Putin claims it, but it’s not historically true
Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed this time and time again, but it is historically not true. This claim refers to the so-called two-plus-four negotiations in 1990. These were talks about German reunification after the fall of the Wall. The two German states were the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic as well as the four victorious nations: the United States of America, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Presumably, the prosecution says, during these talks there was assurance from the West that NATO would not expand outside Germany.
The non-binding language reflects Gencher’s personal position
One of the main evidence for this assertion is the following statement made in February 1990 by then Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher after a meeting with his US counterpart James Baker in Washington.
Actually Jenscher said so. But it is also true that Genscher reflects only his own personal position. The statement was not a concession in the negotiations, but at most a weak signal in the run-up to the actual negotiations. They haven’t even started yet. Hence this non-binding formula: the fact that “there was no intention of NATO expansion” was an accurate statement at the time, because eastward expansion could not have been contemplated at that time. Soviet troops were still stationed in the German Democratic Republic, and the German Democratic Republic, like the countries of Eastern Europe, still belonged to the Warsaw Pact.
Federal Foreign Minister Genscher could not speak for NATO
Moreover, as Germany’s foreign minister, Genscher was in no position to speak for NATO. In any case, these statements were only a short-term discussion before the negotiations began, which did not eventually flow into the actual discussions or even into the contract.
Genscher may have been serious about it in February 1990, but the United States distanced itself from the position, as did Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It was no secret in the negotiations either.
The question was whether both parts of Germany should belong to NATO
Everyone involved in the talks—including Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev—later made it clear that potential NATO expansion eastward was not at all an issue in future talks. The only thing that mattered was the question: Will the whole of Germany belong to NATO in the future? The Soviet Union agreed – especially after the West promised it a cash injection of five billion marks.
There is no clash between NATO and Soviet forces
Next question: if Germany is part of NATO, will NATO also operate in East Germany in the future and, so to speak, share the region with the Soviet forces still stationed there? The pledge said this would not happen – and it wasn’t until Soviet forces withdrew from East Germany in 1994.
Kurz: Yes, there was a lot of talk about a future expansion of NATO eastward, but there were no promises or commitments in terms of reunification.
The founding document of NATO and Russia was signed in 1997
The story continued even if anyone got it wrong: in 1997 the two sides signed the founding act between NATO and Russia. In it, Russia realizes that it does not have a veto over the membership of other countries in NATO. At the latest, Moscow is paving the way for more Eastern European countries to join NATO. Moscow also got something in return, more economic support on the one hand, and an affirmation on the other, which then-President Boris Yeltsin was frankly pleased about when he said of the new NATO countries of the future:
NATO is allowed to expand eastward, but no nuclear weapons are allowed there
This statement from Boris Yeltsin comes from a radio report from 1997, which can be heard in a podcast for SWR2 Archive Radio. It proves what was being negotiated at the time: NATO might expand to the east, but there are no nuclear weapons there. I’ve stuck with that to this day.