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During the recent 2022 conflict in Ukraine and the diplomatic talks preceding it, the Russian government kept saying that there were promises made by the US and the west that NATO would not expand eastward, although it was never written down.

Even this recent video at 3:58 mentions memos and meeting minutes from US archives that say that such an agreement did occur.

So is there any written proof from these archives which can be linked here (other than simply quotes from government officials from the time)?

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    It's a bit complicated. There's a two part series on nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/russia-programs/2017-12-12/… ; nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/russia-programs/2018-03-16/… Most Western diplomats/sources say the Russians overinterpreted those assurances. Mar 9, 2022 at 1:41
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    I’m voting to close this question because this is a History question and is answered on History.se: history.stackexchange.com/q/43781/29495
    – divibisan
    Mar 9, 2022 at 2:24
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    "it was never written down" "is there any written proof" I'm a bit confused. How do the two statements come together. If it never was written down, how can there be written proof? Mar 9, 2022 at 9:14
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    TBH I think I'm going to VTC this again. Because it's ultimately not clear what difference you see between "memos and meeting minutes" but that would be "other than simply quotes from government officials". Meeting minutes are by def a recording of the latter. Given how sensitive this topic is (to others here who DV answers, less so to me personally), a clear Q is needed before answers. Aug 31, 2022 at 21:33
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    I'm going to VTC. The question ultimately answers itself. There was no written and signed agreement. NATO contends that as there was no such agreement, it is not obligated to confirm to verbally expressed comments or promises.
    – MishaP
    Sep 1, 2022 at 13:04

3 Answers 3

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This is highly controversial. You will find retired officials on both sides in support of both the 'yes' and 'no' positions.

  • Germany acknowledges a promise not to allow NATO allies into the eastern German states, which they haven't. At the time this promise was made, the Baltic states were part of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact still existed.
  • Russia claims that an informal promise was made at the same time that should countries leave the WP and should the Soviet Union break up, there would be no expansion, either.
  • Afterwards, Russia signed agreements which accepted the expansion.
  • NATO and Russia agreed that there would be no major combat formations based permanently in the East. For this reason, the Enhanced Forward Presence rotates every few months.
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    So there is no obvious proof like something written or officially declared? Mar 9, 2022 at 7:03
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    @Trilarion, There were written assurances regarding East Germany which became a treaty and oral statements during the negotiations which didn't make it into the final declarations. An unwritten clarification, as Russia says, or a proposal which didn't make it into the text? Imagine negotiations between the EU and US which say 'Texas shall never join the EU.' That could almost be seen as an implicit recognition of Texan independence, don't you think? So Washington would never sign that.
    – o.m.
    Mar 9, 2022 at 11:21
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    Writes "The Act has no impact on NATO enlargement". But anyway I remove the downvote, who wants can just read that document now
    – Stančikas
    Aug 28, 2022 at 7:29
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    @Stančikas, it was a written promise towards Russia, and those things tend to get mixed by people who make a point. My bullet points are related, NATO did make promises regarding troops in the East, but that should not be conflated with the breakup of the WP and Soviet Union. Just consider how absurd it would sound today if the US wrote into some international treaty that Texas may not join the belt and road initiative.
    – o.m.
    Aug 28, 2022 at 8:56
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    @o.m. failure to adhere to written promises is more than just reputation loss. Insurance contracts can be drawn based on promises in treaties. If the treaties are not followed, this can result in legally-enforceable insurance claims, or similar enforcement of derivative contractual obligations. No such contracts can be derived from voiced opinions (which do not covenant anything).
    – wrod
    Sep 1, 2022 at 22:26
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At least acording to a document that was shortly published in german "Der Spiegel" such promis to not extend NATO was made. It can be read in this article. The document shows US, UK, French, and German officials discussing a pledge made to Moscow that NATO would not expand to Poland and beyond.

The picture of that document:

enter image description here

Some quotes of important statements which were made during that miting:

"We made it clear to the Soviet Union - in the 2+4 talks, as well as in other negotiations - that we do not intend to benefit from the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe," the document quotes US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Canada Raymond Seitz.

"NATO should not expand to the east, either officially or unofficially," Seitz added.

A British representative also mentions the existence of a "general agreement" that membership of NATO for eastern European countries is "unacceptable."

"We had made it clear during the 2+4 negotiations that we would not extend NATO beyond the Elbe [sic]," said West German diplomat Juergen Hrobog. "We could not therefore offer Poland and others membership in NATO."

Also this article mentions some important facts.

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    That does not show that a promise was made, just that it was discussed in a meeting. Not to mention that meeting was with the Soviet Union and not Russia. It should also be noted that Russia agreed as party of a treaty they singed for turning over nuclear weapons and it is clear that they broke that agreement.
    – Joe W
    Aug 30, 2022 at 18:02
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    Interesting how these useful reporters publish these documents just days before their feeder prepares to invade another country. Aug 30, 2022 at 18:31
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    @JoeW ""We had made it clear during the 2+4 negotiations that we would not extend NATO beyond the Elbe [sic]," said West German diplomat Juergen Hrobog. <--- you don't consider this a promise?
    – Allure
    Aug 31, 2022 at 1:51
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    @Allure Not really when it is a small bit of text from a single source that doesn't include any details of what took place in those talks. Just because you say something during talks doesn't mean you are making a promise of doing anything.
    – Joe W
    Aug 31, 2022 at 2:18
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    @Joe W for some people a handshake is a deal. Some need signed papers. And some hire lawyers to get out of signed deals. All comes down to what kind of person you are.
    – anm767
    Sep 1, 2022 at 0:08
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From the article NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard that is also cited in another answer looks like M.Gorbachev have heard some phrases that might be interpreted as having an option to agree on not expanding NATO, but were not such promises by itself. These are the phrases like:

  • NATO should rule out an ‘expansion of its territory towards the east, i.e. moving it closer to the Soviet borders.’
  • 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.
  • well it is important to have guarantees
  • We must find ways to give the Soviet Union confidence that its security would be assured
  • Certainly any extension of the zone of NATO would be unacceptable.’
  • NATO expansion is unacceptable (not a promise, still)
  • would you prefer a unified Germany to be tied to NATO, with assurances that NATO’s jurisdiction would not shift one inch eastward from its present position?

and, from the screenshot of another answer:

  • We had made it clear during the 2+4 negotiations that we would not extend NATO beyond the Elbe

Here there is more to say. In 1991 Germany signed the agreement not to allow foreign military bases and nuclear weapons into the former Eastern Germany. This agreement is followed but it does not apply to Nato expansion outside this territory, and does not disallow dislocation of the own German military forces there or also further into the East. There is a known fake that it does, going as far as Germany would not be allowed to have the own army at all, but the agreement only restricts the size of the army that is currently well below that limit. Looks like some additional agreement with more restrictions have been discussed but even the originators of the fake admit, not signed.

These English constructs do not mean that the promise is being given. They say that something needs to happen or would happen under some circumstances that may or may not come true. They do not say this "something" has happened already in the past.

It should have been at least professional English translators, leave alone lawyers on the Russian side to understand that no promise is being given with such a sentences. They should have asked for the clearly worded and signed document. If such was refused, the should have thought about, why. Hence I am sure Russia has been fully aware they have no promise. Selling the used bicycle can be solved with handshake but not the fate of multiple nations, consisting of millions of people.

This also does not need to be not a honest behavior. It may be that the requirement to for an agreement not to extend NATO has been dropped because of Russia receiving something else in exchange like multi billion gas purchases, for instance, or elimination of some nuclear weapons on American side. It may be many items on the table of the negotiations, some just return back to the portfolio where they were pulled from without making into signed agreements.

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    Russia also agreed to support Ukrainian security as part of a deal to turn over nuclear weapons but we see how well that worked out. With all the opposition to Ukraine joining NATO it wasn't going to happen anytime soon. Now that it has been invaded it is much more likely once the invasion is over.
    – Joe W
    Feb 2, 2023 at 13:53

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