A document dated 1 February 2008, sent by then US ambassador to Moscow William J. Burns, and posted on Wikileaks under code 08MOSCOW265_a shows that the US was fully aware of what a pro-western pull on the Ukraine would mean.
The message was sent by the US ambassador, as confidential, to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, NATO – European Union Cooperative, the National Security Council, Russia Moscow Political Collective, the US Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State.
In the message ambassador Burns highlights that the situation has been spelled out by Russian FM Sergei Lavrov of what it would mean for the Ukraine to be drawn further into a western sphere of influence.
The document lists as its subject: “NYET MEANS NYET: RUSSIA'S NATO ENLARGEMENT REDLINES.”
As explained in the document summary, “following a muted first reaction to Ukraine's intent to seek a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the Bucharest summit, Foreign Minister Lavrov and other senior officials have reiterated strong opposition, stressing that Russia would view further eastward expansion as a potential military threat. NATO enlargement, particularly to Ukraine, remains "an emotional and neuralgic" issue for Russia, but strategic policy considerations also underlie strong opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. In Ukraine, these include fears that the issue could potentially split the country in two, leading to violence or even, some claim, civil war, which would force Russia to decide whether to intervene. Additionally, the GOR and experts continue to claim that Ukrainian NATO membership would have a major impact on Russia's defense industry, Russian-Ukrainian family connections, and bilateral relations generally. In Georgia, the GOR fears continued instability and "provocative acts" in the separatist regions.”
Ambassador Burns is pragmatic in relating Russian fears to his superiors. So “while Russia might believe statements from the West that NATO was not directed against Russia, when one looked at recent military activities in NATO countries (establishment of U.S. forward operating locations, etc.) they had to be evaluated not by stated intentions but by potential.”
Sergei Lavgrov warned the US (and that was six years ago) that Russia was convinced that enlargement was not based on security reasons, but was a legacy of the Cold War. At that time the Russian FM had said that Russia understood that NATO was in search of a new mission, “but there was a growing tendency for new members to do and say whatever they wanted simply because they were under the NATO umbrella (e.g. attempts of some new member countries to "rewrite history and glorify fascists").”
During a press briefing on 22 January the Russian MFA said "a radical new expansion of NATO may bring about a serious political-military shift that will inevitably affect the security interests of Russia." The spokesman went on to stress that Russia was bound with Ukraine by bilateral obligations set forth in the 1997 Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership in which both parties undertook to "refrain from participation in or support of any actions capable of prejudicing the security of the other Side."
More poignantly the ambassador notes unbiased third party reportsthat “tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.”
In light of the revelation that the west, and especially the USA, were well aware of what was at stake, they persisted in taunting and baiting Moscow, while never dampening Kyiv's ardor for a realignment towards collective western institutions and security mechanisms, but perhaps fueling it.
read the full document here