We Suffered a Major Defeat

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We Suffered a Major Defeat”

by Marina Kalashnikova

‘Vlast’ Magazine, Kommersant Publishing House, March 7, 2005.
‘Vlast’ continues with a series of interviews with the people who shaped the foreign policy of the USSR during the perestroika times. Oleg Grinevsky is one of the key figures in the negotiations on disarmament with the West. Presently he is the head of the Europe-USA Center in the Institute of Europe of Russian Academy of Sciences. O.Grinevsky has shared with Vlast's correspondent Marina Kalashnikova about the way the Soviet Union was defeated in the cold war.
I do not Remember for Sure when the Concept of the First Blow was Dropped”
- What do you view as the conceptual source of perestroika? For example, what was the role of Alexander Yakovlev in this sense?
- He enjoyed significant influence upon Gorbachev. However, I would rather say that it was Gorbachev that used Yakovlev to fight his opponents. In general as a politician Yakovlev is not too consistent – at first he was an ardent anti-Americanist, then he drastically changed his tack. My first boss Nikita Khrushchev was quick-tempered, even unruly, and extremely illiterate. However, one could always rely on him. He was honest and you could trust him. After Khrushchev there was no leader that I could rely upon.
- How about Andropov?
- I would not have relied upon him either.
- What about his protege Gorbachev?
- Certainly no. In December 1985, I arrived from Stockholm and was summoned by the General Secretary. He asked me to share in confidence with him: “Tell me honestly what is happening at the negotiations on disarmament in Europe. Is it possible to make any progress there? Don't be afraid and tell me nothing but the truth.” I told him everything. It turned out later that he had summoned all the participants of the negotiations and had asked them approximately the same questions. The next day he gathered all of us together and said: “The Politbureau are in the next room. Tell them what you have told me.” Taking into account the inter-departmental struggle that was going on back then, many found themselves in a predicament.
- So what were the ideas that Gorbachev brought along?
- He brought one idea: “We cannot go on living like that!” We were falling behind on all parameters. However, the thing was that he did not know how we should live. There began a kind of a probing – try here, take a risk there. Moreover, different people around Gorbachev offered different approaches. Everything depended upon ingenuity and intellect.
- Like for example deleting the concept of a preventive nuclear blow to NATO from the Soviet doctrine?
- Officially the Soviet Union always said that it would not be the first one to use its nuclear weapons. However, in reality things were different. At the maneuvers (for example West-83) they war-gamed delivering a preventive blow to the NATO countries in case authentic information on the preparation of a nuclear attack was received. What “authentic information” meant, was not specified anywhere. I do not know when exactly the concept of the first blow was dropped but it did hold out until 1987. If I am not mistaken, they gave it up when Dmitry Yazov was appointed the Defense Minister. However, materials on this subject have not been published yet so it is difficult to speak about it in detail.

- Did the Americans plan something similar?

- No. According to their plans, the troops of the Warsaw Treaty were to advance 100 km inland on NATO's territory before they were allowed to use nuclear weapons.
- Did they actually consider such a possibility?
- They sure did. However, at that time we were no longer after seizing anything. We just wanted to keep what we had - proceeding from the premise that an offensive is the best type of defense though. Let us suppose that we received information, according to which, the USA were mounting an attack. The General Staff would plan a pre-emptive strike, which would have inevitably resulted in a universal nuclear war. In other words we suspected each other of the worst intentions and were preparing for a war. Under such crazy circumstances an accidental launching of a missile, false information, misinterpretation of the intentions of the other side could have resulted in a disaster. This is why the beginning of the 80-s (before Gorbachev) could be viewed as the most dangerous period of the cold war – even more dangerous than the 1962 Caribbean crisis. However, this is something that they still do not speak about.
- The contents and the results of the cold war are kind of washed out today.
- We suffered a major defeat in the cold war but we make no due conclusions. When Germany was defeated in the Second World War, the Germans clenched their teeth and got down to work. This is what we have to do as well – clench our teeth and raise the economy.
“The Unification of Germany was not Envisaged”
- The unification of Germany is another important subject. When did it become clear that it could not be avoided?
- After the end of the war Stalin had a clear understanding that Germany must be united. Ambassador to Bonn Semyonov recollected Stalin's words addressed to him: to split Germany is the same as to split Russia drawing the line through Moscow; neither the Germans nor the Russians would live like that for a long time. Back then they thought at the top that it was necessary to take the tack at the unification of Germany however in such a way that the country should not end up in the Western camp. It was necessary to make it neutral and sooner or later it would join us.
- Voluntarily?
- With our assistance of course. Socialism was expanding at that time so there were no doubts. However, even Khrushchev already had the understanding that it was unrealistic and it was necessary to split things into “yours” and “mine”. The process of gradual recognition of the two German states began. In 1971, together with the status of the West Berlin GDR was recognized by the West de jure. This was the policy pursued by the USSR after Khrushchev. And it remained practically unchanged until 1989.
- Already in 1987 Alexander Yakovlev discussed the possibility of withdrawing the Soviet troops from GDR with the KGB representatives in the East Berlin.
- I repeat - Yakovlev is a very complex figure. Sometimes he said ultra-liberal and at other times ultra-conservative things, which put everybody at a loss: is this a check or a provocation? Probably, he was probing the attitude of the Germans towards such a variant. This possibility was discussed in our circles back then in theory. At the beginning of November 1989, Gorbachev himself said that one day Germany would reunite but this would not be during his lifetime. Chancellor Kohl also said that the unification would require 5-10 years. In October-November of that year I was in Moscow. I was preparing materials for Gorbachev on issues of European security and disarmament, which was closely connected with the unification of Germany. I can attest to the fact that at that time nobody was raising the alarm and the unification of Germany was not discussed at the top in the practical aspect. That was why the following was a revelation for me: on November 3, in Sofia there was a meeting of the chiefs of the WTO headquarters. Marshal Victor Kulikov confided in me that they were losing control over the situation in GDR, on November 9 there would begin demonstrations and the Berlin wall would be destroyed. Hence the question - was this information reported to the very top in Moscow? If it was the reaction could have been as follows: the military are exaggerating things again. And it got no further.
- According to a version, the unification was to take place under the auspices of Moscow and with the participation of pro-Gorbachev GDR communists and the leftist social democrats of the FRG. According to this plan, pro-Moscow forces headed by the local Gorbachevs were to come to power in the countries of the Central Europe. This was the plan of a political conquest of Europe.
- I know nothing of the plans of the kind and I think that they did not exist. Gorbachev and his circle did not have a thought-out policy concerning Europe's rearrangement. Instead they voiced the slogan of peaceful co-existence and construction of a common European home from the Atlantic to the Urals. Nothing specific. The unification of Germany was not envisaged.
- Did Moscow start improvising after the fall of the Berlin wall?
- Approximately so. In February 1990, I was summoned to Moscow from Vienna to participate in the negotiations with the USA Secretary of State, James Backer. The issue of Germany's unification was discussed there as well. By that time it became clear that the unification was inevitable. Backer said that both the USSR and the USA needed to coordinate their actions so that the process would go smoothly. He suggested a specific plan. Gorbachev responded by vague statements: “Let's move gradually in the direction of creating a common European home. Do not expect to receive exhaustive answers of me now.” And the like. The only sensible suggestion was sent in by ambassador Yuly Kvitsinsky from Bonn – to call the conference of the anti-Hitler coalition countries. We would have received the opportunity to control this process and to prolong it. We could use the positions of the states that feared the unification. However, Moscow ignored that. There were no other serious suggestions.
“The Question on the Expansion of NATO Simply could not be Topical”
- The whole of the disarmament process in which you participated was unthinkable without the German subject at that time, wasn't it?
- That's true. In February 1990, in Ottawa at the Open Skies Conference of NATO and WTO Foreign Ministers there were mainly two issues discussed – the presence of the Soviet and American troops in Europe and the creation of the forum where the German unification would be discussed. The Americans suggested the 2+4 formula (two Germanys plus the victor-countries of the second world war – Vlast) and Shevardnadze agreed: there was nothing else he could do.
It was the question on the presence of the Soviet and American troops in the Central Europe - primarily in Germany - that was the most burning one. The USA suggested that the USSR and the USA should leave 195 thousand military in the Central Europe each (for us this was GDR, Poland and Czechoslovakia). Apart from that the USA would have another 30 thousand in the rest of Europe. On our way to Ottawa we tried to persuade the minister that this suggestion was beneficial for us: in the unpredictable situation of those times it provided us with a chance to establish ourselves in Europe and to control the situation. However, Shevardnadze was wavering. According to him, a couple of days prior to that the suggestion had been considered by the Politbureau and had been rejected – the Soviet Union couldn't agree to the advantage of 30 thousand enjoyed by the American side. I objected that this was a fake advantage because those troops would be scattered all over Europe. Most importantly, we would have received new agreements to replace the Potsdam one that would regulate the presence of the Soviet and American troops. Finally Shevardnadze said: “Write the telegram, I will correct what is necessary.” It was on this basis that the agreement in Ottawa was reached. However, Moscow axed it. Afterwards I found out that the military and Ligachev were against it. As for Gorbachev, he lacked a clear tack whatsoever. He simply did not know what to do.
- Could you clarify the issue of NATO's expansion. Was Moscow indeed cheated as Yakovlev and the others say?
- We demanded that in case of the unification of Germany NATO's jurisdiction and its troops would not be advanced to GDR. Kohl, Gensher and Backer gave us clear guarantees in this respect: they would not. Sometimes they say in Russia that the USA also assumed the obligation concerning the non-expansion of NATO. But this is rubbish. We only talked about Eastern Germany back then. The Warsaw Treaty still existed and the question of NATO's expansion to those countries simply was not topical. Besides back then Poland and Czechoslovakia were also most reserved about the idea of unification because the question on the eastern borders of Germany had not been solved and the presence of our troops was a kind of a guarantee for them. That was why at the meeting in Ottawa the Poles and the Czechs supported us. The Germans quickly understood the situation and announced about the invariability of the present borders. Then Warsaw and Prague changed their position.
“The Coup Demonstrated that Gorbachev could not Do Anything”
- Some Western experts say that having suffered a series of foreign political defeats by the middle of 1990, Gorbachev and the Politbureau decided to back up a little, which finally resulted in the coup of August 1991.
- They began losing control in 1989. The Soviet state was an empire that was based on the military force, KGB, etc. Once those levers started weakening, the disintegration began. Nobody was in control anymore. Things took a natural course.
- Did Gorbachev believe that the coup was being prepared (something that Yakovlev, American Ambassador Matlock and others informed him of)?
- One should not exclude this possibility. However, he might have had some other information as well. At present many demand firm facts, but there are none. There are just assumptions. Gorbachev denies his involvement, as do many from his circle. However, the words of the GKChP members cannot be viewed as evidence either.
- Was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not informed either?
- It was not. We could just feel that something was brewing.
- In some Soviet Embassies they knew about the date of the coup several weeks before it took place. Could Mikhail Sergeevich be so mistaken under the circumstances of the kind?
- By that time he no longer had the levers of power in his hands. The coup demonstrated that he could not do anything.
- What is your opinion concerning the measures that should have been taken?
- Basically it was necessary to maintain firm power and to consistently continue with the tack at the development of the market economy – as the Chinese did. This was what Khrushchev did. Had he been in power for a longer time probably our country would have developed similarly to the Chinese way.
- Do you think the ruling layer needs reforms? They say communism was never built in Russia because the officials were doing quite well without it.
- You should see Andropov's former dacha. I think nowadays the yard-keeper of Abramovich lives like that. Our market works the wrong way round and some people simply do not know what to do with their money. It is necessary to build into the global market, to develop economy in the framework of globalization.
“Russia is Maneuvering in the Intermediate State”
- What kind of foreign policy should service the goals of the kind and how come we have had a series of failures lately?
- Once again it is the absence of a clear strategy that is the reason for the failures. We need to determine who we are and where we stand. If we want to become part of the Western world our conduct should be appropriate. Whereas Russia is maneuvering in the intermediate state. We say that we are with the West but keep repeating that the expansion of NATO is a threat to us and that in general everything that comes from the West is a threat. How can that be a threat if we are moving in this direction?
- What can you say about the development of the foreign political mentality of the Americans in the recent years?
- In the past seven years I lived and worked in the Universities of Stanford and Ohio. I was amazed at their attitude to intellectual resources. Stanford is one of the most expensive educational establishments in the world. However, if you have no money but do have brains they will take you and if you have money but lack brains – they will not. Americans select people with brains all over the world.
- What should we expect of Condoleezza Rice?
- I know Condi quite well (through Stanford as well - the Republicans have their intellectual headquarters there). She is an intelligent woman; she knows Russia and the Russian language. I would not characterize her approach as anti-Russian. She understands that the disintegration of Russia is the greatest tragedy for America because of the problems with nuclear and biological weapons. At the same time Rice is convinced that America can do what it deems necessary and it is not worthwhile to spend time on agreements with others. Powell was of the old school and it was easier to deal with him.
- Have the former mechanisms of negotiations between the USA and Russia been lost?
- Yes, they have. America perceives itself as the only one and does not want anybody in its way. The Big Eight is the best instrument to counteract that. At present this is a more efficient mechanism of managing the world than the UNO. But the Americans think that they will cope with these problems on their own. There are serious discussions on all these international issues going on in the USA whereas we do not have even that.
- What do we have?
- A group of people at the very top that decides everything. In terms of mechanisms things have remained almost like they used to be: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Intelligence Service. It is the word of the first figure that has the decisive power. In order to implement reforms we need to introduce market laws. Strength and support is needed for that. During the Soviet times this was the powerful communist party. Now these are the power structures. They welcome market reforms but their perception of Russia's place in the world radically differs from that of the president. They would like to leave everything as it is. This is why these departments discredit everything that Putin does. The question is who will gain the upper hand – Putin over the “supports” or they over him.

Oleg Grinevsky was born in 1930. Graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Affairs (MGIMO) in 1954, completed postgraduate studies in 1957. 1957-1997 worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, then the RF. 1962 – secretary of a special work group on the Caribbean crisis. 1965-1974 - deputy head of the International Organizations Department. 1974-1978 – deputy head (then the head) of the Middle East Department. 1978-1983 – the head of the Middle East Department, a member of MFA's collegium. 1983-1991 – ambassador-at-large. The head of the Soviet delegation at the Stockholm Conference on Confidence and Security-Building Measures in Europe (1984-1986) and at negotiations in Vienna on Conventional Armed Forces and Confidence and Security-Building Measures in Europe (1989-1991). 1991-1997 – ambassador of the RF in Sweden.


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