Clinton officials understood Moscow’s objection to eastward expansion.

By Blaise Malley, Responsible Statecraft

This week at the NATO summit in Washington, alliance leaders are expected to sign a joint communique that declares that Ukraine is on an “irreversible” path to joining the alliance.

This decision is likely to be celebrated as a big step forward and a reflection of Western unity behind Ukraine, but a series of newly declassified documents show that the U.S. has known all along that NATO expansion over the last 30 years has posed a threat to Russia, and may have been a critical plank in Moscow’s aggressive policies over that time, culminating in the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

bill clinton and boris yeltsin shake hands in an office

“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 [then Russian President Boris] Yeltsin, who constantly sought what he called partnership with the U.S,” according to the National Security Archive, which wrote about the newly declassified documents this week. “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.”

In 1995, then-national security adviser Anthony Lake warned President Bill Clinton that Russian leadership would not accept the expansion of the alliance to the East.

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