Russian Nato membership proposed in 1995

Russian Nato membership proposed in 1995

The idea of Russia being invited to join Nato was suggested in the 1990s to integrate it with Europe after the Cold War, previously secret UK documents show.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) suggested that Russia could become an “associate member” in 1995, with the right to attend meetings but with no guarantees on collective security.

Nato currently has 29 member countries with Russia seen as its main threat.

The idea was presented by Malcolm Rifkind, the then UK defence minister, to ease Russian suspicions over Nato’s eastward expansion as the Kremlin tried to adjust to its shrunken international borders.

Rifkind said Nato needed to make Russia “a more normal member of our western family” or risk it abandoning democracy.

The proposal was dismissed by a UK strategy meeting in January 1995, which concluded that the plan was “farcical”.

An MoD document, released with declassified government papers from the National Archives, said: “Integrating Russia into the European and western family of nations in a realistic and sensitive way [is] the most difficult problem” facing Nato.

To avoid the need for Nato members to defend Russia if it was attacked along its lengthy borders, a new category of “associate member” was suggested. 

The 1997 Nato-Russia Founding Act, while not a legally binding commitment, said Nato had “no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members … and do not foresee any future need to do so”. 

It also, critically, promised to not place bases on its new eastern border through the “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces”. Poland has urged the US to regard that provision as void after Russia’s 2014 military aggression in Ukraine.

The 1995 UK files show the then Russian president Boris Yeltsin was proving an unpredictable ally, urging western leaders at a summit in the Canadian city of Halifax to delay Nato enlargement until after the Russian election because “public discussion could provoke trouble”.

His heavy drinking is discussed in the files. In 1994 he failed to leave his plane during a stopover in Ireland amid rumours of alcoholism or a heart attack.

In 1995, at Hyde Park, the Roosevelt home in New York, US diplomats reported that Yeltsin appeared “rolling, puffy and red”.

He drank “wine and beer greedily…and regretted the absence of cognac. One of his aides took a glass of champagne from him when the aide felt enough was enough and he was alcoholically cheerful at his press conference with Clinton”. 



Nato is now largely focussed on halting Russian advances. Picture credit: US military


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