The Broken Promise to Shevardnadze

The passing of former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze has roused praise from the West – though opinions are mixed among the people he served – but one point missing in the obits was the U.S. promise made to him (and broken) not to exploit Moscow’s retreat, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern writes.

By Ray McGovern

Absent from U.S. media encomia for recently deceased former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze is any mention of the historic deal he reached with his U.S. counterpart James Baker in 1990 ensuring that the Soviet empire would collapse “with a whimper, not a bang” (Mr. Baker’s words).

Mr. Baker keeps repeating that the Cold War “could not have ended peacefully without Shevardnadze.” But he and others are silent on the quid pro quo. The quid was Moscow’s agreement to swallow the bitter pill of a reunited Germany in NATO; the quo was a U.S. promise not to “leapfrog” NATO over Germany farther East. Washington welched on the deal.

Eduard Shevardnadze, as president of Georgia in 2002, being welcomed to NATO by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson. (Credit: NATO photo)

Eduard Shevardnadze, as president of Georgia in 2002, being welcomed to NATO headquarters by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson. (Credit: NATO photo)

It began to unravel in October 1996 during the last weeks of President Bill Clinton’s campaign for re-election. Mr. Clinton bragged that he would welcome Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO, explaining, “America truly is the world’s indispensable nation” (and, sotto voce, can do what it wants).

Those three countries joined NATO in 1999, and by April 2009, nine more became members, bringing the post-Cold War additions to 12 — equal to the number of the original 12 NATO states. The additional nine included the former Baltic Republics that had been part of the USSR, but not Ukraine. NATO intentions, however, were made clear at its summit in Bucharest in April 2008, which formally declared, “Georgia and Ukraine will be in NATO.”

Even hawkish former American national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski now concedes, “It is reasonable for Russia to feel uncomfortable about the prospect” of Ukraine in NATO. And that is the nub of today’s crisis there — not the “chauvinistic fanaticism” Mr. Brzezinski attributes to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The foundering of the unique opportunity in 1990 to create a lasting peace in what President George H. W. Bush called a “Europe whole and free” was a tragedy. The expansion of NATO to the east — especially the decision to bring in Georgia and Ukraine — led, among other things, to Georgian-Russian hostilities in August 2008 and now to the current violence in Ukraine.

The fact that the Shevardnadze-Baker agreement was not recorded in an official document has helped revisionists to create alternative history, but there is compelling evidence testifying to Washington’s reneging on key oral commitments to Moscow.

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the USSR Jack Matlock, who took part in both the Bush-Gorbachev early-December 1989 summit in Malta and the Shevardnadze-Baker discussions in early February 1990, 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. … I don’t see how anybody could view the subsequent expansion of NATO as anything but ‘taking advantage,’ particularly since, by then, Russia was hardly a credible threat.”

On Feb. 10, 1990, German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told Shevardnadze, “For us, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east.” Melvin Goodman, co-author of The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze, has told me that, during an interview of Shevardnadze in March 1994, the former foreign minister said Mr. Baker had assured him that NATO “would not jump over” East Germany for new members.

Three months after the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and installation of a pro-Western government in Kiev, Russian President Putin complained: “But tomorrow Ukraine might become a NATO member, and the day after tomorrow missile defense units of NATO could be deployed in this country.”

Mr. Putin keeps coming back specifically to “missile defense” in NATO countries — or adjacent waters. On April 17, he said the issue is “probably even more important than NATO’s eastward expansion. Incidentally, our decision on Crimea was partially prompted by this logic: If we don’t do anything, Ukraine will be drawn into NATO … and NATO ships would dock in Sevastopol.”

President Putin added: “If these systems are deployed closer to our borders, our ground-based strategic missiles will be within their striking range.” Even Mr. Brzezinski might agree that “it is reasonable for Russia to feel uncomfortable” about NATO ships docking in Crimea. Among the chief reasons: The current version of the missile defense plan includes ship-borne systems.

In his book, Duty, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates notes that the Russians consider the latest plan even worse than earlier ones because it might eventually have capabilities against Russian ICBMs. He added dismissively, “Making the Russians happy wasn’t exactly on my to-do list.”

Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years, serving as chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and then deputy national intelligence officer for Western Europe. Now retired, he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in January, 2003. [This article previously appeared in the Baltimore Sun and is republished with the author’s permission.]

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4 comments on “The Broken Promise to Shevardnadze

  1. F. G. Sanford on said:

    “It is quite conceivable that America, weakened by a depression, will one day seek support from a resurrected Germany. Such a prospect would open tremendous possibilities for the future power position of a bloc introducing a new order in the world.”

    “The economic advantages and the political possibilities in such a new power combination would put the United States against the wall. It would then depend entirely on our diplomatic and propaganda finesses when and how we would take over an America enfeebled by its foreign and domestic policies.”

    “In the event of such a showdown, we must endeavor to bring to our side the Arab bloc and as many of the Asiatic peoples as possible. Germany is in the fortunate position of not having aroused the hatred of Asia.”

    “The American plan would make Germany the spearhead of an attack at the heart of Russia. Germany would thereby become the battlefield in a war of annihilation from which nothing would be spared of the German biological substance. A German statesman who would lend his help to such a criminal act would thus stamp himself automatically as a traitor of the German people.”

    “The Atlantic partners will always be able to find an opportunity to evade their obligations by pointing out that the provocative behavior of the United States has foolishly brought about a conflict for which the Russians cannot be charged as the aggressor and, therefore, all contractual obligations to help become void.”

    “We must move very cautiously. We ought not to give the impression, either in Germany or in the United States, that we shall collaborate in any way with the Russians.” – Konrad Adenauer

    “Washington waited long for a good opportunity to put its economy on a war footing and to accelerate her mobilization with full speed. The effects of this step on world economy and its political consequences become clearer and clearer day by day: in the course of total mobilization for war, not much will be left of “democracy.”"
    - – various excerpts, T. H. Tetens, 1953. The title SHOULD have been, “America Slits Its Own Throat”, but it wasn’t. It was, “Germany Plots with the Kremlin”.

  2. Hillary on said:

    Gorbachev is also outraged about “”the extension of NATO” towards the borders of Russia and stated that “One cannot depend on American politicians”.
    Remember the Cuban crisis that faced US President Kennedy ?

  3. elmerfudzie on said:

    As a nation, the U.S. continues to stumble over old and unresolved issues that surfaced during the Cuban missile crisis.The NATO/Western Occident military have always prepared for war, or the possibility of war in Europe by placing nuclear weapons in allied countries. Thus, for fifty years, our defensive and political postures remain unchanged. The Cuban missile crisis came to a close when nuclear missiles were withdrawn from Turkey, a country that shared a border with what was once two Soviet republics, and also because of its proximity to the Russians (old Soviet Union). The European theater bombers and weapons were intended as a deterrent against a Soviet invasion of (West) Germany and other smaller, more vulnerable countries. However, as the well known expression goes, our generals are still fighting the last war, more precisely, the Brzezinski Neo-con cabal are still fighting the last war (WWII). In response to this stubbornness, Putin is in the throes of re-militarizing Cuba. Now the whole world will be back to square one and One Minute to Midnight (BAS mags phrase). Add to this boiling cauldron, advances in drone technology (superior time sensitive surveillance and varieties of drone weaponry). International corporate interests (the GMO crowd) now figure into the tense environment, in that they covet the vast agricultural “breadbasket” of the Ukraine.

  4. Nothing changes. They were liers, they are liers.
    Alas, America is truly the Evil Empire…

    And people (children!) are dying for her every day…