We started with Poland, a middle-rank country located in the heart of Europe. The end of the Cold War and German reunification saw Poland revert to its old worries of being stuck between “two enemies,” Germany and Russia – the feeling of being caught in a grey security zone, or a so-called Zwischeneuropa, which might again become the focal point of political power rivalry between these two big neighbors.
Since Poland had been part of the Eastern bloc, Polish political elites feared that Russia, the Soviet successor state, would seek to keep Poland in its sphere of influence. As early as September 1989, Poland decided to pursue the policy of a “return to Europe.” The shortest path would lead through Germany, and the reconciliation processes would be at the core of engagement. Consequently, after the Soviet collapse, Poland began to see Russia as its main threat.
The new NATO members’
The initial abandonment of the Warsaw Pact concerns one of the first critical steps in Germany but in Hungary, where reformist leaders showed open willingness to cooperate with the West in the teeth of opposition from their more hard-line Warsaw Pact allies. Settling historical differences with Russia only exacerbated these fears and brought further misunderstandings. The most important of these turned out to be the two countries’ distinct visions of European security. Having favored pan-European solutions based on the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) for many years, Poland quickly opted for seeking accession to NATO. After all, the CSCE could only provide mild security, just like the EU – whose Eastern enlargement appeared soon even more remote than NATO’s potential opening to the East.
A more immediate challenge was dealing with the new allies’ military unpreparedness. Lower-level NATO staff charged with enlargement’s practical implementation began tackling the problem that the new states simply foreign ministers joined Albright in Washington and went onward together to Missouri on her plane. En route, Polish foreign minister Bronisław Geremek, a historian and close friend of Madeleine Albright (US Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001), called the trip the “ ‘fulfillment of a dream’ ” and “ ‘the most important event that has happened to Poland since the onset of Christianity.’ ” Albright told her advisor, Ron Asmus, that “ ‘it doesn’t get any better than this. We are making history.’1
During the ceremony, the ministers signed the documents of accession on the same table Truman had used to sign the Marshall Plan.2 This symbolic gesture showed that US aspirations for NATO’s role were much more than military. Fireworks went off simultaneously in Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw. Afterward, Albright held the signed protocols “aloft like victory trophies,” in the words of the New York Times reporter covering the event, Jane Perlez.3 In a moving speech, the secretary praised the new members for their history of “putting their lives on the line for liberty,” promised her new allies that “never again will your fates be tossed around like poker chips,” and confirmed that they were “truly home.” Together, they were “erasing without replacing the line drawn in Europe by Stalin’s bloody boot.” Since enlargement was not an event but “a process,” their next challenge was to help more states become allies.4
But the fight for German unity and the fight for NATO’s future beyond the old inner-German dividing line now became the same. It would affect a KGB agent who received a pass to carry out his KGB work in co-operation with the Stasi. But the pas got Putin into Stasi facilities, but he may not have spied for them.
The coming of Vladimir Putin
The Soviets had their own James Bonds.In The Shield and the Sword, a title is drawn from the KGB’s service emblem below, secret agent Belov is pitched into action against the Nazis. By the time of his fourth film appearance, he was the poster boy of Soviet postwar espionage in the minds of millions, including that of the sixteen-year-old Vladimir Putin, who went straight from the cinema to volunteer his services to the KGB.5
As for his situated in Dresden, the suggestion is that Putin must have slipped up to end up in such a relatively unimportant post, and by his admission, he spent much of his time drinking beer.
Then on a December night in Dresden in 1989, he decided to do whatever it took to defend Soviet authority, his colleagues, and himself. No one else was coming to do it.6 The Berlin Wall was open, and the East German regime was collapsing. A crowd of peaceful protesters had just flooded the nearby headquarters of his secret police allies, the Stasi, overwhelming the guards as they had overwhelmed the regime: through conviction and sheer numbers rather than through violence. Now some two dozen protesters were drifting around the corner to the deceptively modest outpost of Soviet State Security, or the KGB, where on December 5 he was the senior officer on site.
As he later admitted, “we had documents in our building.” Those documents reportedly contained information on front companies holding billions of Deutsche marks for the KGB and its partners; on espionage against Western high-tech industries to benefit their inept Eastern rivals; and on contacts with the violent Red Army Faction, taking advantage of Dresden’s backwater status as a place to plan assassinations. Putin also safeguarded his own work against the “main opponent,” NATO.7
Between the fall of the Wall and the rise of Putin, animosity between Moscow and Washington over NATO’s future became central to the making of a post–Cold War political order that looked much like its Cold War predecessor – and to the unmaking of hopes for cooperation from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
The initial encounter with Putin, unsettling in itself, came at an increasingly unsettled time in US politics. Although Clinton had survived impeachment, he had become damaged goods, thanks to the public outrage his actions had inspired. He had to be careful about, among other things, how he promoted Vice President Gore’s future. As he explained to Blair on October 13, 1999, thanks to the current “political culture,” it “will hurt if it appears I’m trying to control the outcome of another election. I’ve got to be careful not to tell people how to vote.”The fate of the test ban treaty, presented to the Senate after impeachment, showed how much his persuasive powers with that body had declined. The treaty enjoyed overwhelming international support; nearly 200 countries would go on to sign it. Yet the US Senate rejected it on October 13, 1999, by a vote of 51 to 48.8 The New York Times described the rejection as “the first time the Senate had defeated a major international security pact since the Treaty of Versailles.
The question of START II and START II
Seeking a warmer reception for the idea, Clinton called his old friend Kohl, who advised the president to accomplish as much as he could while Yeltsin was still around. As the former chancellor put it, “everything you can nail down now” should be nailed down because “you don’t know how things are going to work out” with the following Russian president.9 President George H. W. Bush had once been receiving a call from Yeltsin announcing the end of the Gorbachev era; Clinton and his advisors were now hearing something of similar magnitude. As Bush had done before him, Clinton stuck to cautious replies while the Russian was on the line, saying only that the information was “very helpful.”
Kohl meanwhile agreed to give a public speech in Dresden on the night of 19 December, just two weeks after the protesters there had backed away from Putin. It is possible, indeed probable, that the young KGB officer stopped throwing files in the furnace long enough to listen to a broadcast of Kohl’s remarks or even attend in person. Later in life, Putin admitted to another time during the East German revolution when he “stood in the crowd and watched it happen,” so perhaps he did the same with Kohl’s speech; it was given outdoors, not far from his outpost.
Two men – one seeking to unify 80 million Germans, the other a minor servant of the failing Soviet state and its secret police – had both experienced transformative nights in Dresden in December 1989. Their subsequent actions would have far-reaching consequences, although the younger man would have to wait another decade to begin his starring role on the world stage. Kohl, in contrast, had realized that he did not have to wait after all. Unification need not take years or require power-sharing in some clumsy interim confederation; he could reap a political harvest right away. The East German regime was collapsing, and the crowds were cheering. The moment for unity was now. Having just told the US president he was not in a hurry, suddenly he was.
The ugly truth for Washington was that Kohl’s goal of unifying his country and Bush’s goal of preserving the alliance were separable. There existed realistic scenarios under which the chancellor could cut a deal with Moscow to achieve German unification at the cost of NATO expansion beyond the Cold War line or even of NATO membership altogether. Kohl and Gorbachev could reshape political order in Europe without having any Americans in the room. As the national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, later admitted, “my nightmare” was “Gorbachev making an offer to Kohl” that the German “couldn’t refuse” – “that is, an offer for German reunification in exchange for neutrality.” The consequences of such a deal were clear to the Americans in advance; as Robert Zoellick, Secretary of State James Baker’s top aide, bluntly put it, “ ‘if the Germans work out unification with the Soviets,’ ” then “ ‘NATO will be dumped.’ ”10
President Clinton hoped to get Yeltsin moving on START II, START III, and notably the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. That treaty represented the culmination of a decades-long campaign to bar all signatory countries from detonating any nuclear devices whatsoever. When he had signed it on behalf of the United States in 1996, Clinton had praised it as “ ‘the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in arms control history.’ ”11
Returning home to Moscow, Yeltsin decided that the exit had come. According to his memoirs, he confided to Putin on December 14, 1999, that he would make the younger man acting president on the last day of the year, although Putin had to keep that information to himself until then.12 Hearing the news, Putin reportedly responded, “it’s a rather difficult fate.” Yeltsin assured him that “ ‘when I came here, I also had other plans. Life turned out that way. . . . You’ll manage.’ ”13 A week after his conversation with Yeltsin, Putin took part in an unveiling ceremony for the restored plaque of former longtime KGB head (and later Soviet leader) Yuri Andropov, held on the anniversary of the founding of the Soviet secret police.14
The symbolism was obvious
Andropov’s formative experience had been the 1956 uprising in Hungary; he had watched in horror from the window of the Soviet embassy in Budapest as a rebellion threatened to topple the Communist government and remove Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. Andropov never forgot watching the bodies of executed Hungarian secret police swaying from the streetlights. The experience marked the birth of what one US expert called “Andropov’s – and the KGB’s – ‘Hungarian complex,’ the mortal fear of small, unofficial groups sparking movements to overthrow” their leaders.15 The Andropov plaque had come down in August 1991 but was back, and Putin decided to give the restoration his public blessing.16
START II, which would have eliminated two-thirds of the US and Russian arsenals, would eventually be ratified but never truly go into effect. START III would not even progress to a signing.17 CTBT was, if a CIA report from July 2, 1999, was true, under fire from Putin himself. According to a boldfaced, italicized report emphasizing his role, Putin’s reasoning was as follows. He announced publicly that Moscow was moving forward with a new “test plan, ” which the CIA took to mean for “low-yield warheads.” In the CIA’s view, Moscow believed that such weapons were necessary because of “perceptions of a heightened threat from NATO,” reductions in the “capabilities of Russian conventional forces,” and “fears that a future conflict could be waged on Russian soil.” Putin and his colleagues, therefore, opposed CTBT because its strictures might make developing such weapons more difficult.18
2015, former secretary of defense Bill Perry concluded that arms control ended up “ ‘a casualty of NATO expansion ” and fighting between the Kremlin and the Duma in the 1990s; “the downsides of early NATO membership for Eastern European nations were even worse than I had feared.” 19
Putin formed a lasting conviction on the need to avoid the paralysis of power. As he put it in the year he became president of Russia, “only one thing works in such circumstances – to go on the offensive. You must hit first and hit so hard that your opponent will not rise to his feet.” 20
In his dying days (and largely also so his family would keep protection), Yeltsin appointed Putin or, as Yeltsin would explain to President Clinton later that day. The plan, Yeltsin explained, was to give Putin three months before the scheduled vote of March 2000 “to work as president” so “people will get used to him” and elect him in his own right as president. Yeltsin added that “this will be done without breaking away from democracy” and kept repeating that he was “sure that he will be elected in the forthcoming elections; I am sure about that. I am also sure that he is a democrat.” 21
The claim” I am also sure that he is a democrat” was misjudged. It wasn’t true.
But so yet another major landmark of the twenty-first century had begun moving into place: the gradual resumption of personal rule in Russia. Acting President Vladimir Putin had decided, on a December night in Moscow in 1999, to do whatever it took to defend Russian authority, his colleagues, and himself.
A self-invented war
Another troubling development was Moscow’s decision, again apparently involving Putin, to reignite the conventional war in Chechnya. Skirmishes between Chechen fighters and Russian troops had resumed in 1999. Still, matters took a much graver turn in September. That month, a series of bombings of residential apartment buildings in Moscow and other cities killed 243 people and injured 1,700 more. After Putin declared the bombings to be the work of Chechen-affiliated terrorists, Russia launched what came to be known as the Second Chechen War, which eventually culminated indirect rule of the region from Moscow. By the end, Putin would be the most popular politician.
But critics later identified evidence allegedly showing that the FSB itself – and possibly Putin – might have had a role in the apartment tragedy.22
An American journalist in Moscow who had roomed with Talbott at Oxford, David Satter, wrote that “to grasp the reality of Russia, it is necessary to accept that that Russian leaders really are capable of blowing up hundreds of their own people to preserve their hold on power.” 23
He subsequently became the first US journalist since the Cold War to be expelled from Russia.24
In the course of that year, Putin also rose in Yeltsin’s estimation; the Russian president decided to promote the younger man again on August 9, 1999, this time to replace Stepashin as prime minister.
Those who knew Putin were immediately wary. Nursultan Nazarbayev, still the leader of Kazakhstan, told Clinton during a visit to the Oval Office later that year that Putin “has nothing going for him beside the Chechen War.” In the Kazakh’s view, “he has no charisma, no foreign policy experience, no economic policy of his own. He has the war – a fight with his own people.” 25
Russian reformer Boris Nemtsov reportedly called Putin’s appointment “ ‘a very, very big mistake.’ ” 26
The continuation to what can be seen above follows here.
1. Ronald Asmus and George Robertson, Opening NATO’s Door: How the Alliance Remade Itself for a New Era, 2004, xxvii.
2. The Truman Library has a video on its website: “NATO Accession Ceremony,” March 12, 1999, https:// http://www.trumanlibrary.gov/ movingimage-records/ vt2000-108-nato-accession-ceremony.
3. Jane Perlez, “Expanding the Alliance,” New York Times, March 13, 1999; see also Albright, Madam Secretary, 265– 66.
4. See the video available at “NATO Accession Ceremony,” March 12, 1999; see also Asmus, Opening, xxvii– xxviii.
5. Martin Sixsmith, The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War Mind, P. 315
6. First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, 2000, 78-79.
7. On the Dresden events as part of a larger “Sturm auf die Dienststellungen,” see the Stasi official online history, https:// http://www.bstu.de/ geschichten/ die-stasi-im-jahr-1989/ dezember-1989/; see also https:// stasibesetzung.de/ bezirk.
8. Daryl G. Kimball, “Learning from the 1999 Vote on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” Arms Control Association, https:// http://www.armscontrol.org/ act/ 2009-10/ learning-1999-vote-nuclear-test-ban-treaty. 175. Eric Schmitt, “Defeat of a Treaty,” New York Times, October 14, 1999. 176. TOIW James Steinberg, April 1, 2008, WCPHP; see also Perry, My Journey, 114.
9. Daryl G. Kimball, “Learning from the 1999 Vote on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” Arms Control Association, https:// http://www.armscontrol.org/ act/ 2009-10/ learning-1999-vote-nuclear-test-ban-treaty. 175. Eric Schmitt, “Defeat of a Treaty,” New York Times, October 14, 1999. 176. TOIW James Steinberg, April 1, 2008, WCPHP; see also Perry, My Journey, 114.
10. Scowcroft quotation in TOIW Brent Scowcroft, August 10– 11, 2000, GBOHP; Zoellick quoted in Engel, When the World, 327.
11. Clinton quoted in James M. Lindsay, “TWE Remembers: The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” Council on Foreign Relations, September 24, 2011, https:// http://www.cfr.org/ blog/ twe-remembers-comprehensive-test-ban-treaty. For more on CTBT, see https:// http://www.nti.org/ learn/ treaties-and-regimes .
14. Yeltsin, Midnight Diaries, 5– 7; see also Myers, New Tsar, 166– 67. 1
17. On the ratification of START II, see also Memcon, Clinton– Putin, April 15, 2000, 2017-0222-M, CL; Perry, My Journey, 152; Stent, Limits, 29.
18. Office of Russian and European Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Report, “Russia: Developing New Nuclear Warheads at Novaya Zemlya?,” July 2, 1999, EBB-200, NSA.
19. Perry quotation from Perry, My Journey
20. Putin et al., First Person, 76 (destroyed, papers, furnace), 81 (hasty), 168 (hit); see also Belton, Putin’s People, 44-45; Myers, New Tsar, 50-52.
21. Telcon, Clinton – Yeltsin, December 31, 1999.
22. Myers, “Russia Closes File”; Clover, Black Wind, 250– 52; see also Belton, Putin’s People, 158– 60.
23. Satter, Less You Know, xiv. See also Talbott’s efforts to find Satter a job within the Clinton administration in 1993 in “Wed. March 23, 1993, Galit/ Toria,” and “24 March 1993,” both in F-2017-13804, DS-ERR. For a documentary on the bombings by a Russian journalist, in Russian with English subtitles, see https:// http://www.youtube.com/ watch? v =_arwGPwLXRw.
24. Luke Harding, “Russia Expels US Journalist David Satter without Explanation,” Guardian, January 14, 2014; Satter, Less You Know, 2. Åslund, Russia’s Crony Capitalism, 47, similarly finds it “likely” the FSB carried out the bombings.
25. Memcon, Clinton- Nazarbayev, December 21, 1999, SDC 2000-State-014531.
26. Strobe Talbott, The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy, 2003, 355.