The US State Department has argued that continued NATO expansion in eastern Europe is justified on the basis of an ?open door policy,? despite Moscow claiming Washington previously gave assurances that the alliance would not grow.
At a press briefing on Monday, diplomatic spokesperson Ned Price was asked about pledges that then-US Secretary of State James Baker allegedly made in the 1990s, assuring then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that the US-led military alliance would not expand close to Russia's borders.
"Look, we have been clear, as have past administrations of both parties, that NATO has an open door," Price responded. "And we are committed to the open-door policy that was put forward in Bucharest, that NATO should remain an option to aspirants when they are ready and able to meet the commitments that are spelled out, as well as the obligations of membership; meaning specifically that they are able and willing to contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area."
Price was referring specifically to Ukraine's ambitions to join NATO, which could allow American armed forces to be stationed on the country's border with Russia. Moscow has repeatedly said that such a move is a "red line" for Russia, and has insisted it will do what it can to prevent that situation.
"No one else should have a veto over what NATO decides to do, what a country like Ukraine seeks to do," Price went on.
When pressed on the promises that Baker is reported to have made back then, and whether he was mistaken to have done so, Price didn't respond directly, saying, "I want to be clear about one other thing: NATO is a defensive alliance. It is defensive in nature. It's defensive in orientation. The idea that NATO or an aspirant country like Ukraine could pose a threat to Russia, as Secretary Blinken said last week, would be laughable were the situation not so serious."
Russia and the US never signed a formal treaty limiting the expansion of NATO, and some experts dispute that American officials ever promised to rein in the alliance in eastern Europe. In 2017, however, an archive was published containing official records of meetings between Russian and Western leaders, along with private diaries. The documents showed that Russia was given assurances in the early 90s that NATO would not grow.
Since then, however, 13 eastern European states have joined the alliance. Putin called recently for a deal guaranteeing in writing that NATO does not move further east, blaming the US for disregarding its past promises. American president Joe Biden has dismissed the possibility of such a deal, saying, "I don't accept anybody's red lines."