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Cross-posted from Consortium News
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used Wednesday's interview with Bloomberg News to address the overriding issue regarding the future of Ukraine, at least from Moscow's perspective. Speaking in fluent English, he said Russia would be "categorically against" Ukraine joining NATO.
Lavrov said he welcomed the interviewer's question regarding whether Ukraine can be part of NATO, recognizing it as a chance to shoehorn background information into the interview. It was an opportunity to explain Moscow's position to a wide English-speaking international audience -- first and foremost Americans. His comments seemed partly aimed at those so malnourished on "mainstream media" that they might be learning the history of NATO enlargement for the first time. Lavrov said:
"In my view, it all started ... back in the 1990s, when in spite of all the pronouncements about how the Cold War was over and that there should be no winners -- yet, NATO looked upon itself as a winner."
Lavrov said U.S. and NATO reneged on a series of commitments: not to enlarge the Alliance; then (after NATO was expanded contrary to that commitment), not to deploy substantial forces on the territories of new NATO members; and then not to move NATO infrastructure to the Russian border.
"All these commitments have been, to one degree or another, violated," said Lavrov, adding that "attempts to draw Ukraine into NATO would have a negative impact on the entire system of European security." Lavrov said Russia's national security interests and 25 years of recent history make this a key problem, not only for Ukraine and NATO, but also "an issue of Russia."
Is Lavrov distorting the history? The answer is important -- more so inasmuch as the information needed to form cogent judgments is rarely found in the U.S. "mainstream media." What happened in the months immediately before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9/10, 1989, is key to understanding Russia's attitude now.
To his credit, President George H.W. Bush sent a reassuring message to the Soviets, saying, "I will not dance on the Berlin wall." And just three weeks after it fell, Bush flew to Malta for a two-day summit with Gorbachev.
At a joint press conference on Dec. 3, 1989, Gorbachev said, "We are at the beginning of a long road to a lasting, peaceful era. The threat of force, mistrust, psychological and ideological struggle should all be things of the past."
In the same vein, Bush spoke of a new future just begun "right here in Malta" -- one of lasting peace and enduring East-West cooperation. This came just six months after Bush had publicly called in a major speech in Mainz, West Germany, for "a Europe whole and free." At the time it did not seem one had to be Pollyanna to hope that flesh could be pinned to the bones of that rhetoric.
According to Jack Matlock, then-U.S. ambassador to the U.S.S.R. who took part in the Malta summit, the most basic agreement involved (1) Gorbachev's pledge not to use force in Eastern Europe where the Russians had 24 divisions (some 350,000 troops) in East Germany alone, and (2) Bush's promise not to "take advantage" of a Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Europe.
In early February 1990, Bush sent Secretary of State James Baker to work out the all-important details directly with Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. Ambassador Matlock again was there and took careful notes on the negotiations, which focused on German reunification.
From memory, Matlock told me that Baker tried to convince Gorbachev that it was in Moscow's interest to let a united Germany remain in NATO. Matlock recalled that Baker began his argument saying something like, "Assuming there is no expansion of NATO jurisdiction to the East, not one inch, what would you prefer, a Germany embedded in NATO, or one that can go independently in any direction it chooses." [emphasis added]
The implication was that Germany might just opt to acquire nuclear weapons, were it not anchored in NATO. Gorbachev answered that he took Baker's argument seriously, and wasted little time in agreeing to the deal.
Ambassador Matlock, one of the most widely respected experts on Russia, told me "the language used was absolute, and the entire negotiation was in the framework of a general agreement that there would be no use of force by the Soviets and no 'taking advantage' by the U.S."
He added, "I don't see how anybody could view the subsequent expansion of NATO as anything but 'taking advantage,' particularly since, by then, the U.S.S.R. was no more and Russia was hardly a credible threat."
In his book Superpower Illusions, Matlock wrote that NATO enlargement was a function of U.S. domestic politics not of foreign policy strategic thinking. It seems he got that right, too.