Russia Says 1997 NATO Agreement Was Forced Upon It

A declassified document reveals that former Russian President Boris Yeltsin felt pressured to sign a cooperation agreement with NATO in 1997, believing it was the only way to mitigate the bloc’s expansion.

The National Security Archive, a US-based organization, has released declassified files that provide insights into the discussions leading up to NATO’s eastward expansion in the 1990s. One document details a conversation between Clinton and Yeltsin in Finland in March 1997, which set the stage for the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act two months later. This agreement aimed to enhance cooperation between Russia and NATO, declaring that they would not view each other as adversaries.

Yeltsin expressed his opposition to NATO’s expansion, echoing his earlier stance that the bloc was attempting to divide Europe. He told Clinton that he was signing the agreement out of necessity, stating, “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,” according to the document.

Yeltsin argued that NATO’s expansion should not include former Soviet republics, particularly Ukraine, proposing a secret agreement. Clinton disagreed, believing it would send a negative message to the world, alarm the Baltic countries, and undermine NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.

NATO’s expansion in 1999 included the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, all former members of the Warsaw Pact. In 2004, it further expanded to include Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and three former Soviet republics – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In 2008, NATO members agreed on Ukraine and Georgia’s eventual membership but did not provide a specific timeline.

Following the Western-backed coup in Kiev in 2014, NATO prioritized Ukraine’s membership. Ukraine formally applied to join the US-led bloc in the fall of 2022, after four of its former territories voted to join Russia.

As tensions between the West and Russia have escalated over the years, including during the Ukraine crisis, Moscow has labeled NATO a “hostile” bloc, emphasizing that Ukraine’s plans to join it were among the key factors contributing to the current conflict.