Did NATO Promise Russia Not To Expand To The East?

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Did NATO break their promise to Russia to never expand east, into former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union countries?

Take a look at the claim, and find out what the facts really are!


Claim : NATO Promised Not To Expand A Single Inch East!

Did NATO promise Russia not to expand a single inch east, into former Warsaw Pact countries like Poland, or former Soviet Union countries like Ukraine?

Did NATO break that promise?

That is what Russian President Vladimir Putin has been claiming since 2007, and is the basis for why he chose to attack Ukraine.

People have also been sharing a video of Putin making those claims, to justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


Truth : NATO Never Promised Not To Expand A Single Inch East!

This is an old Vladimir Putin fabrication that he keeps repeating to justify his military actions, even though it is complete nonsense and has been debunked many times.

Fact #1 : Warsaw Pact + Soviet Union Dissolved In 1991

For context, I need to point out that both the Warsaw Pact military alliance, and the Soviet Union, were dissolved way back in 1991.

From 1989 to 1991, Communist governments in Eastern Europe were falling like ninepins, getting overthrown by public discontent.

On 25 February 1991, the remaining Warsaw Pact countries met in Hungary and agreed to disband the military alliance.

The Warsaw Pact alliance was formally dissolved on 1 July 1991 by Czechoslovak President Václav Havel in Prague.

That was followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR) on 8 December 1991, when the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed the Belavezha Accords.

Fact #2 : Vladimir Putin First Made That Claim In 2007

The dissolution of both Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union happened in 1991, but Russian President Vladimir Putin only started making this claim in 2007.

In his February 2007 speech to the 43rd Munich Security Conference, he claimed that the West violated their “guarantees” :

And we have the right to ask: against whom is this [NATO] expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact?

… I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He 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.” Where are these guarantees?

Did NATO Promise Russia Not To Expand To The East?

Fact #3 : Annexation Of Crimea Was Based On That Claim

Putin then used the same false claim to justify Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea :

… they [Western leaders] have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed before us an accomplished fact.

This happened with NATO’s expansion to the east, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders.

Fact #4 : NATO Never Promised Not To Expand Eastwards

Now that you have some context, here’s the clincher – NATO never promised Russia, or the former Soviet Union, not to expand eastwards.

Despite Putin’s claims, no Western leader ever made such guarantees to either Russia, or the former Soviet Union.

Fact #5 : NATO Only Agreed To Restrictions On Former GDR

In 1990, six countries – East and West Germany, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France – held discussions on the reunification of Germany.

The Germans, Americans, British and French agreed that there would be “no deployment of non-German NATO forces on the territory of the former GDR (East Germany)“.

That agreement was incorporated in Article 5 of the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, that was signed on 12 September 1990 by the six countries :

  1. Until Soviet forces had completed their withdrawal from the former GDR, only German territorial defense units not integrated into NATO would be deployed in that territory.
  2. There would be no increase in the numbers of troops or equipment of U.S., British and French forces stationed in Berlin.
  3. Once Soviet forces had withdrawn, German forces assigned to NATO could be deployed in the former GDR, but foreign forces and nuclear weapons systems would not be deployed there.

Did NATO Promise Russia Not To Expand To The East?

Fact #6 : USSR Did Not Raise Question Of NATO Expansion

The Soviet Union did not raise any questions about the potential expansion of NATO to the east, because no one at that time thought that was a serious possibility.

Fact #7 : Gorbachev Confirmed NATO Kept Its Promise

Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Union at that time, confirmed in a 2014 interview that NATO expansion was never discussed, or brought up in those years.

He also stressed that any promise not to “move one inch further east” was made in reference to the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and that promise was kept.

RBTH : One of the key issues that has arisen in connection with the events in Ukraine is NATO expansion into the East. Do you get the feeling that your Western partners lied to you when they were developing their future plans in Eastern Europe? Why didn’t you insist that the promises made to you – particularly U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s promise that NATO would not expand into the East – be legally encoded? I will quote Baker: “NATO will not move one inch further east.”

Gorbachev : 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, mentioned in your question, was made in that context. Kohl and [German Vice Chancellor Hans-Dietrich] Genscher talked about it.

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. If there was naïveté, it was later, when the issue arose. Russia at first did not object.

Did NATO Promise Russia Not To Expand To The East?
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (left) with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (right)

Fact #8 : Boris Yeltsin Was Not Against NATO Expansion

The first President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, was quite clear that NATO’s expansion was not a security threat to Russia.

In August 1993, he told Polish President Lech Wałęsa that :

Russia does not oppose Poland’s membership in NATO and does not perceive its membership in NATO as a threat to Russia.

Then in September 1993, he wrote a letter to then US President Bill Clinton, stating that :

Any possible integration of east European countries into NATO will not automatically lead to the alliance somehow turning against Russia.

Did NATO Promise Russia Not To Expand To The East?
Russian President Boris Yeltsin (left) and US President Bill Clinton (right)

Fact #9 : Those Countries Chose To Join NATO

Those former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union countries chose to join NATO, instead of the Russian-led CTSO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation).

They were not coerced into joining NATO, and the move was widely popular with their citizens.

  • Macedonia : 94% voters supported joining NATO
  • Hungary : 85% voters supported joining NATO
  • Georgia : 77% voters supported joining NATO
  • Slovenia : 66% voters supported joining NATO

Fact #10 : Russian Aggression Increased Support For NATO

Russian aggression in recent years have had the counterproductive effect of increasing support for NATO in once-neutral countries.

For example, Finland has assiduously tried to remain neutral, but as Russia ratcheted up threats on Ukraine, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that there is a real possibility Finland will join NATO.

Sweden also saw a surge in support for NATO membership, after Russian annexation of Crimea, and the threats against Ukraine.

Did NATO Promise Russia Not To Expand To The East?
Finland Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (left), NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (middle), Sweden Minister of Foreign Affairs Ann Linde (right)

Fact #11 : Vladimir Putin Once Wanted Russia To Join NATO

Interestingly, both Mikhail Gorbachev and Vladimir Putin floated the idea of Russian joining NATO.

While negotiating the reunification of Germany in 1990, Gorbachev told US Secretary of State James Baker :

You say that NATO is not directed against us, that it is simply a security structure that is adapting to new realities … therefore, we propose to join NATO.”

Vladimir Putin himself publicly revealed on Russian television, that he floated the possibility of Russia joining NATO, when US President Bill Clinton visited Moscow in 2000 – watch 2:24 of this video.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen from 2009 to 2014 also confirmed that Putin made many statements suggesting that he was favourable to the idea of Russian joining NATO, to which he said :

Once Russia can show it is upholding democracy and human rights, NATO can seriously consider its membership.


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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.

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