Voices from the Past: Verheugen as the new Egon Bahr of a new policy of detente and allegedly broken promises

Voices from the Past: Verheugen as the new Egon Bahr of a new policy of detente and allegedly broken promises

It is certainly true that the Ukraine war has a history. But the question is which. Ex-FDP memberr and Genscher fan, then SPD member Günther Verheugen sees this above all in Genscher’s alleged promise made to Gorbachev not to expand NATO to the east, which he knew „first-hand“ and behaves as new Egon Bahr, therefore advocating a new policy of detente:

 “Ukraine War Verheugen: The road to war began with a broken promise

June 6, 2023 by Tilo Gräser

Former foreign policy expert Günter Verheugen gave insights into the causes and consequences of the war in and around Ukraine on Tuesday in Berlin. He also clearly criticized the media.

(Foto: Tilo Gräser)

The history of the war in and around the Ukraine is taboo, stated the former SPD foreign policy expert and former EU Commissioner Günter Verheugen in Berlin on Tuesday. “Of course, every war has a history. It never falls from the sky. And it’s not like a single madman decides that either. That would be a bit simplistic and clearly wrong.” Verheugen spoke in Berlin at the presentation of the book „Ukraine War – Why Europe Needs a New Policy of Detente“, edited by Sandra Kostner and Stefan Luft. For him, the history begins “with the broken promise in connection with German unity” to the Soviet leadership not to expand NATO to the east. „I know that was promised,“ said former employee of Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Verheugen was in the FDP until 1982. He added: „I know it firsthand. I know that the pledge has been made that there will be no NATO enlargement.” He also knows that Russia was too weak in the 1990s to put up any serious resistance to the West’s policy of breaking its word and accepted NATO’s easter enlargement „grumbling and snarling“. „It was a broken promise and that’s how the path began that has led us to where we are today: instead of pan-European cooperation, a deep conflict in the middle of Europe, the end of which we cannot foresee.“

“There is a different opinion in this country” Like the two editors, Verheugen emphasized the western responsibility for the road to war. The book could initiate the missing but necessary debate „about what we have to look for in this war and what we want in this war“. The majority „Russia must lose“ camp in German politics dodged the substantive discussion. „Anyone who asks critical questions is portrayed as a useful idiot in the service of Putin or as an agent of Russian interests.“ Verheugen, who has been active as a foreign politician for decades, described it as necessary „to make it clear to those in government that there is a different opinion in this country“. It’s funny, he only ever meets people who are against the federal German war policy. „Where are the people who believe what is happening right now is right?“ he asked. „I can not find them.“

 Verheugen expressed a wish for the media: not simply to adopt what is „fouled“ onto them via transatlantic networks and intelligence agencies. It would have to be made clear what „the dubious sources of such information“ are. „My suggestion would be that we introduce a voluntary warning: Warning, this post may contain information that comes from dubious sources and the accuracy of which we cannot verify.“ That could contribute to the hygiene in the discussion, he said. And added the desire for „more critical reflection on what is happening, and not the simple adoption of what is now called narrative“. This is particularly the case when it comes to the history of the Ukraine war.“


The alleged promise of Bush senior and Genscher not to expand NATO to the east is controversial. Some say that it never happened or never happened like this, especially since the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact still existed. Others think that Genscher may have hinted at it in a sentence, but in the end it was Kohl who made the difference and said nothing of the sort. The fact that nothing was stipulated in the contract also shows that the Soviet side did not attach so much importance to it. Others say this was an official, secret-diplomatic gentlemen’s agreement and that the naïve, good-natured Gorbi relied on a verbal promise and a handshake and was ripped off. At least it is often not mentioned that Russia signed the NATO-Russia Act in 1997, in which it accepted the freedom of the post-Soviet states, including Ukraine to join the military alliance of their own choice. Strangely enough, this has not been officially canceled by Putin himself, and strangely enough, this important fact is not even mentioned in the discussion on either side, including Verheugen, who, as the new Bahr, now wants a new policy of détente. It is probably important that less than a year after the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, NATO began the Kosovo War, including the separation of Kosovo. The Western side probably underestimated the Kosovo war in its impact as a precedent, as well as a catalyst for the Russian and Chinese nationalism. From Moscow’s point of view, the Kosovo war was Yeltsin’s second major foreign policy disaster after the lost first Chechen war, which then paved the way for Putin. Nor was the bombing of the Chinese embassy forgotten in Beijing or dismissed as unfortunate collateral damage.

The question is, though, what would also follow the broken promise theory? Should NATO have been dissolved at the time, or at least not expanded to the east? And who should have prevented it? The USA? Europe? The West? Germany? Should Germany have left NATO, even though membership was a condition for reunification? And what should that mean today? Rollback to before 1997, as Putin demanded in his ultimatum before the Ukraine war? Verheugen does not answer what his new policy of detente should ultimately contain, and so remains more nostalgic and Ostalgie/Eastalgia. It is also never said exactly what the much-demanded European security architecture should look like, perhaps even without NATO. After all, the OSCE is not an institution that could create peace in the long term or with existing forces, and then there would still be the question of (Russian) nuclear weapons and deterrence. Indian General Asthana also thinks that the USA should have ended Cold War 1.0 after the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc and renounced the NATO/NATO eastward expansion in order to be able to devote itself extensively to Cold War 2.0 against China. But he doesn´t give any more details, nor how you could have done it specifically, moreover on the American side there apparently wasn’t the will to do so anyway, just as the USA probably never intended to bring Russia into NATO and the much-cited security community in Vancouver until Vladivostok remained a pure mirage and chimera. On the other side there is also the question of what Gorbi, Yeltsin and Putin intended. Was Gorbi’s hope to use his glasnost and perestroika to create a modern Soviet Union that would use more economic power and political soft power to neutralize or push back the USA in the „European house“ in order to then have the say in Europe as the new bening hegemon—similar to the Andropov plan of the time ? Wasn’t Yeltsin’s „European house“ also with the ulterior motive that an economically and militarily modernized strong capitalist Russia would then become the master of the “European house” or “European security architecture”, especially since nuclear weapons also remain sacred for Russia? Did the USA and Russia ever want to join NATO together or would the competition within them become a constant point of contention and a source of instability and disputes, as is the case with Erdogan within NATO? And in his notorious “peace speech” in the Bundestag in 2001, Putin himself not only called for a Eurasian economic community between Europe and Russia, but also for a Eurasian military alliance between Russia and Europe:

„For example, Vladimir Putin was able to announce in Berlin: „No one doubts the great value of Europe to the United States. But I believe that Europe will only strengthen its reputation as a powerful and independent center of world politics in the long term if it combines its own potential with Russia’s human, territorial and natural resources, as well as with Russia’s economic, cultural and defense potentials.“

 (Emmanuel Todd: World Power USA—An Obituary / Piper-Verlag, Munich-Zurich 2002, p.209).

The question of the prehistory of the Ukraine war is whether the neo-imperial Russian ideas of „European houses“ without NATO and the USA which means a Carl Schmitt-like exclusion of so-called space-alien forces, if possible under Russian influence from Gorbi, Yeltsin to Putin, are not exactly also an important part of the prehistory of the war in the Ukraine, even if Gorbachev and Yeltsin miscalculated in the hoped-for resurgence of the Soviet Union and then a capitalist Russia, like Putin is now doing again.

Ex-NATO General Domroese commented on the question of the allegedly broken promise:

“In the course of the talks that ultimately led to German unification, Genscher and Kohl had different approaches. Initially, ONE idea from Genscher was to keep the territory of the former GDR NEUTRAL. The chancellor ruled this out immediately. There should not be 2 different security zones in Germany. I’m quite sure that Genscher and Shevardnadze discussed the entire East/former WP states in one way or another. As a result, Kohl was very careful that no commitments were made without his PRE-APPROVAL. In short: Verheugen would certainly have agreed to other regulations.”

Yes, that probably explains the alleged promise, at least on the German side. Ultimately, what is decisive is what Kohl said, since he was Chancellor and signed the treaties. But why then did Yeltsin agree to the free choice of military alliance for the post-Soviet states with the NATO-Russia Founding Act, if he did not want NATO expansion to the east and has Putin never denounced it? Somehow everyone avoids this question. So far no one has been able to answer that. Did Jelzin think that there would still be a common European house or a common security architecture from Vancouver to Vladivostok or from Lisbon to Vladivostok and that the trend of NATO and EU enlargement would not continue?

But ultimately the word of the USA was also important for Gorbachev and Profesoor van Ess gives the following book tip, which is captivated by the formulation „Not one inch“ by the then Secretary of State james Baker:

„I think those who remember a little further back remember what the situation was like in the 1990s. As Mr Verheugen says, the Russians had no way of defending themselves against NATO’s eastward expansion because, at the invitation of Harvard advisers from Mr Yeltsin, they went through an economic valley of tears. There was certainly only a vague promise that NATO would not be expanded, but the Russians had high hopes that NATO would be dissolved and integrated into a general security system. In the early 2000s, they protested against the precursors of THAAD and the associated installation of defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, and later South Korea, because it was clear that this was directed against them. Putin drew his popularity from the fact that he stabilized Russia and that the Russian voice needed to be heard again. In that sense, I think both sides are kind of right. The problem is that no conclusions have been drawn from this fact. The conflict then broke out with the Euro-Maidan and the still strange circumstances under which a president who certainly didn’t have integrity but was at least democratically elected was ousted because he had sided with Russia. By the way, I’m currently reading in the C.H. Beck catalogue that there is a new book by a woman Mary Elise Sarotte called Not One Step Farther East. „Not one inch“. That’s what the Baker really said. But after the Chechen war, things were reversed: not a foot of European soil should remain closed to NATO. Not One Inch is also the title of the original American edition from 2022.”

Kommentare sind geschlossen.