Washington, D.C., March 16, 2018 – 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.
The declassified U.S. account of one key conversation on October 22, 1993, (Document 8) shows Secretary of State Warren Christopher assuring Yeltsin in Moscow that the Partnership for Peace was about including Russia together with all European countries, not creating a new membership list of just some European countries for NATO; and Yeltsin responding, “this is genius!”
Christopher later claimed in his memoir that Yeltsin misunderstood – perhaps from being drunk – the real message that the Partnership for Peace would in fact “lead to gradual expansion of NATO”; but the actual American-written cable reporting the conversation supports subsequent Russian complaints about being misled.
Christopher wondered afterwards (according to his memoir, pp. 280-281) whether the Russian foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, had deliberately failed to alert Yeltsin about the inevitability of NATO expansion, or whether Yeltsin was just relieved that NATO expansion would not be immediate – or whether Yeltsin was just having “a bad day.” But Christopher had told Kozyrev himself earlier that day, according to the U.S. declassified cable (Document 7), that there would be “no predetermined new members” in NATO, and “we’re emphasizing the Partnership for Peace” is “open to all.”
The Strobe Talbott account of the October 22nd meeting with Yeltsin is more detailed and nuanced than Christopher’s, but also leaves the impression that Yeltsin heard only what he wanted to hear, somehow not letting the Americans explain that the real message was “PFP today, enlargement tomorrow.” “Yeltsin welcomed us looking like a stunned bull” and delivered a “long, barely coherent boast” before interrupting Christopher’s presentation on NATO and PFP (“Without letting Chris finish…”). Christopher’s actual words to Yeltsin, at the end of the meeting, were that the U.S. would be “looking at the question of membership as a longer term eventuality.”
Documents from the Russian side show opposition to NATO expansion across the political spectrum, dating back to a Yeltsin supporters’ meeting with NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner in the summer of 1991 (he assured them expansion would not happen), and forward to the large majority of Duma deputies from every political party joining the anti-NATO caucus in 1996. As the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Moscow, James Collins, warned Secretary of State Christopher just before his trip to meet Yeltsin in October 1993 (Document 6), the NATO issue “is neuralgic to the Russians. They expect to end up on the wrong side of a new division of Europe if any decision is made quickly. No matter how nuanced, if NATO adopts a policy which envisions expansion into Central and Eastern Europe without holding the door open to Russia, it would be universally interpreted in Moscow as directed against Russia and Russian alone – or ‘neo-containment’….”
Yeltsin himself had set off wide discussion of possible NATO expansion with his public remarks in Warsaw in August 1993, where he acknowledged the Helsinki Final Act right of countries to choose their alliances, and “seemed to give a ‘green light’ to NATO expansion.” (See Document 5, Tab C “NATO Expansion: Eastern and Allied Views”)
The U.S. “green light” document notes that almost immediately, however, Moscow got “busy ‘refining’ its position.” Yeltsin’s letter to Clinton on September 15, 1993, (Document 4) expressed “uneasiness” over the discussion of “quantitative expansion” and strongly advocated “a pan-European security system” instead of NATO. Yeltsin warned, “Not only the opposition, but moderate circles as well [in Russia], would no doubt perceive this as a sort of neo-isolation of our country in diametric opposition to its natural admission into Euro-Atlantic space.” Yeltsin also argued “the spirit” of the German unification treaty “precludes the option of expanding the NATO zone into the East” (citing the provisions preventing non-German NATO troops from being stationed on the former East German territory). This paragraph was the only one in the Yeltsin letter highlighted for Strobe Talbott by a staff expert on Russia/Ukraine, Steve Pifer.
The declassified U.S. record includes new evidence on internal American thinking, such as a specific calendar for expansion in one early September 1993 document from the State Department (see Document 2), up to and including the ultimate admission of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia to NATO in 2005, after the Central and Eastern Europeans and the Baltics. But Yeltsin’s September 15 letter contributed to intense debates on the American side, including the Defense Department rejection of the State Department’s calendar, leading to the Partnership for Peace idea rather than explicit NATO expansion in the fall of 1993. One October 5, 1993, document (Document 5) summarized the debate as between the “State approach to NATO expansion” or the Office of the Secretary of Defense approach, “partnership for peace with general link to membership,” and the latter became Christopher’s presentation to Yeltsin on October 22: partnership for all, not membership for some.
In January 1994, President Clinton told Yeltsin in Moscow that the Partnership for Peace was “the real thing now.” On the way to Moscow, Clinton delivered the famous “not whether but when” speech in Prague, which would be seized on by NATO expansion proponents in the Clinton administration to win the internal debate. The declassified memcons of Clinton’s Prague meetings with the leaders of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia show the American president arguing for the Partnership for Peace as a “track that will lead to NATO membership” and that “does not draw another line dividing Europe a few hundred miles to the east.” (See Document 11) Clinton candidly admitted to Vaclav Havel “there is no consensus now among NATO allies to extend formal security guarantees” because of uncertainty about which countries could contribute, and because “the reaction in Russia could be the reverse of what we want.”
Polish President Lech Walesa told Clinton (Document 12): “Russia had signed many agreements, but its word was not always good: one hand held a pen; the other a grenade. Yeltsin told the Poles in Warsaw last summer that Russia had no objection to Poland’s membership in NATO; he, Walesa, had a paper with Yeltsin’s signature to prove it. But Yeltsin had changed his mind. The Visegrad countries here represented, Walesa continued, kept their word; they had a Western culture. Russia did not.” Czech President Vaclav Havel immediately responded, “it was neither possible nor desirable to isolate Russia.”
The Americans kept trying to reassure Yeltsin. Quotations from President Clinton’s face-to-face conversations with Yeltsin in 1994, particularly September 27, 1994, at the White House, show Clinton “emphasizing inclusion, not exclusion …. NATO expansion is not anti-Russian; it’s not intended to be exclusive of Russia, and there is no imminent timetable…. the broader, higher goal [is] European security, unity and integration – a goal I know you share.”
But the Russians were hearing in the fall of 1994 that new Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Richard Holbrooke was speeding up NATO expansion discussions, even initiating a NATO study in November of the “how and why” of new members. Yeltsin protested with a letter to Clinton on November 29, 1994, (Document 13) that emphasized Russia’s hopes for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) as a “full-fledged all-European organization” and complained, “one completely fails to understand the reasons behind a new revitalizing of the discussion on speeding up the broadening of NATO.”
On December 1, Foreign Minister Kozyrev unexpectedly refused to sign up for the Partnership of Peace; and on December 5, Yeltsin lashed out about NATO at the Budapest summit of the CSCE, in front of a surprised Clinton: “Why are you sowing the seeds of mistrust? ... Europe is in danger of plunging into a cold peace …. History demonstrates that it is a dangerous illusion to suppose that the destinies of continents and of the world community in general can somehow be managed from one single capital.”
The dismayed Americans began to understand that Russia had concluded the U.S. was “subordinating, if not abandoning, integration [of Russia] to NATO expansion.” (See Document 17) Washington dispatched Vice President Al Gore to Moscow to patch things up, using the existing Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission’s scheduled meetings as the venue. Gore’s talking points for his meeting with Yeltsin (in the latter’s hospital room) (Document 16) and the Russian record of Gore’s meeting with Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin on December 14, 1994, (Document 14) show the Americans emphasizing there would be no rapid NATO expansion, only a gradual, deliberate process with no surprises, moving in tandem with the “closest possible understanding” between the U.S. and Russia, and no new NATO members in 1995, a year of Russian parliamentary elections.
Gore later told the Belgian prime minister that “Yeltsin was prepared to acquiesce to the basic truth that NATO would expand.” A March 1995 U.S. cable reports, “In a conversation with Yeltsin in his hospital room, the Vice President explained that the NATO-Russia relationship was analogous to the docking of the space shuttle with the Mir space station, which had to match orbits and speeds to come together. Yeltsin had agreed, but noted that in such delicate maneuvers, sudden motions could be dangerous.”
Yeltsin showed only limited acquiescence when Clinton came to Moscow in May 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of victory over Hitler in World War II. The U.S. memcon of the one-on-one meeting at the Kremlin (Document 19) features repeated Yeltsin objections: “I see nothing but humiliation for Russia if you proceed …. Why do you want to do this? We need a new structure for Pan-European security, not old ones! .... But for me to agree to the borders of NATO expanding towards those of Russia – that would constitute a betrayal on my part of the Russian people.” For his part, Clinton insisted that “gradual, steady, measured” NATO expansion would happen: “You can say you don’t want it speeded up – I’ve told you we’re not going to do that – but don’t ask us to slow down either, or we’ll just have to keep saying no.” Clinton also assured Yeltsin, “I won’t support any change that undermines Russia’s security or redivides Europe,” and urged Yeltsin to join the Partnership for Peace. At the end, the two leaders agreed that any NATO expansion would be delayed until after the 1996 Presidential elections (in both countries).
At the Clinton-Yeltsin meeting in June 1995 at Halifax, Nova Scotia (Document 20), Clinton applauded the Russian agreement finally to join PFP, and recommended more military-to-military cooperation and more Russia-NATO dialogue. The Russian leader had kind words for the American president: “I myself and the Russian leadership have no doubt about our partnership. We’ll build the partnership on the basis of our friendship, yours and mine, and we’ll do so for the sake of world peace.” Then Yeltsin reiterated, “we must stick to our position, which is that there should be no rapid expansion of NATO;” and he went on to argue, “it’s important that the OSCE be the principal mechanism for developing a new security order in Europe. NATO is a factor, too, of course, but NATO should evolve into a political organization.”
The Russian declassified documents from closed Duma hearings (Document 18) and internal memos in the 1990s (Document 25) detail the Russian objections that NATO expansion would (1) threaten Russian security, (2) undermine the idea of inclusive European security that Gorbachev and Yeltsin both sought, and (3) draw a new line across Europe. The record of early and vehement Russian objections, including Yeltsin’s multiple remonstrances to Clinton, tends to support Collins’ analysis from October 1993 and to undercut a claim in recent scholarly literature that Russian complaints about NATO expansion are more a function of today’s “memory politics” than “what really happened in 1990 and beyond.”
Today’s posting includes, in translation, one of the earliest Russian compilations of Western assurances against NATO expansion during and after the German unification discussions of 1990, put together by new Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov in January 1996, described in his subsequent memoir in 2006, and published in some detail in his 2015 book. (Document 22) Also published in English for the first time is Primakov’s summary for the head of the Duma in early 1997 about the threat of NATO expansion to Russian security interests, just prior to the NATO summit that would announce the invitations to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary to join NATO. The Primakov documents speak to the fundamental Moscow understanding of the end-of-the-Cold-War arrangements, that Germany would unify in NATO in 1990 only with the inclusion of the USSR (and then Russia) in subsequent European security structures.
The Primakov compilation of Western assurances to Gorbachev may have provided the catalyst for a forceful State Department rebuttal sent to all European posts in February 1996 (Document 23), after then-Ambassador Collins reported that a “senior Kremlin official” was complaining that NATO expansion would violate the “spirit” of the German unification treaty (just as Yeltsin had argued in his September 15, 1993, letter to Clinton). The February 23rd cable transmitted a memo written by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe John Kornblum, together with John Herbst, then at State’s office on the Newly Independent States (NIS) and a future ambassador to Ukraine, characterizing the Russian claims as “specious” and “unfounded.” This memo seems to have provided some basis for State and NATO talking points ever since in addressing Russian complaints about NATO expansion.
The Kornblum-Herbst memo focused on the Two-Plus-Four negotiations that developed the German unification treaty, arguing that the treaty only applied to the territory of the former East Germany, and provided no precedent for limits on any new NATO members. The memo inaccurately described one comment by Hans-Dietrich Genscher as “unilateral” and only applying to the former GDR, when in fact State Department and British diplomatic cables at the time (February 1990) showed Genscher specifically and repeatedly referred both to the former GDR and to Poland and Hungary as countries that might want to join NATO. But otherwise, the memo did not address the high-level assurances about Soviet security (such as “not one inch eastward”) provided to Gorbachev by a wide range of Western leaders (James Baker, Helmut Kohl, Douglas Hurd, John Major, and George H.W. Bush, among others).
The Kornblum-Herbst memo contained one confusing reference, supposedly citing the “senior Kremlin official,” to “legally binding declarations by Eastern European leaders” at the time. Neither State’s intelligence bureau nor its historian’s office could find such declarations, perhaps because the Russians were actually referring to Western leader assurances, or even to the famous Vaclav Havel speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in February 1990 calling for dissolution of both blocs (he soon changed his mind).
Today’s posting does not address the undeniable benefits to the Central and Eastern European countries of integration into NATO – although some of these were articulated by their leaders in the memcons with President Clinton in January 1994 that are published here. Nor does the posting provide any net assessment of the gains and losses to American and European security from NATO expansion. Rather, the focus of this collection of documents is simply on what Russian President Boris Yeltsin heard from the Clinton administration about NATO expansion in the first half of the 1990s, and on the repeated Russian objections that were just as repeatedly discounted by Clinton administration officials.
The National Security Archive initially compiled these declassified documents for a panel discussion on November 10, 2017, at the annual conference of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) in Chicago under the title “Who Promised What to Whom on NATO Expansion?” The panel included:
* Mark Kramer from the Davis Center at Harvard, editor of the Journal of Cold War Studies, whose 2009 Washington Quarterly article argued that the “no-NATO-expansion pledge” was a “myth”;
* Joshua R. Itkowitz Shifrinson from the Bush School at Texas A&M, whose 2016 International Security article argued the U.S. was playing a double game in 1990, leading Gorbachev to believe NATO would be subsumed in a new European security structure, while working to ensure hegemony in Europe and the maintenance of NATO;
* James Goldgeier from American University, who wrote the authoritative book on the Clinton decision on NATO expansion, Not Whether But When, and described the misleading U.S. assurances to Russian leader Boris Yeltsin in a 2016 WarOnTheRocks article;
* Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton from the National Security Archive, whose most recent book, The Last Superpower Summits: Gorbachev, Reagan, and Bush: Conversations That Ended the Cold War (CEU Press, 2016) analyzes and publishes the declassified transcripts and related documents from all of Gorbachev’s summits with U.S. presidents, including dozens of assurances about protecting the USSR’s security interests and including the Soviets in the post-Cold War European security structure.
Today’s posting is the second of two on the subject. The first part covered the Gorbachev discussions with Western leaders about NATO and the future of Europe.
Read the documents
Woerner had given a well-regarded speech in Brussels in May 1990 in which he argued: “The principal task of the next decade will be to build a new European security structure, to include the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations. The Soviet Union will have an important role to play in the construction of such a system. If you consider the current predicament of the Soviet Union, which has practically no allies left, then you can understand its justified wish not to be forced out of Europe.” Now in mid-1991, Woerner responds to the Russians by stating that he personally and the NATO Council are both against expansion—“13 out of 16 NATO members share this point of view”—and that he will speak against Poland’s and Romania’s membership in NATO to those countries’ leaders as he has already done with leaders of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Woerner emphasizes that “We should not allow […] the isolation of the USSR from the European community.” The Russian delegation warns that any strengthening or expanding of NATO could “seriously slow down democratic transformations” in Russia, and calls on their NATO interlocutors to decrease the military functions of the alliance.
This memo on the Woerner conversation was written by three prominent reformers and close allies of Yeltsin—Sergey Stepashin (chairman of the Duma’s Security Committee and future deputy minister of security and prime minister), Gen. Konstantin Kobets (future chief military inspector of Russia after he was the highest-ranking Soviet military officer to support Yeltsin during the August 1991 coup), and Gen. Dmitry Volkogonov (Yeltsin’s adviser on defense and security issues, future head of the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on POW-MIA, and prominent military historian).
This memo for Secretary of State Warren Christopher from Davis and her co-author at State’s Policy Planning shop, Stephen Flanagan, provides a detailed look at the “fast-tracker” point of view inside the Clinton administration as of early September 1993. The memo includes a specific calendar for expansion of NATO and groups of countries to be admitted, with the 2005 group even listing Russia and Ukraine. Flanagan, a Bush 41 veteran who stayed on into the Clinton administration, had already published a journal essay in 1992 floating NATO expansion ideas. Here, Davis and Flanagan argue for urgency in transforming and expanding NATO, so as to buttress “Western-oriented reformers in central and eastern Europe.” Interestingly, they say: “The challenge for NATO over the next generation – containing and coopting Russian power – is similar to one of NATO’s core purposes in the last generation – integrating Germany as a responsible leader of the trans-Atlantic community.”
According to James Goldgeier’s account in Not Whether But When, Central and East European leaders had pressed President Clinton on NATO membership as early as April 1993 at a Holocaust Museum event in Washington, but U.S. policy development really began that summer after Secretary Christopher announced there would be a NATO summit in January 1994. Here, Davis and Flanagan are optimistic that NATO expansion could be done with “Russia’s OK too” given Yeltsin’s remarks in Warsaw about the Helsinki Final Act and nations choosing their own alliances. “Clearly, if Russia reverts to totalitarianism or otherwise emerges as a threat to states in the region, NATO might stop its expansion at phase III [Romania, Albania and the Baltics]” but “here again, this need not be seen as a threat to Moscow.” Need not, but likely would be.
This letter is written soon after Yeltsin returns from Poland, where he agreed with President Lech Walesa that Poland had a right to join NATO, which was reflected in a communiqué and press conference on August 25. There is some ambiguity as to the conditions under which Yeltsin made such a statement, but Walesa told U.S. officials later that he had written documents signed by Yeltsin that confirmed his words. According to Yeltsin, however, he only expressed “understanding” as part of reaffirming his commitment to the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act, which stipulated that every country was free to make choices regarding politico-military alliances.
This Yeltsin letter to Clinton lays out Yeltsin’s strong stance against rapid expansion and his concern about NATO’s apparent path of geographical and numerical expansion rather than transformation into a political organization. Russian leaders, based on their understanding about the post-Cold War settlement in Europe, were eager to be integrated into a pan-European security system. The letter defines the Russian position clearly: “Security must be indivisible and must be based on pan-European security structure.” The letter cites the security assurances that the Russians thought they received during the negotiations on German unification: “the spirit of the treaty on the final settlement … precludes the option of expanding the NATO zone into the East.” Acknowledging legitimate security concerns of East Europeans, Yeltsin suggests that there are other options to satisfy their concerns short of joining NATO such as “official security guarantees to the East European states with an accent on ensuring sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of borders and maintenance of peace in the region.”
This briefing memo cautions, “Opening up the possibility of NATO membership would represent a significant change, and will require an approach which will need to be seen to provide strong support for reform in Russia as well as in the Central and East European states.” This publication omits a 7-page section elaborating State’s views and a 3-page section on OSD’s position in favor of Tabs C and D on “Eastern and Allied Views” and “Managing the NATO Expansion Issue with the NIS.” Tab C describes Yeltsin’s “green light” in Warsaw and the subsequent pullback by Moscow, including Yeltsin’s letter (see Document 4) and its claim that the German reunification treaty “excludes by its meaning the possibility of expansion of the NATO zone to the East.”
The memo also analyzes Yeltsin’s opposition: “Yeltsin’s entire reformist platform is based on the assumption that Russia’s relations with the West have turned a corner and Cold War antagonisms have been put aside. If this assumption were called into question, NATO expansion could damage the foundation of Yeltsin’s policies.” On the Newly Independent States (NIS), the memo notes it is “important to find ways to bolster their sense of security, too, and prevent a perception among them that they have been excluded from the new European security architecture.” The final section of the NIS Tab recommends what would become the Christopher trip to Moscow, “an ideal opportunity to engage the Russians and others on this issue, and assure them that our initiative offers enhanced security for all.”
On NATO, Collins notes that the Russians are aware that the U.S. internal debate is reaching a crucial moment about expansion and want to be assured that the door is open to Russia, not just to East Europeans. In Collins’ view, “what the Russians hope to hear from you is that NATO is not moving precipitously and that any policy NATO adopts will apply equally to them.” Their “neuralgic” attitude stems from the fear that they will “end up on the wrong side of a new division of Europe.” Therefore, Collins counsels Christopher to make sure the Russians know that the U.S. is actively promoting Russia’s "complete reintegration into the family of Western states.”
Christopher is taken to Yeltsin’s country house, Zavidovo, for a meeting that lasts only 45 minutes. Yeltsin has most likely already been briefed by Kozyrev about his conversation with the secretary of state and his assurance about PFP and not membership. Christopher starts with strong praise for Yeltsin’s handling of the constitutional crisis with the Parliament, passing on “high appreciation” and emphasizing that Clinton is “extremely supportive” of his actions. For most of the conversation they talk about the upcoming elections, which Yeltsin calls “the first free and fair election for the parliament since 1917,” and the Clinton visit to Moscow planned for January 1994.
In the last part of the conversation, which appears somewhat rushed—Christopher repeats that he does not want to take up more of Yeltsin’s time—they turn to the most sensitive issue—the expansion of NATO. Christopher tells Yeltsin that his letter on NATO expansion (see Document 4) “came at exactly the right time and it played a decisive role in President Clinton’s consideration.” As a result, according to Christopher, the decision has been made to press ahead with the Partnership for Peace, which would be open to all and without pushing some countries ahead of others. Hearing this statement as a response to his concern about expansion, Yeltsin quickly asks Christopher to confirm his impression—“Yeltsin […] asked if he understood correctly that all countries in CEE and NIS would be on equal footing and there would be a partnership and not a membership.” Christopher replies, “Yes that is the case, there would not even be an associate status.” A relieved Yeltsin exclaims, “This is a brilliant idea, it is a stroke of genius.”
Yeltsin talks enthusiastically about how this “brilliant stroke” solves all tensions between Russia and the Eastern European countries, how it ensures that Russia will not be a “second-class citizen” and will be an equal partner. He asks to convey his gratitude to Clinton. After this explosive approval, Christopher adds that the question of membership will “in due course” be considered as well, but “as a longer term eventuality.” Christopher in his memoirs portrays Yeltsin in this meeting as unfocused and recovering from the stress of drinking, immediately interrupting him calling the PFP a “stroke of genius.” In fact, the memcon shows that Yeltsin was keenly focused on the distinction and asked a pointed question to confirm his impression. No wonder the Russians later found this conversation misleading and felt betrayed when Clinton said “not whether but when.”
Clinton provides the insurance policy argument for the Partnership, saying “Russia is not a near-term threat … But if historical trends do reassert themselves, we will have organized ourselves so that we could move quickly not only to NATO membership but other security relations that can serve as a deterrent.” Havel matches Clinton’s candor, agreeing with his points, “But given sensitivities of the population here, he [Havel] said, he must emphasize that the PFP is a first step leading to full NATO membership. The President expressed full agreement.”
In response, Clinton patiently and clearly explains the U.S. position on NATO expansion—it should be seen in the context of continuing U.S. involvement in European security and an effort to create a fully integrated Europe. He hints at trade-offs if Yeltsin accepts NATO expansion—Russia would be a founding member of the post-COCOM regime, join the G-7, have a special relationship with NATO—but only if Russia “walk[s] through the doors that we open for you.” Yeltsin’s urgent priority is the upcoming elections; he confides in the U.S. president that his “position heading into 1996 elections is not exactly brilliant.” He asks the president to postpone the expansion discussion at least until after the election. Clinton is very straightforward about his own electoral pressures with the Republicans and voters in Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio pushing for NATO expansion. Yeltsin eventually agrees reluctantly to Clinton’s offer—no NATO decisions until after elections are over, only a study of expansion; but he also consents to no anti-NATO rhetoric from Russia, and that the Russians will sign the PFP before the end of May. Yeltsin needs Clinton’s support to win the 1996 elections and he sees no alternatives other than relying on the American’s assurances.
The meeting is extremely laid-back and cordial, and the two leaders find understanding on other difficult issues such as sales of reactors to Iran, North Korea, nuclear testing, START and CFE—although these understandings are mostly on U.S. terms with Clinton proposing and Yeltsin accepting. Yeltsin believes that their personal partnership is crucial to their success: “We’ll build the partnership on the basis of our friendship, yours and mine, and we’ll do so for the sake of world peace.” At one point the Russian leader even reaches out and pats Clinton on his knee.
But otherwise, the memo does not address the high-level assurances about Soviet security (such as “not one inch eastward”) provided to Gorbachev by a wide range of Western leaders (James Baker, Helmut Kohl, Douglas Hurd, John Major, and George H.W. Bush, among others). Instead, the memo digresses into a confusing consideration of alleged “legally binding declarations by Eastern European leaders” at the time. Even Vaclav Havel’s famous February 1990 speech to the U.S. Congress calling for all foreign troops to come home could hardly count as legally binding, so this will remain unclear until the underlying “reftels” are declassified.