Former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union: The U.S. and Nato Are Provoking the Ukrainian Crisis

Encircling Russia and Arming Ukraine Are What’s Provoking the Bear

Jack Matlock, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991, says that the U.S. and NATO are to blame for the Ukraine crisis:

The fact is they are going to intervene until they are certain that there is no prospect of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO. And all of the threats by NATO and so on to sort of increase defenses elsewhere is simply provocative to the Russians. Now, I’m not saying that’s right, but I am saying that’s the way Russia is going to react. And frankly, this is all predictable. And those of us who helped negotiate the end of the Cold War almost unanimously said in the 1990s, “Do not expand NATO eastward. Find a different way to protect eastern Europe, a way that includes Russia. Otherwise, eventually there’s going to be a confrontation, because there is a red line, as far as any Russian government is concerned, when it comes to Ukraine and Georgia and other former republics of the Soviet Union.”


There needs to be an understanding between Russia and the Ukrainians as to how to solve this problem. It is not going to be solved militarily. So the idea that we should be giving more help to the Ukrainian government in a military sense simply exacerbates the problem. And the basic problem is Ukraine is a deeply divided country. And as long as one side tries to impose its will on the other—and that is what has happened since February, the Ukrainian nationalists in the west have been trying to impose their will on the east, and the Russians aren’t going to permit that. And that is the fact of the matter. So, yes, there simply needs to be an agreement.

And most of the—I would say, the influence of the West in trying to help the Ukrainians by, I would say, defending them against the Russians tends to be provocative, because—you know, Putin is right: If he decided, he could take Kiev. Russia is a nuclear power. And Russia feels that we have ignored that, that we have insulted them time and time again, and that we are out to turn Ukraine into an American puppet that surrounds them. And, you know, with that sort of psychology, by resisting that, in Russian eyes, he has gained unprecedented popularity. So, it seems to me that we have to understand that, like it or not, the Ukrainians are going to have to make an agreement that’s acceptable to them, if they keep their unity.


Ukraine is not a member of NATO. And why we react as if it is and has any claim on our cooperation in defending them from Russia, this is simply not the case.

We’ve previously reported that it’s the West’s encirclement of Russia – breaking a key promise which led to the break-up of the Soviet Union – which is behind the Ukraine crisis.

Matlock confirmed that the U.S. and the West promised that the U.S. and Nato would not move East and try to encircle Russia:

When the Berlin Wall came down, when eastern Europe began to try to free itself from the Communist rule, the first President Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, met with Gorbachev in Malta, and they made a very important statement. One was we were no longer enemies. The second was the Soviet Union would not intervene in eastern Europe to keep Communist rule there. And in response, the United States would not take advantage of that.

Now, this was a—you might say, a gentlemen’s agreement between Gorbachev and President Bush. It was one which was echoed by the other Western leaders—the British prime minister, the German chancellor, the French president. As we negotiated German unity, there the question was: Could a united Germany stay in NATO? At first, Gorbachev said, “No, if they unite, they have to leave NATO.” And we said, “Look, let them unite. Let them stay in NATO. But we will not extend NATO to the territory of East Germany.” Well, it turned out that legally you couldn’t do it that way, so in the final agreement it was that all of Germany would stay in NATO, but that the territory of East Germany would be special, in that there would be no foreign troops—that is, no non-German troops—and no nuclear weapons. Now, later—at that time, the Warsaw Pact was still in place. We weren’t talking about eastern Europe. But the statements made were very general. At one point, Secretary Baker told Gorbachev NATO jurisdiction would not move one inch to the east. Well, he had the GDR in mind, but that’s not what he said specifically.

So, yes, if I had been asked when I was ambassador of the United States in Moscow in 1991, “Is there an understanding that NATO won’t move to the east?” I would have said, “Yes, there is.” However, it was not a legal commitment, and one could say that once the Soviet Union collapsed, any agreement then maybe didn’t hold, except that when you think about it, if there was no reason to expand NATO when the Soviet Union existed, there was even less reason when the Soviet Union collapsed and you were talking about Russia. And the reason many of us—myself, George Kennan, many of us—argued against NATO expansion in the ’90s was precisely to avoid the sort of situation we have today. It was totally predictable. If we start expanding NATO, as we get closer to the Russian border, they are going to consider this a hostile act. And at some point, they will draw a line, and they will do anything within their power to keep it from going any further. That’s what we’re seeing today.

In March, Matlock said:

How would Americans feel if some Russian or Chinese or even West European started putting bases in Mexico or in the Caribbean, or trying to form governments that were hostile to us? You know, we saw how we virtually went ballistic over Cuba. And I think that we have not been very attentive to what it takes to have a harmonious relationship with Russia.


In the Orange Revolution in Kiev, foreigners, including Americans, were very active in organizing people and inspiring them.


I have to ask Americans: How would Occupy Wall Street have looked if you had foreigners out there leading them? Do you think that would have helped them get their point across? I don’t think so. And I think we have to understand that when we start directly interfering, particularly our government officials, in the internal makeup of other governments, we’re really asking for trouble. [The U.S. State Department spent more than $5 billion dollars in pushing Ukraine towards the West.  The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine (Geoffrey Pyatt) and assistant Secretary of State (Victoria Nuland) were also recorded plotting the downfall of the former Ukraine government in a leaked conversationTop-level U.S. officials literally handed out cookies to the protesters who overthrew the Ukrainian government.  And the U.S. has been doing everything it can to trumpet pro-Ukrainian and anti-Russian propaganda. So – without doubt – the U.S. government is heavily involved with fighting a propaganda war regarding Ukraine.]


Now, what have we been telling the Ukrainians, the Georgians—at least some of us, officials? “Just hold on. You can join NATO, and that will solve your problems for you.” You know, and yet, it is that very prospect, that the United States and its European allies were trying to surround Russia with hostile bases, that has raised the emotional temperature of all these things. And that was a huge mistake. As George Kennan wrote back in the ’90s when this question came up, the decision to expand NATO the way it was done was one of the most fateful and bad decisions of the late 20th century.


I just hope everyone can calm down and look at realities and stop trying to start sort of a new Cold War over this. As compared to the issues of the Cold War, this is quite minor. It has many of the characteristics of a family dispute. And when outsiders get into a family dispute, they’re usually not very helpful.


We should start keeping our voice down and sort of let things work out. You know, to ship in military equipment and so on is just going to be a further provocation. Obviously, this is not something that’s going to be solved by military confrontations. So, I think if we can find a way to speak less in public, to use more quiet diplomacy—and right now, frankly, the relationships between our presidents are so poisonous, they really should have representatives who can quietly go and, you know, work with counterparts elsewhere.


We do have to understand that a significant part of the violence at the Maidan, the demonstrations in Kiev, were done by these extreme right-wing, sort of neo-fascist groups. And they do—some of their leaders do occupy prominent positions in the security forces of the new government. And I think—I think the Russians and others are quite legitimately concerned about that.

In related news:

  • Former high-level American intelligence officials who battled the Soviet Union for years say that U.S. claims of Russian aggression are baseless.  And see this
  • Former Polish president – and famed anti-communist activist – Lech Walesa warns that the U.S. and Nato’s arming of Ukraine could lead to a nuclear war
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  • MCB

    Great post GW. The U.S. has a bad track record of making promises that it knows beforehand it has no intention of keeping.

  • Party Like 1999

    Obama does not view himself as bound by written or verbal agreements by past Washington regimes. Agreements with Russia or anyone else. He views himself as an exception.
    As long as there armed foreign covert operatives masquerading and hanging around him helping him carry his agenda and his golf clubs, he will continue on unmolested. Obama sees his future in a McMansion next to a golf course collecting billions in tax free offshore carbon tax skims and scams while he stuffs his face with gourmet cheeseburgers.
    There are an unprecedented number of foreign nationals who are on the payroll of the US federal agencies who carry federal badges and credentials. They double as a partisan/establishment “force within a force” who protect what has degenerated into an puppet regime run out of Switzerland and London.
    American foreign policy is not even run by American oilgarchs. That”s the real scandal. The laughing stock American oligarchs no longer even rate scraps from the table of Swiss and London currency riggers and asset thieves.

  • Guest

    How can you tell when a country is about to get invaded? Listen to the sellout traitor talking heads on television tell you the country has “weapons of mass destruction” or “chemical weapons” and is “about to use them on their own people”.. The Gullible American public fell for it once, the media and government.

    Syria Propaganda Looking a Lot Like Iraq Propaganda

  • Southernfink

    Excellent article – US foreign policy is all connected to many things – one thing complements the other – the war on terror is directly related to forced regime changes and introducing secret trade deals where after governments become subservient to corporations.

    It’s all about full spectrum dominance, the Petrodollar and the trade in hydrocarbons.

  • FredCheWilliams

    Has Washington ever made a deal that they lived up to? Lies and deception! You’d think people would catch on after a while.

  • Vasant Moharir

    This is a realistic and dispassionate analysis of Ukraine-Russia confrontation and the role of NATO in exaggerating an already tense situation. It is not so much the Malta discussion of then leaders of US and Soviet Union on limits to further eastward march of NATO, which provides the justification for a more diplomatic than the military option, but a more serious geo-political analysis, particularly from the point of view of EU. The problem of Ukraine to some extent is like that of Iraq, namely a state with diverse ethnic groups maintained with sheer force but not yet a nation. The internal conflict between Ukraineans in the West and in the East brought in the Russian intervention which challenged sovereignty of Ukraine as an independent state. The past history of Crimea and its present status also muddled the issue further. The recent history of Ukraine with regard to practice of democracy was also not very encouraging. In this context the request of Ukraine to join EU and NATO urgently can be understood but the issue as mentioned in the article of former US Ambassador to Ukraine is how to deal with this very muddled issue without further loss of life and property. The West followed the carrot and the stick approach, diplomacy was given a chance through the series of meetings between the Foreign Ministers of US and Russia and some direct talk between the two Presidents which did not result in any solution acceptable to all stakeholders. Though the Agreement on ceasefire is to be welcomed but one wonders how long it will last in the context of yet another round of sanctions which are not always very successful. Former US Ambassador to Ukraine compares this situation with the Cuban Crisis of 1960s which could have resulted in the Third World War but was avoided by not selecting the military option. Similarly in this case a compromise is needed which facilitates Putin to withdraw Russian forces and weapons support to Separatists in Ukraine, without loss of face. In uncertain situations if one goes too far in implementing a particular option, coming back becomes very difficult. Moreover, Ukraine needs in addition to lethal weapons also governance assistance. It is not only in Iraq that a ‘inclusive” governance is needed but also in Ukraine. Vasant Moharir

    • gragor11a

      ” … a compromise is needed which facilitates Putin to withdraw Russian forces and weapons support to Separatists in Ukraine, without loss of face. …”

      No. In this case a compromise is needed which facilitates NATO & the EU to withdraw support to the Fascist putsch junta government of Ukraine, with egg on their faces. …

      There, I corrected the sentence.

  • God bless Jack Matlock. George Kennan would have given his blessing to your efforts to keep the US from this madness that has gripped it, this insane belief that our missiles and our bombers have the right to do with the world what it will.