britain and France on 12 September 1990. The claim that the negotiations towards this treaty included guarantees against NATO expansion into Eastern Europe is completely unfounded. In the negotiations leading up to the treaty, the Soviets did not raise the issue of NATO enlargement beyond the former East Germany. Even in 1991, when East European overtures to NATO began with some seriousness, NATO governments tried their best to discourage discussion of the topic.

Several years later, long after Germany was reunified and the USSR dissolved, former Soviet officials begin insisting that the United States had made a formal commitment in 1990 not to bring any of the former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO. On 01 December 1994 Russian Foreign Minister Kozyrev went to Brussels to sign a Partnership for Peace agreement with NATO, but then refused to sign in protest to a NATO communique` released earlier that day proclaiming the policy of NATO expansion. Four days later, Yeltsin protested against attempts "from a single capitol" - (that is, Washington) - to decide "the destinies of whole continents and the world community as a whole" and warned this was pushing Europe "into a cold peace" (Coit D. Blacker, "Russia and the West," in Michael Mandelbaum, ed., The New Russian Foreign Policy, Washington, D.C.: Council of Foreign Relations, 1998, pp. 167-93, at pp. 179-80.)

Anatolii Adamishin, who was Soviet deputy foreign minister in 1990, claimed in 1997 that "we were told during the German reunification process that NATO would not expand." Jack F. Matlock, US ambassador to the USSR in 1990, stated that Gorbachev was givn a "clear commitment that if Germany united, and stayed in NATO, the borders of NATO would not move eastward." Given comments by Michael Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, former US defense secretary Robert McNamara stated that "the United States pledged never to expand NATO eastward if Moscow would agree to the unification of Germany." According to this view, "the Clinton administration reneged on that commitment . . . when it decided to expand NATO to Eastern Europe."

In April 2009, Mikhail Gorbachev claimed Russia had been hoodwinked by the West following German unification in 1990. He told the German tabloid Bild, the western powers had pledged that “NATO would not move a centimetre to the east”. Gorbachev cliamed that the failure to honor this commitment had poisoned Russia’s post-cold war relations with the West. “They probably rubbed their hands, rejoicing at having played a trick on the Russians,” he said.

Moscow says NATO and its "eastward expansion" is the real cause for concern. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that Russia may soon create more Air Force facilities in neighboring countries. In July 2015, Russia amended its Maritime Doctrine as a response to NATO's growing presence in Eastern Europe. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the new doctrine, which focused on Russia's naval presence in Crimea and the Arctic, was due to “the changes of international affairs” and the consolidation of Russia as a maritime power.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said NATO is provoking Russia into an “arms race,” after there were reports of “American missiles put in a certain location and about certain ammunition depots in Eastern European countries and the Baltic.”

The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act provided the formal basis for relations. On 27 May 1997 at a summit in Paris, Russian and Allied leaders sign the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security and establish the Permanent Joint Council (PJC).

This Act stated "NATO and Russia do not consider each other as adversaries. They share the goal of overcoming the vestiges of earlier confrontation and competition and of strengthening mutual trust and cooperation.... NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defence and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces."

Dialogue and cooperation were strengthened in 2002 with the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) to serve as a forum for consultation on current security issues and to direct practical cooperation in a wide range of areas. Russia's disproportionate military action in Georgia in August 2008 led to the suspension of formal meetings of the NRC and cooperation in some areas, until spring 2009. The Allies continue to call on Russia to reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

For more than two decades, NATO has strived to build a partnership with Russia, developing dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest. Cooperation has been suspended in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, which the Allies condemn in the strongest terms. Political channels of communication remain open.

All practical civilian and military cooperation under the NRC was suspended in April 2014 in response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. At the Wales Summit in September 2014, NATO leaders condemned Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and demanded that Russia comply with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities; end its illegitimate occupation of Crimea; refrain from aggressive actions against Ukraine; withdraw its troops; halt the flow of weapons, equipment, people and money across the border to the separatists; and stop fomenting tension along and across the Ukrainian border.

Moscow is awaiting NATO's explanations of its plans for additional permanent deployment of NATO forces close to the Russian borders. "We will be watching closely the implementation of plans announced by NATO for the continuous, sustained military presence of the Alliance near Russian borders," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on 02 July 2014. "We are awaiting NATO's explanations as to how this matches the Alliance's obligations under the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1997) not to pursue its collective defense and other objectives by way of additional permanent deployment of significant combat forces in Europe," Lukashevich said.

A unipolar model of the world has failed, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with Russian ambassadors and permanent envoys on 5 July 2014. "Western partners were trying to persuade us that they had good intentions, that they were ready to combine efforts with us to build strategic cooperation. But, at the same time, they were making steps to further expand NATO, to move their military and political control closer to our borders," he noted.

"Those who keep on stating about their exclusiveness are averse to Russia's independent policy. Developments in Ukraine have demonstrated this only too well. More than that, these developments have demonstrated that the model of relations with Russia based on double standards does not work," Putin stressed.

President Putin told Italian media in June 2015 that “scaremongering” should not be taken seriously, adding that Russia's military is “not global, offensive, or aggressive,” and that it has “virtually no bases abroad.” He added that the few that do exist abroad are remnants of its Soviet past. “I think that only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO. I think some countries are simply taking advantage of people’s fears with regard to Russia. They just want to play the role of front-line countries that should receive some supplementary military, economic, financial or some other aid,” Putin said at the time.

Julia Ioffe [well-known Russian politics critic and self-confessed Russophobe] reported in September 2015 that, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US Department of Defense was reviewing and updating its contingency plans for armed conflict with Russia.

"The new plans, according to the senior defense official, have two tracks. One focuses on what the United States can do as part of NATO if Russia attacks one of NATO’s member states; the other variant considers American action outside the NATO umbrella. Both versions of the updated contingency plans focus on Russian incursions into the Baltics, a scenario seen as the most likely front for new Russian aggression."

“Given the security environment, given the actions of Russia, it has become apparent that we need to make sure to update the plans that we have in response to any potential aggression against any NATO allies,” a senior defense official familiar with the plan told Foreign Policy. According to Michèle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy and co-founder of the Center for a New American Security, the move was prompted by the Ukraine situation. “Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine made the US dust off its contingency plans,” Flournoy told FP. “They were pretty out of date.”

Russia's involvement in Ukraine and its seizure of Crimea nearly two years ago have made other countries along and close to Russian borders feel less secure, including Poland, Slovakia, Romania and the Baltic nations — home to a large number of Russian speakers. A report released by the RAND Corporation in February 2016 [Unconventional Options for the Defense of the Baltic States] found that the US and NATO would suffer a crushing defeat if forced to confront the Russian military, baased on the think tank’s analysis of NATO war games in Eastern Europe. "The games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members," the report states.

The report focuses on the Baltic region, examining a series of war games conducted between 2014-2015. The results show Russian troops reaching the Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian capitals within 36 to 60 hours. "Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad," the report reads. Three options are provided. The first is a counterattack, which is predicted to result in an even stronger reaction from Moscow. The second option involves NATO threatening Russia with nuclear weapons, while the third would be to accept defeat.

NATO's secretary general said February 10, 2016 the alliance's increased “forward presence” in Eastern Europe sends a "clear signal" to any would-be aggressor. Speaking in Brussels before a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting, Jens Stoltenberg said with an obvious reference to Russia, that “NATO will respond as one to any aggression against any ally. ... I expect the defense ministers to agree to enhance our forward presence in the eastern part of our alliance. This will send a clear signal. NATO will respond as one to any aggression against any ally. We have already significantly enhanced our presence and readiness of our forces".

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said February 17, 2016 NATO's military build-up on its eastern flank, the biggest in Europe since the Cold War, was a destabilizing factor designed to contain Russia.

Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) on 17 June 2016, President Vladimir Putin said that NATO has “an absolutely slapdash attitude to our position on anything,” adding that it was the US that had unilaterally quit the missile defense treaty, which was initially signed to “provide strategic balance in the world.” NATO “needs a foreign enemy, otherwise what would be the reason for the existence of such an organization,” said the Russian leader. The conflict in Ukraine, caused by a bloody coup supported by the US and its European NATO allies, was forced on that country “to substantiate the very existence of the North Atlantic alliance,” the Russian president concluded.

Russia's foreign ministry warned against the inclusion of Finland and Sweden in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). According to Maria Zakharova, the ministry’s spokeswoman, "The persistent attempts by NATO to draw those countries into the orbit of its interests and opportunistic policies haven’t gone unnoticed by Russia." She highlighted “It’s quite obvious that Finland and Sweden joining NATO … would have serious military and political consequences that would require an adequate response from the Russian side”. Zakharova added "The policy of not being part of any alliances, traditionally pursued by Stockholm and Helsinki, is viewed by Moscow as an important factor in ensuring stability in northern Europe". Zakharova reiterated that "ruling out the expansion of NATO and the deployment of weapon systems that threaten our security near the Russian borders are going to be the main, key issues at the upcoming talks with the US and NATO."

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Page last modified: 11-03-2022 19:38:24 ZULU