What Rough Beast Slouches Toward Munich?

From the 18th of this month through the 25th, national leaders are meeting in Munich in an apparent effort to deescalate the situation in Ukraine. The administration has pulled together its putative allies to forestall what it claims is an imminent threat by Russia to invade Ukraine. In fact, it discouraged (apparently unsuccessfully) Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky from attending on the ground that war could start any minute and his absence from Ukraine would be taken as flight. Heading the U.S. delegation is Vice-President Kamala Harris, which hardly comforts me. She threatens severe economic sanctions against Russia if they invade.  (But this is from the very same administration which has done so much to strengthen Putin’s hand -- for example, by scotching the Israeli gas pipeline to Europe, giving a thumbs up to the Russian gas pipeline to Europe, and reducing in every possible way U.S. energy production, all of which enriches Russia. President Trump used economic warfare and would have allowed completion of the domestic and Israeli pipelines and prevented the construction of the Russian pipeline to limit Russian power over Europe, as opposed to the saber-rattling from the present White House.) The one thing you can count on with the Biden-Harris administration is inconsistency and incoherence.

Critics claim the entire business is a wag-the-dog scenario -- a distraction from the Democrats' (and the President’s) tumbling approval and disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal. They assert the contretemps on the eastern Ukraine border is a legitimate effort by the mostly Russian settlers there to rejoin Russia and not a false-flag operation. Moreover, they agree with Putin that we agreed not to expand NATO to Ukraine. This week the critics of the administration got a bombshell that supports Putin’s position. It was discovered by a professor at Boston University, unveiled by the German media, and is a clear indication that Germany will not be onboard whatever nitwittery Biden-Harris propose.

David Goldman (Spengler) has done some significant coverage. Like me, he thinks NATO has gone far beyond its intended purpose and actual power. 

He tweets:

The damage from Ukrainistan will be much worse than Afghanistan: Biden frog-marched our NATO allies into this one. They’re looking for excuses to bolt and when they do, NATO will be a grease patch on a side road near Fulda. With a defensible perimeter we could keep NATO. 

The Bombshell

Contemporaneous records found in the UK national archives by Boston University political science professor Joshua Shifrinson and given to the German magazine Der Spiegel showed that on March 6, 1991, U.S., UK, French, and German foreign ministries indeed promised the then-Soviet Union “that we do not intend to benefit from the withdrawal of Soviet troops from eastern Europe” and that “NATO should not expand to the east, either officially or unofficially.” This account with the copy of the document appears in the Soviet news service 

The story was first carried in Der Spiegel and Die Welt. As Die Welt notes, the document supports the Russian claim.

That the document account surfaced on German media during the security conference is a sure bet to my mind that the Germans will have a political fight on their hands if they join in slouching with Biden-Harris to war over the right of NATO to expand by adding Ukraine to its ever-larger grab bag of weak states we defend.

The 1991 protocol just released this week is in direct conflict with NATO’s 2008 commitment to Ukraine and Georgia that one day they, too, could become alliance members. That’s Russia’s position.  

Missiles stationed there would be able to hit Russian targets within minutes and the protocol, if accurately reflecting the agreements made -- and there’s no reason to believe it does not -- conflicts directly with NATO and U.S. contentions about our agreement with Russia. 

We claim, as Reuters summarizes, that Russia is demanding an effective veto on NATO membership; NATO Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg parroted our claim: “It is a fundamental principle that every nation has the right to choose its own path… including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of.” Maybe. But if the countries that make up NATO already told a neighboring country they would not admit Ukraine to its rolls, it should drop the idea of breaking the agreement.

Goldman was there and vouches for the narrative in the protocol, though until this week he had not seen the documentation. He calls Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “a liar.” 

What is the Contrary Evidence?

There’s Blinken and there’s Steven Pifer. He was our ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000. Writing in 2014, he denies any promises were made to the Soviets about not enlarging eastward. Pifer wasn’t there in 1990 and claims as his basis for contention an article in the Washington Quarterly by Mark Kramer (who did not see the formerly marked “secret” document in the UK archives) to argue we had only promised that "no additional troops would be deployed; no weapons of mass destruction would be placed" in the former German Democratic Republic. This pledge was, in fact, incorporated into Article 5 (signed September 12, 1990).

Pifer also quotes a publication (Russia Behind the Headlines) of a purported interview with former Soviet President Mikhail GorbachevGorbachev was reportedly asked why he had not insisted that U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s promise that NATO would not expand into the East be legally encoded and responded, according to that report, NATO expansion was “not discussed at all.” He did, however, call NATO eastward expansion “a violation of the spirit of the assurances given Moscow in 1990.”

Eight years after the agreement detailed in the newly-found protocol, NATO did move eastward, admitting Poland, Hungary, and Czechia. Fifteen years later in 2004, it added Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Russia grumbled, but perhaps felt it was in too weak a position to do much than to halt NATO’s eastward expansion.

Russia now draws the line on NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia.

It might be useful for a reporter who might care to ask James Baker about the protocol and any assurances made to the Soviets by him and other NATO members.

If this were a legal case in the U.S., I believe the protocol could be entered into evidence under the Ancient Documents Rule even if the purported agreement had not been formalized in writing, although Russia’s acquiescence over the years to NATO’s eastward expansion would also be considered to weaken its case.

But all this business about the credibility of the various parties and legalisms seems somewhat extraneous to me at this point. I think the German media has forced Germany’s hand and it will bolt and not stand with us. If it doesn’t go along, others will follow and the wag-the-dog effort will fail.

Correction: 2204 corrected to 2004

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