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The United States Promised Yeltsin Not to Expand NATO Without Consulting Russia


The United States Promised Yeltsin Not to Expand NATO Without Consulting Russia

This became known from a declassified archival document published on the website of the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

“Yeltsin and his foreign minister in 1997, Yevgeny Primakov, provided the Americans neither the “grudging endorsement” of NATO expansion that the U.S. hoped for nor even the “acquiescence” that subsequent American memoirs claimed. Rather, as Yeltsin told Clinton personally at Helsinki in March 1997: “Our position has not changed. It remains a mistake for NATO to move eastward. But I need to take steps to alleviate the negative consequences of this for Russia. I am prepared to enter into an agreement with NATO, not because I want to but because it is a forced step. There is no other solution for today.”

NATO-Russia charter 1997 was “forced step,” said Yeltsin

Partnership for Peace alternative, which included Russia and Ukraine, only a holding pattern

NATO enlargement waited for Clinton and Yeltsin re-elections 1996

Clinton’s parallel tracks of NATO enlargement and Russia engagement depended on Yeltsin personally, often collided, often won cooperation

Washington, D.C., July 9, 2024 – Hailed at the time as an historic change “burying” a Cold War rivalry, the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 was privately characterized as a “forced step” by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who told U.S. President Bill Clinton that he opposed NATO expansion but saw no alternative to signing the accord. Yeltsin’s blunt admission is one of several revelations from a new set of declassified documents published today by the National Security Archive to mark the NATO 75th Anniversary Summit in Washington.

The documents show that the Clinton administration’s policy in the 1990s emphasizing two tracks of both NATO enlargement and Russian engagement often collided, leaving lasting scars on Yeltsin, who constantly sought what he called partnership with the U.S. But as early as fall 1994, according to the documents, the Partnership for Peace alternative security structure for Europe, which included both Russia and Ukraine, was de-emphasized by U.S. policymakers, who only delayed NATO enlargement until both Clinton and Yeltsin could get through their re-elections in 1996.

Yeltsin and his foreign minister in 1997, Yevgeny Primakov, provided the Americans neither the “grudging endorsement” of NATO expansion that the U.S. hoped for nor even the “acquiescence” that subsequent American memoirs claimed. Rather, as Yeltsin told Clinton personally at Helsinki in March 1997: “Our position has not changed. It remains a mistake for NATO to move eastward. But I need to take steps to alleviate the negative consequences of this for Russia. I am prepared to enter into an agreement with NATO, not because I want to but because it is a forced step. There is no other solution for today.”

The newly declassified documents also show that Yeltsin and his top officials continued to cooperate with NATO on more flexible arrangements under the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty (CFE) even while NATO was bombing Belgrade during the Kosovo crisis of March-April 1999.

These newly published records come from the Clinton Presidential Library and are the result of Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests filed by the Archive and other researchers and a successful Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by the Archive against the State Department to open the files of Strobe Talbott, who was a top adviser on Russian affairs (1992-1993) and Deputy Secretary of State (1994-2001) during the Clinton administration.

The documents include internal National Security Council memos read and annotated by President Clinton, never-before-published notes from Vice President Al Gore’s dramatic face-to-face session with Yeltsin in his hospital suite in December 1994 (the “spaceships docking” conversation), Talbott’s detailed “framework” memos from 1996, including direct quotes from Primakov and his deputy Yuri Mamedov, a candid British assessment from 2000 of Moscow’s attitudes towards NATO enlargement, and Talbott’s conclusion that a second wave of NATO expansion would actually be easier under Vladimir Putin.

For thousands of additional declassified documents covering U.S.-Russian relations in the 1990s, see the new reference collection in the Digital National Security Archive series published by ProQuest and edited by Svetlana Savranskaya, U.S.-Russia Relations: From the Fall of the Soviet Union to the Rise of Putin, 1991-2000These documents provide essential historical context on the primary challenges facing NATO today: addressing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and working out new European security arrangements that would help to prevent such conflicts in the future.

This research was supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


doc 1

Document 1

Source: Clinton Presidential Library. Mandatory Review 2016-0118-M1

The Secretary General of NATO visits Washington on March 1-3, 1993, early in the Clinton administration, and meets with President Clinton, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and Secretary of State Warren Christopher. This cable summarizing the Christopher-Woerner conversation is declassified in full and gives good insight into the topics that Woerner discussed with the President and the National Security Adviser. The NATO SYG had three major items on the agenda: calling a NATO summit for the fall of 1993, strengthening NATO outreach to East Europeans, and asking for more money from the United States for NATO infrastructure and travel funds for North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) members.

Woerner reminded Christopher that President George H. W. Bush used a NATO summit in May 1989 to establish his leadership and that it would be good for the Clinton administration to hold a NATO summit to “determine the course of NATO’s development.” The main idea behind the need for the NATO summit is the future security arrangements in Europe at a time when many people questioned the rationale for NATO’s existence after the Cold War. Woerner encourages Christopher to look more closely at the East European countries and to think about how to integrate them into European security structures. This cable is one of the first documents from the Clinton administration that explicitly raises the issue of NATO expansion: “Woerner urged the Secretary to start considering possible timeframes, candidates and criteria for membership expansion.” He says that East European leaders are less concerned about the military threat from Russia and rather hope that “NATO membership can help stave off the return of authoritarian forces” in their own countries.

Woerner is pessimistic about CSCE and thinks that it would not survive. In his telling, East European leaders “had more trust in NATO than CSCE, since NATO is an organization with power.” To integrate Eastern Europe, Woerner believes the U.S should provide more funding for travel and per diem for visits from NACC representatives and other outreach and cooperative activities.

What is strangely not mentioned in this conversation is Woerner’s and other NATO representatives’ very active interaction and cooperation with Russian representatives throughout 1992 and Woerner’s assurances to his Russian counterparts regarding NATO’s sensitivities about Russian security concerns (see previously published documents: Document 1, in “NATO Expansion: What Yeltsin Heard,” and Document 1 in “The Short-Lived NATO-Russia Honeymoon”) regarding possible NATO expansion.


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Document 2

Source: Clinton Presidential Library, Mandatory Review 2015-0772-M

The White House staff secretary (Podesta) and his deputy (Stern) in the first Clinton term worked to bring order to the paper flow to and from President Clinton. Here the pair summarize key memoranda from National Security Adviser Anthony Lake (one of which is included here) that crystallize the policy debate in the fall of 1993 between those favoring rapid NATO expansion (such as Undersecretary of State Lynn Davis and her top aide Stephen Flanagan) and those proposing a go-slow policy that would include Russia (and Ukraine) in new cooperative arrangements led by the Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs head Gen. John Shalikashvili. (See Documents 2 and 3 in “NATO Expansion: What Yeltsin Heard.”)

The debate results in a compromise by the NSC Principals Committee: on the one hand, a NATO statement of principle that NATO will expand (but without specific criteria or a timetable), and on the other hand, a “Partnership for Peace” that would engage all of the “new and aspiring democracies in Europe’s east” in an “evolutionary movement” towards full NATO membership. The core reasoning, according to Lake’s memo: “All your advisers agree that doing anything at this stage to indicate that NATO’s border will move closer to Russia and Ukraine without at the same time including those two states would have major negative consequences within both. That could, inter alia, make the Central Europeans less secure.”

President Clinton approved this memo with a handwritten “OK.” When Secretary of State Warren Christopher briefed Russian president Boris Yeltsin on the Partnership for Peace a week later, Yeltsin called it “genius,” thinking that the Partnership was instead of expansion, while the Americans considered it a precursor. (See Document 8 in “NATO Expansion: What Yeltsin Heard” for the actual U.S. memcon in which Christopher misleadingly says new NATO members would be “a longer term eventuality.”)


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Document 3

Source: Clinton Presidential Library, Mandatory Review 2015-0772-M

Almost exactly a year after the Principals agreed to the October 1993 compromise, this policy paper from the NSC staff, led by Anthony Lake and addressed to the Principals, shows that the NATO expanders are now in charge of U.S. policy, not the Defense Department proponents of the Partnership for Peace. The title of the paper, “Moving Toward NATO Expansion,” belies the subsequent rhetoric about an “integrated and inclusive security system for Europe.” This paper contains perhaps the clearest statement of the “Insurance Policy” rationale for NATO expansion, also known as the “strategic hedge.” This memo says this “(i.e. neo-containment of Russia) will be kept in the background only, rarely articulated. On the contrary, the possibility of membership in the long term for a democratic Russia should not be ruled out explicitly, as the President and Yeltsin agreed (pace Volker Ruhe)” (referring to the German defense minister who publicly ruled it out). At the same time, the memo anticipates “earliest explicit NATO decision on new members to be taken no sooner than first half of second Clinton term” – in other words, after both Yeltsin and Clinton have been re-elected. Not said but implicit here is that to make such explicit statements before then would have highly negative effects on Russian politics. The document also mentions the parallel track policy wherein NATO (and the U.S.) expand their relationships with Russia, “implicitly foreshadowing ‘alliance with the Alliance’ as alternative to membership track” for Russia.


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Document 4

Source: Department of State, National Security Archive Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit

This detailed readout of the dramatic hospital conversation between an ailing but recovering Yeltsin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore provides a kind of memcon of the talks and was apparently written up by Strobe Talbott from his debriefing of Gore on Air Force Two upon leaving Moscow. Gore went to Moscow as part of his joint commission with the Russian the prime minister, Victor Chernomyrdin, but also, and most importantly, to mend fences with Yeltsin after the Budapest “blow up” at the beginning of December. Yeltsin, at Budapest and in front of Clinton, accused the U.S. President of creating a “cold peace” by speeding up NATO expansion. Budapest was where the two tracks of Clinton’s policy, NATO enlargement and Russia engagement, collided. (See the detailed discussion in “NATO Expansion – The Budapest Blow Up”) Gore wanted to reassure Yeltsin that the communiqué from NATO that Yeltsin heard as breaking Clinton’s promises actually did not represent a change and that no expansion would take place before Russian Duma elections in 1995 and Russian presidential elections in 1996. The metaphor Gore uses for the US-Russia and NATO-Russia relationships, of two spaceships carefully docking and proceeding on parallel tracks, resonates with Yeltsin, invoking Russian prowess in space, Russian parity and cooperation with the U.S.


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Document 5

Source: Clinton Presidential Library, Mandatory Review 2015-0772-M

This briefing memo for Clinton tees up Vice President Gore’s debriefing on his trip to Moscow and his hospital conversation with Yeltsin. At the top right is the marking “President Has Seen.” The memo summarizes Gore’s conclusion that Yeltsin had simply “misunderstood” the NATO announcements about studying expansion in 1995, and that discussions with the Russians “could extend beyond your first term in office.” No memcon for the discussion apparently exists, and two very different versions of this meeting appear in the memoirs.

Strobe Talbott in The Russia Hand (p. 146) renders the discussion as a consensus with everyone concurring on no NATO expansion before Yeltsin’s re-election challenge in 1996, just as Clinton had promised. Talbott describes Secretary of Defense Bill Perry arguing for that delay and for giving the Partnership for Peace “at least a year” before any final decision on expansion took place. Perry’s own account in My Journey at the Nuclear Brink presents the discussion very differently, with the Defense Secretary arguing for much more than a year’s delay, more like a decade, before any NATO expansion, because the importance of controlling nuclear risk – jointly with the Russians – was an existential challenge, far more important than a form of European integration that would exclude Russia. Perry writes that this was the meeting where he realized the train had left the station, that the President and the Vice President had decided to pursue NATO expansion rather than the Partnership for Peace as soon as they and Yeltsin got through the 1996 elections. Perry apparently even considered resigning after this meeting.


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Document 6

Source: Clinton Presidential Library, Mandatory Review 2015-0772-M

Just a day after the White House debriefing of Vice President Gore, the NSC staff group driving the NATO expansion policy produces this new version of their key policy document. Reflecting the ongoing ripples from the Budapest blow-up, Vershbow, et al. change their title from “Moving Toward NATO Expansion” to the more inclusive notion of “Building Europe’s New Security Architecture.” Yet much of the content is the same, just with more detail and more attention to the Russia issue.

Toned down somewhat is the “insurance policy” bullet point, this time just saying the “hedge” against Russia “should not be emphasized in public diplomacy, with focus instead on goal of building inclusive European security architecture in which a democratic Russia will be a major partner.” The paper drafts talking points for Secretary of State Christopher to use with the Russian foreign minister in their upcoming meeting, emphasizing “sensitivity to Russian elections in 1995-96” while rejecting any “joint decision-making about NATO expansion.” The paper shows the more confident U.S. approach after Gore’s reassurance of Yeltsin, here recommending that the U.S. “insist on end to public charges from Russians. As long as Russians do likewise, avoid use of challenging public language (e.g. no Russian veto), but be careful not to allow Russians to confuse serious dialogue with right of joint decisions or veto.” [italics in original]


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Document 7

Source: Clinton Presidential Library, Mandatory Review 2015-0772-M

Featuring a thick black checkmark (Clinton was left-handed) and scrawled notes from Clinton, this memo from the national security adviser gives the President some bad news: “hardening Russian opposition to NATO enlargement, unease among some West Europeans and still-uncertain Congressional support pose a challenge to our policy.” Clinton wrote the next day, “I think we need to discuss how the Europeans feel [underlined] about this and what they are likely to do.”

The timing here is important. Two months earlier, Clinton had attended Victory Day (May 9) in Moscow, commemorating the Soviet victory over Hitler, as a personal favor to Yeltsin, only to hear the Russian president yell at him that NATO expansion represents “nothing but humiliation for Russia.” Clinton promised Yeltsin again that no action on NATO expansion would happen in 1995 or 1996. Here, Lake tries to present the forthcoming study on the “how and why” of NATO expansion” as one that “should reassure the Russians on stationing of nuclear and major conventional forces on new members’ territory. NATO reserves the right to do so but sees no reason to undertake such deployments at present, particularly with respect to its nuclear posture.”

But the memo goes on to describe in detail the “hardening” opposition among Russia’s elites: “Russian opposition to NATO enlargement is unlikely to yield in the near or medium term to some kind of grudging endorsement; Russia’s opposition is deep and profound. For the period ahead, the Russian leadership will do its level best to derail our policy, given its conviction that any eastward expansion of NATO is at root antithetical to Russia’s long-term interests.” The best the U.S. can do, Lake concludes, is just to achieve a “muted reaction in a context of broader cooperation.”


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Document 8

Source: Clinton Presidential Library, Mandatory Review 2015-0772-M

This briefing memo from NSC staff to the national security adviser prepares him for his upcoming sit-down with NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, who it says is “doing an outstanding job, fully vindicating our decision to support him for the post.” The timing is exactly between the first and second rounds of the Russian presidential elections, where Yeltsin edged his Communist challenger in the first round, co-opted the third place finisher, General Lebed, with a job chairing the Russian security council, and seemed poised to win the second round outright.

The key assessment comes in the section titled “NATO Enlargement,” where the author suggests that Solana could help “get discussions going with the Russians on building a NATO-Russia relationship. With Yeltsin newly re-elected, Lebed not opposed, and Primakov appearing increasingly disposed to discuss the terms rather than the fact of enlargement, the Russians may be more receptive.” That comment presages several months of intensive work on the U.S. side, led by Strobe Talbott engaging with the Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov and his deputy, Yuri Mamedov, to work out the “terms” that would ultimately lead, in May 1997, to the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act.


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Document 9

Source: State Department, National Security Archive Freedom of Information Lawsuit

After Yeltsin was re-elected in the second round of voting in early July 1996, the Clinton administration launched an active process of consideration of NATO expansion while trying to keep its relationship with Russia from going into a drastic decline. In July and August 1996, the State Department went through many versions of a draft document on the future of NATO-Russia relations in the context of the coming NATO expansion and in preparation for negotiations with Russia. Along the way, the more explicit “NATO enlargement” terminology was changed to “European Security structures,” which was more palatable to Russia.

This concise memo from Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs John Kornblum outlines the key dimensions of the relationship and the foundational principles of NATO-Russia negotiations. Kornblum starts by describing Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s strategy as consisting of two elements: efforts “to delay – or even prevent – NATO enlargement” and “simultaneously establishing the NATO-Russia dialog.” He mentions Primakov’s proposed “eight areas of exploration,” of which the most important are the Russian desire to “prevent the movement of NATO ‘infrastructure’ (especially nuclear weapons) onto the territory of new allies,” drawing red lines around the Baltics and Ukraine and the need to “establish some sort of binding mechanism for Russia to influence NATO and European decision making.” Kornblum warns that these stipulations should not be seen as the Russian price for agreeing to NATO expansion.

Instead, the United States should outline a clear foundation for a dialog with Russia with the goals of “the most cooperative possible security relationship with Russia,” where Russia will be “integrated in a new sort of European security community” so that “Russia’s voice [would] be heard in European security councils.” He lists all previous U.S.-Russian understandings and joint statements that would constitute the foundation for Russia-NATO negotiations with the goal “to find the widest possible consensus with the Russians on the outlines of new security structures in Europe,” not just NATO enlargement.

The key issues in preparation of this work program “will be handled between Deputy Secretary Talbott and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov.”


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Document 10

Source: State Department, National Security Archive Freedom of Information Lawsuit

This 30-page memorandum drafted by Strobe Talbott pulls together all the key issues in the current negotiations between Russia and the United States on NATO expansion and European security structures in preparations for a new round of Talbott-Mamedov talks. Scheduled to start at the end of August, the talks are expected to lead to a NATO ministerial scheduled for December 1996 in Brussels that would set a date for a NATO summit in 1997, at which NATO would extend invitations to the first prospective new members and sign documents with Russia on the deepening of NATO-Russia relationship.

The document outlines in detail the U.S. and Russian positions, emphasizing key issues, concerns and red lines, and areas open for compromise. The document is supported with extensive quotes from all the actors involved, including a “completely private paper” that NATO SYG Javier Solana sent to Talbott on July 11, 1996. Talbott incorporates language from earlier drafts prepared by State Department experts and from memcons of his and Christopher’s meetings with Russian officials, mainly Primakov and Mamedov. He outlines the “eight areas of exploration” proposed by Primakov and U.S. positions on all these areas, most importantly the issue of NATO infrastructure moving closer to the Russian borders and the issue of Russian consultation with NATO, warning that it should never give Russia a veto over NATO decisions.


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Document 11

Source: State Department, National Security Archive Freedom of Information Lawsuit

This is a draft response from Talbott to the letter Kennan sent to him on January 31 expressing his opposition to NATO expansion.[1] In the letter, Kennan calls the decision to expand NATO “the greatest mistake of Western policy in the entire post-Cold War era,” which, in his view, would undermine the building of Russian democracy and lead to the rise of nationalistic forces.

In response, after profoundly thanking Kennan for his wisdom and contribution to U.S. foreign policy for many years, Talbott explains President Clinton’s thinking about NATO and his efforts to assure Russia that the newly transformed NATO would not be a security threat to Russian interests. Drawing on examples from the 19th century, Talbott notes that alliances are not just directed at defending against an enemy, but that they also have important political functions, including to “manage relations between their member states and restrain and control the policies of alliance members themselves.” In this sense, the enlarged NATO would enhance stability and security in Europe and provide support for the democratic development of new members, but would also be ready to defend if danger arises. As Talbott summarizes it, “The essence of strategy as I see it is to prepare for the worst while trying to bring about the best.”

Addressing the concern about the negative reaction in Russia, Talbott says that [the President] continues to believe that the arguments in favor of enlargement were sufficiently compelling to outweigh the negative of opposition in Russia (including, as you say, on the part of most Russian reformers and democrats).”


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Document 12

Source: State Department, National Security Archive Freedom of Information Lawsuit

Veteran foreign service officer Dennis Ross, who had extensive experience negotiating the end of the Cold War as Baker’s top assistant and who developed a close relationship with Eduard Shevardnadze’s top aid, Tarasenko, writes a memo to Talbott just as the U.S. and Russia enter an intense stage of negotiations on the wording of the NATO-Russia Charter and on the future of NATO-Russia cooperation. In his astute and empathetic analysis, Ross vividly explains how the Russians feel about NATO expansion, especially given their experience with assurances given by the West during the process of German unification in 1990 and 1991. Viewed through Russian eyes, Ross says, NATO expansion “tends to confirm the imagery that they lost the Cold War, their status as a great power is collapsing, they continue to be humiliated, and worse, they will face potential threats closer to their borders.” Bringing up the historical context, Ross bluntly says that the Russians “feel they were snookered at the time of German unification. As you noted with me, Baker’s promises on not extending NATO military presence into what was East Germany were part of a perceived commitment not to expand the Alliance eastward.” Ross adds that “the 1991 promise to transform NATO from a military alliance into a political alliance was part of a Soviet explanation for accepting unified Germany in NATO” (Talbott put a question mark next to this passage). As a result, he writes, the Russians want more formal and more well-defined promises “of a binding and precise character.”

While outlining the Russian position on NATO expansion, Ross concludes that the “worst outcome for Yeltsin is NATO enlargement and no Russian-NATO deal. Nothing could further demonstrate Russian weakness and irrelevance.” This reality gives the United States certain leverage in negotiations, which Ross advises Talbott to put to use. He suggests that the U.S. team should make sure Russia could not deal separately with allies, but at the same time give Yeltsin a seat at the table by making Russia a member of the G-8 at the next summit in Denver. He also advises him to keep some substantive elements of the NATO-Russia package in reserve and really invest in a process of negotiations “that permits Yeltsin to show that Russia shaped the outcome.”


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Document 13

Source: State Department, National Security Archive Freedom of Information Lawsuit

This is one of numerous drafts that were circulated within the Clinton administration in February-March 1997 in preparation for the signing of the NATO-Russia Charter at the Paris summit in April 1997. The language was gradually refined and included wording responsive to Russian security concerns that were raised in the Albright-Primakov and Talbott-Mamedov channels. Negotiations were surprisingly productive and collegial even as Russia publicly protested the NATO expansion and as opposition organized the biggest faction in the Russian Duma.

This draft is interesting because it contains numerous changes and edits made by NATO Secretary General Solana (in bold italic) which clearly address the most important Russian concerns, such as the following example: “The members of NATO reaffirm their position that NATO has no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of any new member state nor does it foresee any future need to do so.”


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Document 14

Source: Clinton Presidential Library, Mandatory Review 2015-0782-M-2

This candid conversation at the Clinton-Yeltsin summit in Finland in March 1997 provides the clearest expression on the Russian side of their motivations for negotiating what would become the NATO-Russia Founding Act in May 1997. Far from the “grudging endorsement” of NATO enlargement that the Americans hoped for, and far even from the “acquiescence” that the Americans later claimed in their own memoirs, Yeltsin describes his engagement on the NATO-Russian relationship as “a forced step.” The full quotation is worth emphasizing: “Our position has not changed. It remains a mistake for NATO to move eastward. But I need to take steps to alleviate the negative consequences of this for Russia. I am prepared to enter into an agreement with NATO, not because I want to but because it is a forced step. There is no other solution for today.”

In exchange, Yeltsin asks for a secret “gentlemen’s agreement – we would not write it down in the statement – that no former Soviet republics would enter NATO.” Clinton demurs, making multiple arguments against Yeltsin’s idea: that no such secret deal could be kept secret, that such a statement would be “bad for Russia” since it would say “we have still got an empire but it just can’t reach as far West,” that it would alarm the Baltics and undermine the Partnership for Peace, and even offend their summit hosts in Finland. Besides, Clinton says, “you have talked to Helmut [Kohl] and Jacques [Chirac], you know their thinking – no one is talking about a massive, all out, accelerated expansion.” Eventually, more than halfway through the conversation, the two presidents agree to move on to arms control issues.


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Document 15

Source: State Department, National Security Archive Freedom of Information Lawsuit

Talbott thanks his main Russian counterpart for helping the U.S. delegation during their trip to Moscow to discuss cooperation with NATO and progress on the amended Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty among other issues. On CFE, the Americans feel that the Russian positions had hardened, especially regarding new NATO members. Talbott writes that there “seems to be a desire on your side to create a different set of rules for the new NATO members than those that apply to the rest of the Alliance.” The issue pertains specifically to troop levels and levels of temporary deployments in the new NATO members. Russia wants to revise the treaty to make these understandings binding. Talbott suggests that the U.S. would see it as a “red line” or an attempt to create a new treaty, rather than leaving it to individual countries to make commitments on the levels of troops and ammunition. The Deputy Secretary of State also suggests that the best way for Russia to go would be to negotiate with individual NATO members, such as Turkey and Norway, and to show restraint in its own deployment in Kaliningrad.


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Document 16

Source: Clinton Presidential Library, Mandatory Review 2015-0782-M-2

This is the first conversation between the Russian and American leaders since the start of the NATO bombing campaign of Belgrade. Clinton calls his Russian counterpart to appeal for cooperation in Yugoslavia and to assure him that “Russia in central in implementing a solution.” Clinton proposes a direct confidential channel for negotiations, naming Talbott on the U.S. side and suggesting Viktor Chernomyrdin on the Russian side—showing the U.S. grudging respect for the Russian prime minister whom the Clinton people initially considered a former communist apparatchik. Now, Clinton says, “we respect him and think he is a problem solver.” In fact, Chernomyrdin showed himself indispensable for U.S.-Russian relations in the 1990s in the framework of the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission.

Yeltsin agrees that the U.S. and Russia need to cooperate to find a solution to the Kosovo conflict, where, in his opinion, the NATO bombing created “a giant humanitarian catastrophe” and had done “significant damage” to U.S.-Russian relations. The bombing followed soon after the admission of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to NATO and was directed against a Russian ally that did not attack any NATO members. Furthermore, Russia was not consulted or even informed beforehand. Yeltsin tells Clinton that “NATO have made a big mistake” and that “quite frankly, […] the anti-American and anti-NATO sentiment in Russia keeps growing like an avalanche.” Yeltsin is under great pressure domestically to help Yugoslavia and tells Clinton that he is doing his best to keep Russia out of the conflict but his “ability to counteract those demands are [sic] limited.”

Amazingly, the conversation ends on a very cooperative, even warm, note, with Yeltsin confiding in Clinton that he is being “subjected to violent attacks and being assailed by the Communists” who want Russia to send weapons, intervene militarily and even start “a European and world-wide war.” Yeltsin says he “is absolutely opposed to that” and will cooperate with the United States on the resolution.


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Document 17

Source: State Department, National Security Archive Freedom of Information Lawsuit

This memorandum describes the outcome of the agreement between Yeltsin and Clinton (see document above) to use the Talbott-Chernomyrdin channel to find a way out of the Kosovo debacle. Talbott reports from his meetings in Moscow where he is trying to find a resolution to the Kosovo crisis without completely damaging NATO relations with Russia. He summarizes numerous meetings he had in Moscow, including the most important one, with Chernomyrdin at a state dacha, which lasted six hours and during which Chernomyrdin gave his “grudging acceptance” that “NATO must be at the core at KFOR” and that Milosevic would accept resolution on NATO’s terms. Chernomyrdin had just come back from Belgrade where, in the course of a seven-hour meeting with Milosevic, he extracted the latter’s commitment to accept NATO as the core of KFOR. Now, Chernomyrdin was prepared to travel to negotiate the Kosovo endgame with former president of Finland Marti Ahtisaari, essentially on the basis of the NATO platform.

At the same time, Talbott expresses doubts that the Russian government and the military would accept these conditions even though they were negotiated by Chernomyrdin. (He turns out to be right. The Russian military launched an unauthorized attack and temporarily seized the Pristina airport in advance of the NATO deployment on June 12, 1999, after the formal end of the NATO operation.) Talbot cheers the fact that Chernomyrdin accepted the NATO conditions but warns the top Clinton administration officials that they should not do anything to “expose the Russians publicly,” such as making the concession on “NATO-at-the-core,” which would produce a serious domestic backlash, especially among the Russian military.


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Document 18

Source: State Department, National Security Archive Freedom of Information Lawsuit

During the 40-minute meeting, Strobe Talbott and David Manning discuss Manning’s recent trip to Moscow and his impressions of the new Putin administration. During the meeting at the Russian Defense Ministry, Manning says “no one talked about partnership” and a lot of people exhibited old thinking. However, he also expresses his hope that “the Russians would realize that dealing constructively on NMD and NATO enlargement was in their interest.” Talbott countered that “the West might now be paying a price for seven years of successfully turning Yeltsin’s big ‘Nyet’s’ into grudging OK’s.” Turning to Putin, Talbott suggested that “the next round of NATO enlargement might be easier under Putin” compared to the experience they had with the Yeltsin administration. In his view, “while the former Russian president saw NATO in symbolic, even emotional terms, the current president appears to think more in terms of a hard-headed concept of Russia’s principal threats, -namely Islamic extremism and the Chinese.”



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