[S]ince we had finally brought down Soviet communism and seen the birth of democracy in Russia the most important thing to do was to help Russian democracy take root and integrate Russia into Europe. Wasn't that why we fought the cold war -- to give young Russians the same chance at freedom and integration with the West as young Czechs, Georgians and Poles? Wasn't consolidating a democratic Russia more important than bringing the Czech Navy into NATO?...
No, said the Clinton foreign policy team, we're going to cram NATO expansion down the Russians' throats, because Moscow is weak and, by the way, they'll get used to it. Message to Russians: We expect you to behave like Western democrats, but we're going to treat you like you're still the Soviet Union. The cold war is over for you, but not for us.
I don't think we fought the cold war to give young Russians freedom, actually, but put that aside.
The risks of humiliating Russia after the Wall came down were perhaps given too little weight. The dilemma was certainly understood by advocates of Nato enlargement, and there were attempts at outreach through various forms of partnership between Russia and and the alliance, though perhaps this seemed like adding insult to injury. But bear two other points in mind. One, Nato was not enlarged all the way, out of concern for Russia's reaction: Ukraine and Georgia have been sort of promised membership, but with no timetable. Two, the question was, what were we to say to Poland, Hungary, and then-Czechoslovakia, desperate for release from Russo-Soviet imperium and for the protection of the West? Remember also that the success of their post-socialist transition to market economics was very much in doubt. This was a finely balanced argument.