15.06.2008
About the Past That Still Continues
№2 2008 April/June
Anatoly Adamishin

Deputy Foreign Minister from 1986-1990, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister from 1993-1994, and Russian Minister for CIS Affairs from 1997-1998. Presently, he is a member of the Board of Advisors of Russia in Global Affairs.

Russia, which is becoming increasingly
self-confident yet is still undecided as to where it should channel
its new energy, should take a look at its recent past, especially
at the acute turning point in history that marked the end of the
Cold War.

That was a truly tectonic shift in
international relations. It included the end of the 40-year
confrontation between the East and the West, the reunification of
Germany, the deliverance of Eastern Europe from Soviet domination,
Mikhail Gorbachev’s democratic revolution, the breakup of the
Soviet Union and the defeat of the Communist ideology.

It is becoming increasingly obvious
that decisions made in those years still shape the international
situation. Since there is not much optimism about the current state
of affairs in the world, there are many discussions as to whether
politicians missed some rare chances at that time.

Archive records recently made public
and memoirs of the main players give a better idea about the events
of the late 1980s-early 1990s and how decisions were made on “the
other side.” In addition, I have found some interesting things in
my own notes which I made in those years and which I have finally
found time to review.

Four decades of confrontational
stagnation gave way to an explosive period – fortunately, not
literally, not in terms of nuclear missile explosions, although
that could have happened as well. It was an explosive period from
the point of view of a wide range of possibilities with regard to
the development of global politics – from military clashes of
various scales to complete reconciliation between former enemies
and their transition to true cooperation, with numerous
intermediary tints.

The developments were triggered by
Gorbachev’s perestroika. The Soviet Union focused on a
breakthrough in relations with the United States. In those years it
was the axis on which all international stability balanced. I must
admit that the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, for
all its inconsistencies and contradictions, met the Soviet
initiatives with growing readiness. By the time Reagan handed over
power to George Bush in January 1989, the two countries had
achieved a lot – especially considering the low level from which
they had started:

  • The Soviet Union and the U.S. concluded
    their first ever agreement on the elimination – that is, not on the
    limitation, as had been the case in the past, but on the physical
    destruction – of a whole class of weapons, namely American and
    Soviet medium-range missiles. From this point of view that
    agreement was destined to remain unique. By the way, the Pentagon
    tried to dissuade Reagan from signing it as the U.S. Pershing and
    cruise missiles deployed in Western Europe gave America a huge
    advantage over the Soviet Union, while the Soviet Pioneer missiles,
    better known as SS-20, could not reach U.S. territory. U.S. hawk
    Richard Pearl even resigned in protest over this.
  • On February 15, 1989, the last Soviet
    soldier – General Boris Gromov – left Afghanistan. The withdrawal
    of Soviet troops was in keeping with an agreement that was also
    signed by the Reagan administration.
  • Documents were signed at the United
    Nations Headquarters in December 1988 in New York on the settlement
    of another long-standing conflict in Southwest Africa. That knot
    was undone not least due to the joint efforts of the U.S. and the
    Soviet Union. [1]
  • The human rights issue was included in
    the agenda of the Soviet-U.S. dialog for the first time. This
    factor had an immediate positive impact on interaction in other
    areas. In January 1989, a meeting of member states of the
    Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Vienna
    ended in success. Its failure was prevented by joint efforts of the
    Soviet Union and the United States, to which I can testify as I had
    a hand in those events. The Americans, due to the personal
    interference of Secretary of State George Shultz, supported the
    Soviet proposal to convene a Human Dimension conference in Moscow,
    which was worth a lot in those days.

The Soviet Union was ready to go
further. Gorbachev, in his speech at a UN General Assembly session
in December 1988, proposed a detailed program for improving global
politics and announced plans for major practical steps: within the
next two years, Moscow pledged to unilaterally reduce its Armed
Forces by 500,000 personnel, as well as by 10,000 battle tanks,
8,500 artillery pieces and 800 combat aircraft. This was something
that Europe was eagerly anticipating: this time, it was real
détente, coupled with historical changes in the Soviet
Union.

Suddenly, a chilly wind came from
Washington. Almost immediately after the inauguration of the new
president, the tone of public statements changed dramatically. Now
it was warning that the true Soviet intentions were not at all
obvious and that the trustful Yankees must be on their guard and
must not only maintain, but build up their military – above all
nuclear – might. And in general, the current behavior of America’s
main enemy was nothing more than an aberration. Statements like
that were made in public. As follows from materials made public
now, inside the administration officials went even further: Reagan
and Shultz were criticized for having yielded to the charms of
Soviet leaders who, as the officials warned, were simply more
sophisticated than their predecessors and, therefore, more
dangerous.

The foreign policy team was almost
completely replaced, as if some other political party had taken
over from the Republicans in power in the United States. The key
figures in the new team included: General Brent Scowcroft as
National Security Advisor; his chief assistant Robert Gates (former
CIA deputy director; now Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush
administration); Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney (now Vice
President); and Secretary of State James Baker. In his memoirs,
Baker does not hide his concern that Gorbachev’s strategy “was
premised on splitting the alliance and undercutting us in Western
Europe, by appealing past Western governments to Western publics.”
[2]

The Soviet leader needed to be stopped
before his “new thinking” and “Common European Home” started
driving wedges into relations between the United States and Western
Europe. The Soviet threat – the main thing that bound these two
regions together – was disappearing. If the Soviet Union was
withdrawing many of its troops from the territory of its Warsaw
Pact allies, why keep so many American troops in Western Europe?
Questions of this kind undermined the U.S. military-political
stronghold in Europe, namely the North Atlantic Alliance. NATO
needed to be preserved under any circumstances. And take those
endless disarmament initiatives! They could easily provoke
difficulties with the Congress over defense spending. Finally,
doubts appeared among the allies about the U.S. leading role in the
world.

After the new administration came to
power, it immediately took a break to take a critical look at the
policy toward the Soviet Union. Naturally, the Kremlin, which had
welcomed the Bush victory and had even received some encouraging
signals from Washington, was not happy about that. “Everything has
stopped,” [Soviet Prime Minister] Nikolai Ryzhkov told Margaret
Thatcher in my presence. She promised to talk with Bush. Gorbachev,
as follows from his memoirs, felt like a bride abandoned at the
altar. Specialists in U.S. studies from the Soviet Foreign Ministry
tried to allay the fears of the Soviet leaders, saying that in the
long run Washington would return to the Reagan era interaction. But
it never did.

The pause in U.S.-Soviet relations
continued almost throughout 1989: Gorbachev and Bush would meet for
the first time only in December in Malta. By that time, the cards
had already been dealt and the game was actually over. Suffice it
to say that the Berlin Wall would have been destroyed by that time.
Washington surely knew that Gorbachev was having difficulties at
home and was interested in early success on the international
arena. But U.S. politicians acted in keeping with a directive which
in the spring of that year had completed the revision of the policy
toward the Soviet Union: “American policy must be designed not to
help Gorbachev but rather to challenge the Soviets in such a way as
to move them in the direction we want.”[3]

The main target of the U.S. policy was
Eastern Europe. Scowcroft wrote that “our principal goal should be
to try to lift the Kremlin’s military boot from the necks of the
East Europeans.”[4]

Moscow was still cherishing the
illusion that East European capitals would produce Gorbachevs
(heroes of perestroika) of their own, who, emancipated from the
Kremlin’s control, would bring about a breakthrough for “socialism
with a human face.” However, that could have happened two decades
before, if the Prague Spring had survived. Now, most Eastern
Europeans did not want “humane socialism,” or any kind of socialism
whatsoever. Moscow now had to pay for the Brezhnev Politburo’s
decision to send tanks into Prague, for the subsequent long years
of stagnation and, finally, for decay. Who knows – if there had not
been the Czechoslovakia of 1968, there might not have been the
Afghanistan of 1979. Perhaps we would not have retained control
over Eastern Europe, but if we had started perestroika 20 years
earlier, we could have preserved a renewed Soviet Union.

Our other weak point was that we did
not know how things really stood in other Communist countries. Our
“friends” – as we called our Warsaw Pact allies – rarely reported
unpleasant news to Moscow, even when they were aware of unfavorable
developments. Soviet embassies, too, did not often present an
objective picture of the situation in Eastern Europe – dark colors
were not welcome then. Communist orthodoxy required depicting a
situation the way it was supposed to be, rather than what it
actually was.

The new U.S. administration started
with revising the previous administration’s approach to what seemed
to be an academic issue: whether the Cold War had ended or not.
Margaret Thatcher had given a positive answer to this question in
November 1988. George Shultz, when he stepped down as Secretary of
State, “was apprehensive that the ‘new team’ didn’t understand or
accept that the Cold War was over.”[5]

His apprehension was well-grounded: the
Cold War continued for the new administration. George Bush
announced that the Cold War “would not be over until the division
of Europe had ended and Europe was ‘whole and free’.” Sometime
later, to leave no doubts about U.S. goals, he added that “our
overall aim is to overcome the division of Europe and to forge a
unity based on Western values.”[6] Until then, Western leaders had
never made such undisguised attempts to revise the geostrategic
situation in Europe. Henry Kissinger’s initiatives aimed at
streamlining the changes in Eastern European countries in the
spirit of Realpolitik through negotiations with the Soviet Union
were rejected after some hesitation.[7]

The only thing Washington wanted to
negotiate were the best terms for the taking. Washington reasonably
assumed that Gorbachev would be unable to keep what wanted to
leave. The Americans took advantage of the difficulties faced by
the Soviet leader at home and, worse still, in his own
team.

From the point of view of geopolitics,
Eastern Europe was, above all, East Germany. When one urged Eastern
Europeans to gain freedom (which implied emancipation from the
Soviet Union) and when economic aid was closely linked to
“political liberalization,” the question inevitably arose: What
would happen to the existence of the two German states? Until then,
the East and the West had been unanimous on this issue: the status
quo would be maintained. But for how long? On March 20, 1989,
Scowcroft wrote in a memo to Bush that “virtually no West German
expects German reunification to happen in this
century.”[8]

Such an approach needed to be changed.
The efforts to cede Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union focused on
the reunification of Germany. There were many signs that it was
initiated by Washington. It was Americans, not West Germans, who in
the spring of 1989 gave the initial impetus to the movement which
gained momentum so rapidly. It was from Washington that Bonn
received the instruction “Go ahead, we will support you” – together
with a clearly defined price: non-withdrawal from NATO. A united
Germany must remain within the frameworks of Western alliances,
while U.S. troops would remain on its territory.

American politicians, including former
diplomats with whom I talked, strongly deny that the first word
about the reunification of Germany came from the United States. One
of them, who is close to the Democratic Party, even argued that the
then administration was not quick-witted enough for
that.

The reunification plan involved risks,
considering the Soviet troops deployed in East Germany and the
reluctance of Washington’s European allies to see a united Germany.
Yet it could offer a lot from the point of view of intercepting the
strategic initiative from the Soviet Union and, still more
important, it could help the Americans to channel the imminent
changes in the required direction. Moreover, the specter of the
Treaty of Rapallo [a 1922 agreement between Germany’s Weimar
Republic and the Soviet Union – Ed.] was looming over
them.

For the time being, the Americans
preferred not to talk about “moving beyond the status quo” even
with their allies across the ocean. The U.S. would lose little from
Germany’s unification carried out on Washington’s terms; rather
they would gain from it, whereas the Western Europeans’ gains were
not obvious. In any case, they would have more work on their hands,
while Germany would be engrossed for a long time in its domestic
affairs, which the subsequent difficult absorption of East Germany
confirmed.

Meanwhile, Gorbachev, struggling
against fierce resistance, was conducting an unprecedented
liberalization of Soviet society. However, he had very few
instruments at his disposal. It was then that perestroika
particularly needed understanding and support from the West – if,
of course, the latter was really concerned about democracy. But,
precisely at that very moment, the U.S. pushed the accelerator of
two parallel processes – German reunification and the painful
ousting of the Soviet Union from Europe. All is fair in love and
war, even though it is a Cold War.

In the first few months of 1989, Bush
advisers proposed that he reanimate the German issue from a
years-long state of anabiosis. The president was advised to “get
ahead of the curve” on the issue of German unification or Gorbachev
“might grab it first.”[9]

In May of the same year, Bush said in
an interview that, if unification was achieved at acceptable terms,
that would be fine. The U.S. president also came out with a public
peace initiative, making seemingly bold proposals concerning
conventional armaments. The proposals were aimed at a vulnerable
point of the Soviet Union – its advantage in conventional weapons
in Europe – and were intended to distract attention from nuclear
arms where the U.S. and NATO had an edge. The proposals were timed
to coincide with a summit session of the North Atlantic Council,
held in May 1989. Council members were pleased that the U.S. was
regaining the role of leader. Yet, the Council’s Declaration of May
30, 1989, still had a cautious wording on the German issue: “We
seek a state of peace in Europe in which the German people regains
its unity through free self-determination.” Yet, the word was said
– and said as a common position of NATO.

Now the idea needed to be “sold” to the
main actors. Current memoirs about those events do not conceal that
the Americans were the first to raise the reunification issue in
their contacts with highly placed West German officials.
Interestingly, they met with a reserved reaction. This follows even
from Bush’s conversation with NATO Secretary General Manfred
Wörner of Germany, now declassified along with many other
materials. The most the West Germans were willing to do was to
politely prod the Americans to take further steps.

Although the West German government
quickly grasped the new situation, it was slow to act. Horst
Teltschik, Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s assistant for foreign policy
and security and his main adviser on German reunification, recalled
later that the United States “was far ahead of the Germans at this
time”[10] on this issue. Compare the chronology: Bush spoke about
the importance of the German issue in May 1989, while Kohl made his
key statement to the effect that this issue was again on the
international agenda, in late August 1989.

Why didn’t Kohl and his team believe in
their luck at once? Were they afraid they would scare it away with
untimely actions? Did they consider it more reliable first to
soften East Germany with substantial economic aid, which Bonn had
already been providing for several years, and only then pick a ripe
fruit? I dare surmise that some West German policymakers tried to
figure out whether Bonn would gain much from a deal with the
Americans, which would perpetuate Germany’s membership in NATO, and
whether a unified Germany could get full freedom of action. Such
thoughts, if they ever existed, quickly vanished because their
implementation required a different Soviet policy. Moscow, in turn,
lulled itself into thinking that it had 50 or even 100 years of
leeway, and that even then the issue would be decided by
history.

Gorbachev’s memoirs make no mention of
German unification until the time when it became inevitable, even
when he writes about his visit to West Germany in June 1989 and his
conversation with Chancellor Kohl. We must have overestimated the
importance of Old Europe’s unwillingness to fight for a unified
Germany. But our main mistake was that we miscalculated the
strength of the East German regime. Erich Honecker annoyed many
people. When, finally, he was replaced by Egon Krenz in October
1989 (weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall), it was already too
late.

Encouraged and prodded by the Americans
and then by the voice of the East German population, Kohl
resolutely assumed the role of a key actor. Bonn spared no money.
Kohl promised to exchange weak East German marks for West German
hard currency at a rate of one to one, which was actually done.
Washington and Bonn kept adding fuel to their coordinated policy.
East German shops began to fill up with goods from West Germany;
border checkpoints between the two countries disappeared; and the
two Germanys were engaged in hasty bilateral negotiations on their
economic and political union. Soon these rapid developments became
irreversible.

For a short period of time I was
directly involved in the German affairs as I participated in the
first few sessions of the “Two-plus-Four” group.[11] The group was
set up in February 1990 to discuss international aspects of the
impending unification. Due to joint U.S.-West German efforts, the
group refrained from discussing the domestic affairs of a united
Germany, however hard we resisted. I assumed the new assignment
inspired by what I had achieved in African and humanitarian
affairs. But the fact that I was unable to influence the policy
making left me with a sad feeling, which is still not over.[12] At
the Soviet Foreign Ministry and the Central Committee, the tone in
the policy toward Germany was set by people who had for decades
worked on German affairs, and many of them were very old. One could
not but share their bitterness over what was going on, but their
slogan “No Retreat,” not backed with real possibilities, hanged in
mid-air.

Until the very end, we did not even
think of changing the status quo of our own volition and putting
East Germany at risk. We preferred to wait, stepping back and
snarling, until the country itself went. Charles de Gaulle’s advice
that one should lead the inevitable if one was unable to prevent it
was not for us.

As a result, we failed even to retreat
in an organized fashion. The discord hit diplomats and even the
Politburo, which increasingly often let this into the open. I think
many remember the open anti-Gorbachev speech by Politburo member
Yegor Ligachev about the “sellout” of East Germany. Moscow’s rivals
could pick from its reaction whatever suited them best at the
moment. One day, Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze
could bargain with the West over unification terms, and the next
day they could announce that they would defend the German
Democratic Republic until the end.

The Soviet Union itself resembled a
house divided which, as the Bible warned, cannot stand. The
division went along ethnic boundaries. The Baltic nations were
about to go; the Caucasus were on fire; and separatist sentiments
were growing in Ukraine. The Soviet leaders were torn between
snowballing problems at home – old problems which for decades had
been swept under the rug, and new ones which surfaced when people
became intoxicated by freedom and glasnost – and on the
international arena, as there was deep inequality between the East
and the West in the balance of forces. Moscow still had military
might, and many of its troops were stationed in East Germany and
some other Warsaw Pact countries. Yet it was here where a
continuously ignored conflict lay – we had military might, built up
through strenuous efforts, but could we really use it? The Soviet
Army was well-trained and armed, and in East Germany alone it had
over 750 cantonments, 5,000 military camps and 47 airfields, but
could all those troops be moved out of the barracks? This was
hardly possible due to domestic and international
factors.

There was tense inner rivalry in the
Soviet Union; everything was done to weaken the Center. There was
even less accord among those who we believed were our allies. I
remember a March 1990 Warsaw Pact conference in Prague. However
hard we tried, we failed to hammer out a common approach to the
German issue and even to a united Germany’s non-participation in
NATO. That was no wonder, since this happened one day after
supporters of an actual Anschluss had won elections in East
Germany.

In contrast, we were confronted by a
strong and united rival. Naturally, there were differences among
NATO members, but I do not believe that we could really take avail
of them, especially considering our condition then. The Americans
covered Kohl against the discontent of France, Britain, Italy and
smaller European countries. If those countries broke ranks, they
were immediately called to order. Francois Mitterrand, for example,
who was the first to realize that the process could not be stopped,
tried to get something for his country. And he really got it – Kohl
promised, and kept his word, to speed up the establishment of a
currency union within West European integration. Margaret Thatcher
held out longer than the others but, being more and more often in
the minority, settled for minor concessions. U.S. observers rightly
noted that those who resisted a fast reunification had respective
aspirations, but lacked a policy.

The Americans tried to scare their
worried allies with the possible neutrality of Germany and
exploited the fact that no one in NATO wanted the American troops
to leave West Germany. Kohl, in turn, frightened Washington with
the Kremlin. He told Baker that if he had not put forward his plan,
“the Soviets might have proposed reunification linked to the
neutralization of Germany in a reprise of Stalin’s ploy in
1952.”[13] Such a move, he asserted, “had been in the air.” (Where
was it in the air, I wonder?) However, the differences in the West
German-U.S. tandem were rare. For the United States and West
Germany, the task was facilitated by changes in the internal
political situation in Eastern European countries, above all in the
German Democratic Republic, Poland where Solidarity won the
elections in 1989, and Hungary.[14] These changes were not in favor
of the Soviet Union and, in general, not in favor of socialism, if
we view them from the point of view of ideology.

The public on that side was purely
pragmatic and not without treachery, to put it mildly. We, in turn,
were overly ideologically minded. The “protection of socialist
gains,” even when this was irrational, stood in the way of a policy
that would place state interests above all. Regretfully, the
Foreign Ministry apparatus during Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko’s
28-year-long service steadily lost its ability to think and work
creatively. What ministry officials called adherence to principle
and what in real fact was merely a “nyet,” without any
explanations, was valued more than a desire to find an unorthodox
solution and to reach a mutually acceptable compromise. Even in the
years of perestroika it was a rule that no one at the ministry show
any initiative on the issue of détente, while everyone turned
up when it came to giving a rebuff.

Meanwhile, we had to peel the true
intentions of our partners from under two or three layers of verbal
acrobatics. In one specific case, we were obviously late: we
overlooked the change in U.S. policy toward an early unification of
Germany. At first, this policy was accompanied by assurances that
Moscow should not take seriously some statements that were targeted
at the electorate, and that in any case the keys to unification
were in Soviet hands.[15] What Bush or Kohl suggested to Gorbachev
confidentially and especially in private was often taken as the
ultimate truth. But when things turned hot, the U.S. and West
Germany acted on the verge of foul: they used a whole arsenal of
reticence, half-truths and promises which they knew they would
never keep. Proofs of that are plenty, including in the above-cited
books by Western authors. Here are just two classic
examples.

Gorbachev skillfully operated the
‘Common European Home’ categories aimed at removing frontiers in
Europe and advocated broader use of structures of the Conference
for Security and Cooperation in Europe, both those already
established and those only planned. The Helsinki Final Act not only
fixed the borders in Europe, but also laid the foundation for
collective security on the continent. That was our alternative to
the confrontation of military-political blocs. West Germans
repeatedly promised, including at the top level, that the process
of Germany’s reunification would be incorporated into pan-European
structures.[16] Naturally, nothing like this happened, and
completely different structures were put to use.

The other example is even more
unattractive; it refers to solemn assurances by American and West
German leaders, both confidential and public, that after a united
Germany joined NATO, the latter would not move an inch eastwards.
That was done to wrest consent from us for a united Germany’s NATO
membership, which we fiercely resisted. In addition, in the then
atmosphere of rapid changes, people cherished the illusion that
Europe soon would not have any military blocs at all. The
newly-started transformation of NATO was viewed as confirming those
hopes. In particular, NATO’s summit meeting in London in July 1990
mapped out some measures in this direction. NATO showed its true
self later, in 1999, when it bombed Yugoslavia, which was the first
time in its history that it used military force.

In its actions toward Gorbachev in
1989-1991, the U.S. administration was guided by the rule “Give
nothing, take everything, demand more.” In January 1992, in his
State of the Union address to both houses of Congress, Bush
“declared triumphantly that the United States had won the Cold
War.”[17] Those words were a logical consequence of that
policy.

That was a delayed yet finally frank
response to Gorbachev’s call for cooperation. The Soviet leader
viewed the end of the Cold War as a mutual victory of the Soviet
Union and the United States and, moreover, of all sensible
political figures of those times. Void of confrontation, the U.S.
and the Soviet Union could become truly strategic partners.
Menacing problems were already rising then, ranging from
international terrorism to proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction to extremism of all kinds and hues. The leaders of
perestroika warned the Americans about them, and I witnessed that.
For us, the solution of problems related to the end of the Cold War
was a necessary stage which was to be followed by our joint work
with the U.S. The Bush administration never went beyond the first
part of that process. It was not inspired by the prospect of
building a better world together, as Reagan had proposed at the end
of his presidency. Apparently, it was more important to it to go
down in history as the victor. What could be more convincing proof
of victory than the breakup of the Soviet Union – even if this
happened after the Cold War was over, this time once and for
all?[18] It seemed it was an hour of triumph for America, when it
established itself as the full-fledged master of the world. It did
not even need allied Western Europe, not to mention Russia. So, one
could talk about lost opportunities only by stretching the
imagination; they were simply not taken into account. The algorithm
of projecting the American might onto the foreseeable future and
further on was chosen consciously. The voices of advocates of a
more balanced approach were shouted down by those who believed that
America would have enough strength for everything.

So, what do we have as a result? Two
wars with no end in sight, snowballing international problems, and
a decreasing number of countries wishing to help the U.S. with
solutions. There is hardly any country that has denied itself the
pleasure of shooting critical arrows at the country whose
popularity rating has been decreasing everywhere. Indignant
Americans wonder why? After all, they have set themselves the noble
goal of rebuilding the world on the principles of democracy. But,
as Maximilien Robespierre, the French revolutionary leader, once
said, no one loves armed missionaries.

In conclusion, I would like to offer
readers a highly hypothetical supposition. If the American
administration had supported Gorbachev, would he have been able to
bring his perestroika to a successful conclusion?

My answer is Gorbachev’s chances would
have definitely increased – especially if the Americans had come
out as the leaders of political and material support for
Gorbachev’s reforms on the part of the West, as Thatcher urged them
to do. I heard U.S. political analysts say that history could have
developed differently had Reagan stayed in power. But, however
important international factors could be, they were not dominant.
As a poet said, there was a “little rift within the
lute.”

For years, previous Soviet leaders, up
to Konstantin Chernenko, had been building a system which, however,
failed to stand the test of time. It was perfect in serving the
interests of the ruling elite, placing it above all criticism and
not making it accountable to anyone but itself. But rule without
freedom doomed the country to a wretched existence. In economic,
technological and many other respects, we were increasingly lagging
behind the West with which we entered a bitter ideological and
military confrontation. By the beginning of perestroika, the Soviet
Union was already in a deep systemic crisis, which was barely
visible to the naked eye as there was no publicity or freedom of
information in the country. Gorbachev’s attempts to softly change
the system with economic and political reforms and put the country
onto the track of social-democratic development were suppressed by
the Communist Party bureaucracy from the inside.

Add to this the loss by Washington of a
unique historical chance. It was overwhelmed by short-term
interests and down-to-earth pragmatism. Perhaps the U.S.
administration lacked the strategic farsightedness of great
American presidents, like Woodrow Wilson or Franklin D. Roosevelt.
By the way, the choice made by the Americans at the final stage of
perestroika was not accidental – instead of supporting the reforms
of Gorbachev who strongly advocated “democratic socialism,” they
preferred the destructive anti-communism of Boris
Yeltsin.

And even after the Soviet Union broke
up (Bush was the first to learn the news from a telephone call from
the Russian president) and after a new government came to the
Kremlin, the U.S. did little to support Russian democrats. Instead,
it took avail of Russia’s weakness. The attitude toward Russia as a
“defeated country” was expressed in NATO’s eastward expansion, in
the bombings of Yugoslavia, and in the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM
Treaty. The same attitude is behind the strong unwillingness to
admit that Russia’s interests in the territory of the former Soviet
Union have great and sometimes even vital importance for it. But
the DNA of U.S. foreign policy is well-known and will hardly change
any time soon.

Another more important question remains
open: What path will Russia take?

In the opinion of many American
experts, in order to overcome the deep crisis of the 1990s, Russia
inevitably had to go through the restoration of an authoritarian
regime. But perpetuating forms of a political system that closely
resemble those that proved to be untenable in the period that was
fatal to the Soviet Union would mean making the same historical
mistake. Strength may prove to be illusory. If a country wants to
feel confident on the international arena and to react to outside
impacts quickly and adequately, it must build its home life in
accordance with political parameters that produce the greatest
economic effect and the best quality of life. This is particularly
true at the present time of globalization and rapid technological
progress. Russia will not get away from democracy.

History cannot be cheated – in it, like
in everyday life, what must happen usually happens.