Dear NATO: Are You Lying about Russia or Simply Incompetent?

On 14 April 2014 NATO issued a “fact sheet” titled, “Russia’s Accusations – setting the record straight.” In the course of setting the record straight, the NATO fact sheet made the following false assertion: “Russian officials claim that US and German officials promised in 1990 that NATO would not expand into Eastern and Central Europe, build military infrastructure near Russia’s borders or permanently deploy troops there.”

No such pledge was made, and no evidence to back up Russia’s claims has ever been produced.” (My emphasis.)

We know that this assertion by NATO is false, thanks to a 26 November 2009 article in Der Spiegel that claimed: “On Feb. 10, 1990, between 4 and 6:30 p.m., [German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich] Genscher spoke with [Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard] Shevardnadze. And, according to the German record of the conversation, which was only recently declassified, Genscher said: ‘We are aware that NATO membership for a unified Germany raises complicated questions. For us, however, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east.’ And because the conversation revolved mainly around East Germany, Genscher added explicitly: ‘As far as the non-expansion of NATO is concerned, this also applies in general.’”

Mr. Genscher’s assurance to Shevardnadze was similar to one made earlier to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. Mr. Gorbachev knows that such a pledge was made – and so does the former American ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock.

Thus, this egregious error in the NATO fact sheet suggests either a lie or incompetent research. A deliberate lie seems more probable, given that the NATO fact sheet immediately thereafter used weasel words to deflect attention from the lie.

Here are the weasel words: “Should such a promise have been made by NATO as such, it would have to have been as a formal, written decision by all NATO Allies. Furthermore, the consideration of enlarging NATO came years after German reunification. This issue was not yet on the agenda when Russia claims these promises were made.”

Really?

First, nobody accused NATO of making such a promise. Second, senior U.S. and German officials would have had every right to make such a promise without ever needing to place it on NATO’s agenda. The U.S. is sufficiently powerful to enforce such a promise unilaterally. Third, such attempts by the author(s) of the fact sheet to insert NATO into this discussion suggest that somebody has forgotten that NATO actually is subordinate to the political leaders of the member states – especially the President of the United States.

In addition, the author(s) of the fact sheet were less than scrupulous when presenting facts that supposedly refute Russia’s charge of illegitimate behavior by NATO in its Kosovo war in 1999 and the bombing of Libya in 2011.

In fact, an independent examination, titled “Short War, Long Shadow: The Political and Military Legacies of the 2011 Libya Campaign” (by the Royal United Services Institute), destroys the fact sheet with its sweeping condemnation, not only of the West’s (and NATO’s) conduct in Kosovo and Libya, but also in Bosnia in 1995 and Iraq in 2003.

In his chapter titled, “The Responsibility to Protect: A Chance Missed,” Jonathan Eyal concluded that “those who criticize NATO and Western governments for going beyond their [UN Security Council] mandate [in Libya] do have a point. NATO went to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties and, overall, succeeded admirably in this objective. NATO’s operation also save many lives, but an operation which was justified in purely humanitarian terms was ultimately stretched to achieving an eminently political objective: the removal of a government and its replacement by the rebels.”

One of America’s most respected Russia scholars, Stephen Cohen, claims that President Obama deceived Russia’s Vladimir Putin about the nature of the intended operation in Libya, which is why Putin refuses to trust him today. Putin admitted as much on 17 April 2014. (Clearly, Obama knows very little about Russia.) But, regardless of the source of the deception, had Russia not been deceived, it certainly would have vetoed UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

Mr. Eyal adds, “Probably the most evident departure from the spirit of Resolution 1973—was the decision of the Western powers to allow the supply of weapons and training to the Libyan rebels.”

But Mr. Eyal makes a more compelling point, one that blows parts of the NATO fact sheet out the water. “All of the errors [in the Libya campaign] outlined above would not have been major, had they been perpetrated in isolation, or had they been confined to the Libya episode alone. Unfortunately, however, the handling of the legal framework for the Libya operation mirrors Western behavior in previous interventions, from the Bosnia operation in 1995, to the Kosovo war in 1999 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In every one of these occasions:

–A handful of Western governments used a UN Security Council resolution that lacked full backing, supposedly on behalf of the ‘international community’

–In every single case, the aim was to persuade Russia to abstain, rather than veto the resolution, on the calculation that, once this was accomplished, China would be too embarrassed to be in a minority of one to torpedo the same resolution

–At every stage, this was accomplished by fudging the real extent of the operation being contemplated

–The scope of the operation then grew and was invariably translated into ‘regime change’

–Weapons were provided to local combatants, in violation of existing provisions

–Resolutions were reinterpreted unilaterally, to suit whatever purposes were required

–And, in every single case, once a resolution passed in the UN, Western governments precluded any further debate over its interpretation and application.”

In a word, broken promises to Russia by the West and NATO have been compounded repeatedly by insincerity, duplicity and dishonesty. And, yet, the ignoramuses who pollute American politics, the media, and our think tanks heap scorn on Russia, as if none of this has occurred.

But, notwithstanding all of the above, the most dishonest section of the fact sheet is the part that defends the so-called legitimacy of the provisional government in Kiev. Although the fact sheet contains a few weasel words about a legitimate Ukrainian parliament legitimately electing a new president and government, it remains inexcusably silent about the events leading up to that action.

The fact sheet doesn’t mention that President Viktor Yanukovych was legally elected to a five-year term in 2010. It doesn’t mention that, on the very day that the famously corrupt Yanukovych decided to scrap plans to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, Hromadske. TV commenced live broadcasts that featured a pro-American reporter calling for students and youth to gather at Independence Square to protest Yanukovych’s decision.

The fact sheet doesn’t mention that Hromadske. TV was the brainchild of America’s Ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, and that it “would prove essential to building the Euromaidan street demonstrations against Yanukovych.”1

Neither did the fact sheet mention, as did Russia scholar John Quigley, that “Victoria Nuland, who serves as U.S. deputy secretary of state for European affairs, stepped over a line usually observed by foreign powers when she went into the streets of Kiev in December. There, Nuland demonstratively aligned herself with the protesters and in favor of Ukraine’s affiliation with the EU. According to a recently leaked audiotape of a conversation that she had with the U.S. ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, Nuland also evidently has been strategizing on ways to alter the composition of the Ukraine government. Diplomats and foreign officials are accustomed to avoiding involvement in domestic politics. Diplomatic and consular personnel risk being declared persona non grata for such activity.”

According to Stephen Cohen, neo-con Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt were plotting the overthrow of Yanukovych’s government. And Professor Cohen made another important observation: “One last point, also something that nobody in this country wants to talk about: The Western authorities, who bear some responsibility for what’s happened, and who therefore also have blood on their hands, are taking no responsibility. They’re uttering utterly banal statements, which, because of their vacuous nature, are encouraging and rationalizing the people in Ukraine who are throwing Molotov cocktails, now have weapons, are shooting at police. We wouldn’t permit that in any Western capital, no matter how righteous the cause, but it’s being condoned by the European Union and Washington as events unfold.”

The fact sheet says nothing about the violence perpetrated by right wing members of Svoboda and Pravy Sektor. But sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko, a respected expert on civil disturbances in Ukraine, believes that the far right hijacked the protest.

(Jacob W. Kipp, a world-renowned expert on Russia’s military, recently reminded me that leaders from both organizations fought against Russians in both Chechen Wars.)

The fact sheet says nothing about the sniper fire on 20 February, which commenced while Yanukovych was meeting with the opposition and EU mediators from France, Germany and Poland. Although many observers initially assumed that the snipers were Yanukovych’s men, witnesses have testified that much of the sniper fire came from Kiev’s Philharmonic Hall and the heavily guarded Hotel Ukraine. Both were under the control of the protesters that day. In fact, protesters had seized an Interior Ministry armory in Lviv the previous evening and transported those weapons to Kiev.

The fact sheet says nothing about “the European Union-mediated deal reached on Friday, [21 February 2014] in which opposition leaders Vitaly Klitschko, Arseny Yatsenyuk and Oleh Tyahnybok and President Viktor Yanukovych agreed to refrain from using violence, while anti-government protesters had to unblock roads and squares, hand over illegal weapons and vacate the public buildings they had been occupying for months.”

“In return for the protesters backing down, presidential elections were set to be held in December and reforms were to be made restricting Yanukovych’s powers.”

“Those terms were not enough for some protesters, however, who demanded that Yanukovych step down immediately. By Saturday, law enforcement and government officials had apparently fled and protesters seized not only government buildings, but also Yanukovych’s lavish residence.”2

Thus, neither the EU mediators nor the opposition leaders had the courage to rein in the fascist and neo-Nazis who rejected the deal and precipitated a coup. And neither the EU mediators nor the opposition leaders had the decency to insist that the agreement reached on February 21st be honored.

Such is the “legitimate” regime that the NATO fact sheet defends with its incompetent half-truths and lies.

  1. Meet the Americans Who Put Together the Coup in Kiev,” by Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News, 25 March 2014. []
  2. Moscow Times, February 24, 2014, “Russia: Don’t Trust Ukraine’s Opposition,” by Natalya Krainova. []

Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including Dissident Voice, The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). He can be reached at: waltuhler@aol.com. Read other articles by Walter C., or visit Walter C.'s website.