There's a (paywalled) piece in Der Spiegel summarized as

In 1991, the Helmut Kohl government wanted to prevent the eastward expansion of NATO and the independence of Ukraine - this is shown by previously unknown files from the archives of the Federal Foreign Office.

There doesn't seem to be much coverage of these in English. What was the extent of Kohl government's opposition to the independence of Ukraine?

  • This is already 30 years ago. It could be a better fit for history.stackexchange Aug 31, 2022 at 5:11
  • 1
    @Trilarion Note that the Spiegel article is from April 2022, presumably published now because some documents from back then got declassified.
    – quarague
    Aug 31, 2022 at 6:35
  • 2
    This Austrian article also reports the Spiegel report (no paywall): 2022-05-22: Kohl und Genscher wussten, wie langfristig gefährlich Russland ist | kurier.at, but it adds: However, the Germans were the first country in the then EC to recognize Ukraine as a state, because the referendum there had ended in favor of independence with 90 percent. It then meantions that at this point in time there were still Soviet troops in Germany. Aug 31, 2022 at 18:23
  • 1
    @Trilarion That was the magazin Stern, not the Spiegel. Hitler Diaries - Wikipedia Aug 31, 2022 at 19:55
  • 1
    The declassified document mentioned in the question are probably the same ones available and analysed there: nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/russia-programs/2017-12-12/… . If anyone wants to delve into it, they will probably be able to extract an informed answer from this material.
    – Evargalo
    Nov 28, 2022 at 8:31

2 Answers 2


Judging from the text of the article you linked - Kohl was expecting the dissolution of USSR to result in a surge in toxic nationalism not unlike the aftermath of WW1. As we can see from history, the dissolution of a multi-national state allows the tensions between its peoples that were suppressed by the empire's law enforcement to grow into full-fledged wars - and indeed fall of USSR did lead to multiple conflicts between or within post-USSR states (Karabakh, Chechnya, Tajikistan to provide some examples). Kohl was understandably not eager to see a war brewing so close to Germany's borders (and what's more, a war concerning countries important to German economy). Thus, he attempted to somewhat soften the transitional period - instead of a collection of completely independent states, he envisioned a confederation that would allow the constituent countries of the Union to "ease into" independence. Allowing some countries (Baltic states, to be precise) to leave wuld create a domino effect, Kohl argued, according to the article (as translated by Google) -

If the Balts left the Soviet Union, the Ukrainians would follow and eventually the entire Soviet empire would perish, including Gorbachev. That's pretty much what happened in the course of 1991. Only Kohl doubted that such a dissolution would end peacefully. He considered a kind of 'civil war' possible, as would soon be the case in Yugoslavia.

Same train of thought was applied to NATO membership (again, via Google translate):

In February 1991, Bonn's ambassador reported that the East-Central Europeans' urge to join the defense alliance was creating an explosive mixture of "perception of a threat, fear of isolation and frustration at the ingratitude of the former brother countries".

Genscher [Kohl's vice-chancellor] did not want to fuel this situation any further. NATO membership for East Central Europeans was "not in our interest," he declared. Although these countries have the right to belong to the defense alliance, "the point now is not to exercise this right".

The Spiegel article seems to only operate with documents concerning 1991, so it isn't clear how Kohl's policy changed when it was clear the USSR was done for concerning independence of post-Soviet states; but we do know that NATO enlargement into Eastern Europe only started after Kohl left office in 1998.

  • 1
    "isn't paywalled for me" I guess they know people located in Russia can't pay... Aug 31, 2022 at 7:57
  • @Fizz indeed, they removed the paywall in March for Ukraine and Russia. Should I remove direct quotes from the answer? Aug 31, 2022 at 8:40
  • No, the quotes are fine. I suppose what's missing is a more precise date of the discussions. There was a lot of kowtowing to Moscow in the first half on '91 after they sent OMON troops to suppress the independence of the Baltics, but before the August coup. Even the UK apparently made some strong statements around that time regarding NATO [non-]expansion... although the UK apparently didn't include Ukraine [non-independence] in that kind of discussion. Aug 31, 2022 at 8:59
  • @Fizz Well, to access that information for free we would need to wait for about 5 years. Aug 31, 2022 at 10:03
  • This all sounds logical, but then why did Germany (and Kohl specifically) strongly support Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia at the same time, pretty much against everyone else in Europe? (Together with Slovenia, this was the first stage of break-up, and it wasn't deemed inevitable then, as far as I know).
    – Zeus
    Sep 2, 2022 at 0:52

There's actually an English version (i.e. Der Spiegel International translation) of that article, but it has a somewhat different title and doesn't mention Ukraine in the summary, so it's a bit hard to find/relate. It refers to the same print edition 18/2022, that's how I know it's the same piece referenced.

The article is mostly paraphrasing with only the briefest of quotes from actual/original documents. But there there are two primary sources quoted there in re Ukraine: one is Kohl's conversation with Mitterrand "in early 1991" and then 2nd a November memo summarizing a discussion between Kohl and Yeltsin, a couple of weeks before Ukraine's independence referendum.

The new [declassified] volume with papers from 1991 includes memos, minutes and letters containing previously unknown details about NATO’s eastward expansion, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine. [...]

In 1991, the Soviet Union was still in existence, though many of the nationalities that formed the union had begun standing up to Moscow. Kohl, though, felt that a dissolution of the Soviet Union would be a "catastrophe" and anyone pushing for such a result was an "ass." In consequence, he repeatedly sought to drum up momentum in the West against independence for Ukraine and the Baltic states.

[...] Kohl found himself faced with the three Baltic republics pushing for independence and seeking to leave the Soviet Union, Kohl felt they were on the "wrong path," as he told French President François Mitterrand during a meeting in Paris in early 1991. Kohl, of course, had rapidly moved ahead with Germany’s reunification. But he felt that Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania should be more patient about their freedom – and should wait around another 10 years, the chancellor seemed to think at the time. And even then, Kohl felt the three countries should be neutral ("Finnish status"), and not become members of NATO or the European Community (EC).

He felt Ukraine should also remain in the Soviet Union, at least initially, so as not endanger its continued existence. Once it became clear that the Soviet Union was facing dissolution, the Germans were in favor of Kyiv joining a confederation with Russia and other former Soviet republics. In November 1991, Kohl offered Russian President Boris Yeltsin to "exert influence on the Ukrainian leadership" to join such a union, according to a memo from a discussion held between Kohl and Yeltsin during a trip by the Russian president to the German capital of Bonn. German diplomats felt that Kyiv was demonstrating a "tendency toward authoritarian-nationalist excesses."

When over 90 percent of Ukrainian voters cast their ballots in favor of independence in a referendum held two weeks later, though, both Kohl and Genscher changed course. Germany was the first EC member state to recognized Ukraine’s independence.

Three's a bit more about NATO expansion in there, but since my Q wasn't about that, I won't get to the remained of that article.

  • FWTW, Mitterrand was in agreement on the Baltics [then]: "French President Mitterrand, for his part, complained about the Baltics, saying "you can’t risk everything you have gained (with Moscow – eds.) just to help countries that haven’t existed on their own in 400 years." " Aug 31, 2022 at 12:00
  • FWTW, some other sources discussing these matters also mention the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_Kiev_speech as evidence that most of the West's policies were being overtaken by events then. Aug 31, 2022 at 12:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.