Krakow Film Festival 2024

A logical consequence of the Cold War?

RUSSIA / M.E. Sarotte demonstrates thorough knowledge of the Cold War – and today's horrific continuation of it.

Not One Inch. America, Russia, and the making of post-cold war stalemate
Author: M.E. Sarotte
Publisher: Yale University Press, USA

«Not an inch eastward.» In February 1990, these words were spoken by US Secretary of State James Baker to Mikhail Gorbachev. But was this to be perceived as a promise that was later broken? Or was it even a promise at all? According to this author, who is a history professor at John Hopkins School of Advanced Historical Studies, among other things, the words were uttered purely hypothetically, as a kind of if-then statement with an open-ended question at the end: «What if you let your part of Germany go, and we agree that NATO will not move one inch eastward?»

it was not only NATO expansion that created the distance between Russia and the US

Putin in Dresden

The book Not One Inch by Mary Elise Sarotte opens with Vladimir Putin in 1989 deciding to do anything to defend Soviet territory. The Berlin Wall falls, and East Germany collapses. In the KGB headquarters in Dresden, Putin worries that the building and headquarters will soon fall. The building is full of classified documents. The documents contain information about espionage against Western high-tech industries, but not only that: they also show that Soviet intelligence has had contact with the Red Army Faction (RAF) – and supported the organization with money and other military equipment, and not least: used Dresden’s geographically hidden location to plan purges of political enemies. Dresden’s headquarters were also used as a hiding place to plan attacks against the main enemy, NATO. Putin calls the Soviet military headquarters in the same city for help. The person on the other end, however, refuses to lend a helping hand without public approval from Moscow – and from Moscow, there is silence. Outside, people are protesting against the Soviet presence in East Germany. Putin walks out the door and stands, staring into the air. Then he says, «Anyone who enters these doors will be shot.»

Then all classified and graded documents are burned for several days. For years he has been haunted by the words «Moscow is silent»: why did Russia not defend itself against its enemies? The only justifiable thing, Putin believes, is an assertive and offensive Russia that cannot be overrun by the US.

Sarotte’s task has been, among other things, to explain why this golden opportunity for openness and cooperation between East and West was never realized. Ten years later, the demarcation line between NATO countries and Russia was clear and firm, while Ukraine and other post-Soviet states ended up in a grey zone between East and West. However, the author is clear that it was not only NATO expansion that created the distance between Russia and the US, but several other factors, such as the Bosnian War. As far as I can judge, the author does not leave out a single important detail. And Sarotte demonstrates extensive knowledge, both in breadth and depth. She cannot be accused of being on either Russia’s or the US’s side too strongly.

On February 10, 1990, Germany’s reunification was proclaimed, but without clarifying which side the country would stand on. As is well known, it ended up with Germany primarily strengthening cooperation with the US. Gorbachev weakened his political position by giving a reunited Germany the freedom to choose which side the country would politically align with.

For those who want to understand how Ukraine ended up being occupied by Russia under Putin, one of the book’s most interesting chapters is Partnership for Peace. It was an agreement that allowed countries who wanted NATO cooperation to enter into a looser alliance with NATO, but without receiving the important Article 5 guarantee.

Perhaps one should try to understand the Ukraine conflict as a logical consequence of the reality of the former Cold War that did not disappear from the world map. Although the Cold War seemed to end at a crucial moment thanks to the cooperation between Yeltsin and Clinton, it did not happen that way – for reasons that this book explains well and in detail.

Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton laughing at the White House

Yeltsin and Clinton

One of the most iconic moments in modern history is when Yeltsin and Clinton stand together in front of the entrance to the White House in 1995, and Bill Clinton begins to laugh. The book does not say what Bill Clinton was laughing at. Still, according to the author, this moment was a humiliating experience for Vladimir Putin: «The United States is laughing at Russia. This must never happen again! With me as the leader, Russia will command respect in the eyes of the world. No one will laugh at Russia and never at the Russian leadership.»

It is doubtful that Clinton was laughing at Yeltsin. On the contrary, Clinton saw Yeltsin as the best possible partner for peace. Sarotte describes Yeltsin’s antics and mutual respect between the two leaders in detail. In Clinton’s opinion, a drunk Yeltsin was a much better alternative than any of the other sober Soviet leaders.

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Henning Næss
Henning Næss
Henning Næss is a literature critic, Modern Times Review

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