James Baker III

Baker

Biography

James Baker III – United States political figure.  Chief of Staff for President Ronald Reagan (1981-1985).  Secretary of the Treasury (1985-1988).  In 1988, chaired President George H.W. Bush’s election campaign and then became Secretary of State (1989 -1992).

About interview

Interviewer Sara Sievers
Date September 25, 1996
Location Houston, Texas

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Tape 1 Касета 1

 

(00:28:00) We are in Houston, in the law offices of the Secretary of State, James Baker III, and are very glad to have you with us this afternoon.

 

Thank you.

 

Could you start off by describing a little bit the attitudes as you joined the Bush Administration towards the Soviet Union in general, and your recollections of what people thought of Ukraine, in particular?

 

Well, I remember, of course, being with Ronald Reagan in his first press conference, when I was his Chief of Staff way back in January, 1981 when he referred to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire” (00:01:00) and everybody cluck clucked and tut tutted and actually criticized him for it. The fact of the matter is that he was right, and he was right in his defense build-up.  He was right in the way he approached the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.

 

By the time I became Secretary of State, eight years later, in January of ’89, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union had improved a lot, and we were really beginning… at least we were on a course toward a much better relationship.  We’d gone from confrontation to cooperation, to, actually, by 1990 something called “partnership” as Gorbachev had launched his glasnost and perestroika initiatives, which he anticipated would permit him to reform communism, (00:02:00) not to see it result in the break-up of the Soviet Union.  I don’t think that many people anticipated that the break-up of the Soviet Union would occur, or certainly that it would have occurred as rapidly as it did.  I think that most people did not share Gorbachev’s view that you could reform socialism, or reform communism, but I don’t think that anybody anticipated that we would see the splitting apart quite as precipitously as we did.

 

What do you think were some of the factors that led to the splitting apart and when did it become clear that that was a likely possibility?

 

I think one of the foremost factors was the decision by Gorbachev, Shevardnadze, and Yakovlev, who were the three primary reformers, that they weren’t going to use force to keep the empire together.  That was all that was needed (00:03:00) for the aspirations of the peoples who had been in effect subjugated by force, for their aspirations to come to the fore and permit them to clamor for independence, in fact embrace independence as indeed they did.  I think it really became clear that this was going to happen in Central and Eastern Europe when the exodus from the German Democratic Republic or East Germany was permitted to take place and was not foreclosed by force.  I think the East German government probably wanted to use force.  Gorbachev said no.  Shevardnadze said no.  The fact of the matter is none of this would have occurred, in my view, without that decision on their part, that they were simply not going to use force to try to hold the Soviet Empire together.

 

Why do you think they took that decision?  I would add Ukrainian nationalists (00:04:00) and Baltic nationalists to the list of those who were a little nervous that force might be used, especially in the late 80’s — and Ukrainian and Baltic leaders in the Soviet Union and the pile of those who probably wanted to use force to try to contain what they perceived as quite a threat …

 

Yes, that’s true.  Why was it not used?  I think that they had concluded that the system was not competitive with the system of freedom that we enjoy in the West both economically and politically.  I think they saw that it was a failed system and that when you suppress people through the use of force you are not really accomplishing anything, you are not achieving the kind of governments that people would desire.  So, I think they just made that determination that they would not, perhaps, be able to keep it (00:05:00) together in the long term by force, and to attempt to do so would result in one heck of a lot of a bloodshed.

 

Now, there were little incidents that would come along as we were dealing with this problem of how to keep the Soviet reformers on the path of reform.  We were criticized for staying with Gorbachev too long.  Baloney!  Gorbachev was reforming and was reforming in a peaceful way and he was moving down the path that we preferred to see him go, and it was important therefore to see things develop peacefully.  But I would remind you that there were instances where force was used.  And in some cases it was very hard to think that the top leadership didn’t know about it, particularly in the Baltics, in January, in Vilnius and on other occasions.

 

I think they were struggling with the decision about whether … (00:06:00) they made the clear decision not to use force to keep Central Europe, Central and Eastern Europe:  Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.  But once the Soviet Union itself began to unravel, then it was a far more difficult decision for them to make.  And it was difficult for us as policy makers, I think, in the United States to make sure we played it right.  I think if we had gone out and continually poked sticks in their eye about freedom or independence for this republic or that republic or the other republic, we might have pushed them to a corner where they would have resorted to force, at least, that’s my view.

 

And I’ll mention one other thing.  I remember in the internal debate in the Administration when it was clear that Ukraine had scheduled a vote, it was obvious to everybody that Ukraine was going to vote for independence, and there was an argument within our Administration about whether we should immediately, indeed we should delay that recognition a little bit.

 

I took the position that this was political leverage that we should retain to use against the new Ukrainian leadership, the leadership of the independent Ukraine to make sure that Ukraine agreed to the norms of behavior involving nuclear weapons which were stationed on their soil, that we were very anxious to see Ukraine and Kazakhstan and others agree to.  President Bush went with my view on that as opposed to the view of the Defense Department say, my friend Dick Cheney, who wanted to see us recognize Ukraine the minute after the vote occurred.

 

It was important for two reasons that we do not do it instantaneously: (00:08:00) the first was we wanted to make sure that if the Soviet Union was going to break up that it broke up peacefully, and instantaneous recognition could have set off a reaction in Moscow that would have called for the use of force.  Second, we wanted to maintain that leverage until we got an agreement from Ukrainian leaders and for that matter the leaders from the other republics that they would indeed observe the norms respecting arms control and weapons of mass destruction and that sort of thing.  Of course, that’s what President Kravchuk agreed with me to do when I went in there to visit him immediately after the vote for independence.

 

When did the nationalist problem in the Soviet Union become clear to the United States, to the Bush Administration?

 

I think, probably, in one of my early meetings with Shevardnadze.  We spent a lot of time discussing it.  (00:09:00) In most of my meetings with him, we had long discussions about the nationalities, the so called “nationalities problem” and about how they were going to get a new Union Treaty that would permit secession, would permit a republic to secede if they wanted.

 

But the fact of the matter was that under the current legislative restrictions that they had, it was almost impossible for it to happen.  They kept talking about coming up with a way.  I kept saying, and if you read my book [The Politics of Diplomacy], you’ll see where I refer many many times in discussions particularly with Shevardnadze, to a proposal that I kept suggesting.  If you really want to govern these republics and these people with the consent of the governed, why don’t you permit a referendum?  Why don’t you agree that you will abide by the will of the people?  Why would that not be (00:10:00) the proper mechanism for determining whether a republic should secede and we talked about that an awful lot.  Primarily we talked about it with reference to the Baltics because it was the position of the Soviet leaders that if Ukraine were to split off, that clearly would mean the end of the Soviet Union.  The Baltics, maybe you could have another little Finland up here.  But, if Ukraine were to go, that would clearly mean the end of the Soviet Union and it might trigger conflict between Ukraine on the one hand and Russia on the other.

 

The conservative forces in Moscow, the touted conservative forces, the much-feared conservative forces … Who specifically were we concerned about and what were we concerned that they would do?

 

I don’t really remember.  I remember (00:11:00) there were a lot of people who had trouble with Gorbachev’s proposals for glasnost and perestroika.  There were a lot of people that attacked Shevardnadze for giving away the store.  They criticized him strongly in Parliament for letting Eastern Europe go.  One of them was a military man named Alksnist (correct name?).

 

Yes, yes …

 

You remember, the fellow with the epaulets, the epaulets man.  There were others, maybe Valentin Felen was one, who saw the course the Soviet Union was taking as perhaps ending in something like this.  They were very critical.  That’s why Shevardnadze resigned, one of the reasons.  He felt that Gorbachev was not defending him sufficiently, and so he resigned, in ’90.

 

(00:12:00) 1990 in the fall, December 1990.  Yes, which brings us to an interesting moment.  Gorbachev had been someone we supported, quite fervently, with good reason, for a number of years, and then, when Shevardnadze resigned, there was a time where it looked like he was making concessions to the conservative forces …

There was a time when he was making concessions.  Gorbachev was tacking.  He was trying to preserve sufficient political leverage, or strength, to be able to continue to try and put a reform face on communism.  He couldn’t do it.  Shevardnadze was seen to be more of a reformer and more committed to the course.  And also I found him that way myself.  And so, when he resigned, we were quite fearful in Washington that Gorbachev could be leaned on by these hard-liners and persuaded to go (00:13:00) the route of force.  And that was why Vilnius was such a disturbing thing, and it came at a time when, interestingly enough, they must have felt in Moscow that we might be preoccupied with our war in the Gulf.  I well remember it was something we had to deal with in January of 1991, just before we started the actual conflict in the Gulf.

 

But your impression was that Shevardnadze was prepared to allow the break-up of the Soviet Union, was prepared to allow republics to pursue their own course?  Was he toying with the idea?

 

No, he would never he never bought on to my referendum suggestion because he used to say, “well, if we were to permit that, it would mean the break-up of the Soviet Union.”  He said that on several occasions.  I remember the ambassador to the United States, before Lukin, Dubinin, telling me that.  I remember (00:14:00) making the suggestion to him, with the Baltics, anyway, why can’t you let them … aren’t you better off with a little Finland up there?  Then you would be having all this headache, subjugating the people of the Baltic states.  Every time that I would make the suggestion that they maybe consider a referendum, they would say, “well, it would mean the break-up of the Soviet Union because then every other republic would want it and every other republic with a nationalities problem would vote to go their own way”, which, of course, it’s what has happened.

 

Certainly.  When did Ukraine as a potential independent country or as a potential problem for Gorbachev emerge on the radar screen in Washington political circles?

 

I can’t really put a date on it.    I know that when the independence vote was scheduled it was certainly very high on our radar screen (00:15:00) as we approached that vote.  Now, that would have been December.  That vote would have been … that vote would have been December ’91?

 

Yes.

 

But we knew, we were well versed in the problems that existed in the Ukrainian independence movement and the problems that existed, not problems in the independence movements, but problems existed between Russia and Ukraine.  It was only when it came to the point of a vote on independence that we really began to focus on how we should best position ourselves to react to it in a way that would not generate violence, not generate a resort to force on the part of the Soviet authorities. A way that would be supportive of the idea of independence, which we were supportive of as a substantive matter, (00:16:00) but do it in the right way procedurally.  And in a way that would maintain our leverage to get Ukraine to do what she should do by way of nuclear arms.  I mean, while we had absolutely no problems with the break-up of the Soviet Union, and, in fact, encouraged it and wanted (smiles) to see it happen. We encouraged it privately and not publicly.  We did not want to see it result in a proliferation of nuclear states, so, that’s what led, or course, to the initiatives that we took resulting in the Lisbon Agreement, with Russia, the United States, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.  And that’s what led, of course, to the many meetings I had with Foreign Minister Zlenko, and with [Leonid] Kravchuk and with [Nusultan] Nazarbayev, and I’ll acknowledge it. (00:17:00) Yes.  Pressure that we brought to bear to get them to forgo nuclear weapons.  We simply could not have a proliferation of nuclear states when the Soviet Union broke-up.  That would not have been in the national interest of the United States, nor would it, frankly, have been in the interest of those states or the world.

 

We spoke with Ambassador Zlenko at the UN yesterday in New York and he remembers very clearly all of those meetings and compliments your negotiating skills (smiles).

 

Baker (smiles)

 

Backing up for a little bit to the beginning of August, in 1991 …

 

Is he Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN now?

 

He is, yes.

 

Give him my best if you see him.

 

Absolutely.  In August 1991 President Bush, with many others, made a trip to the Soviet Union including a stopover in Kiev. (00:18:00) My understanding is from what we heard that President Gorbachev was not very excited about having him visit.

 

No he wasn’t.

 

How was the decision taken, what were the pros and cons to have Bush’s visit to Kyiv go forward?  What were some of the concerns we had in planning that trip?

 

Well, our concern all along was that we not take action that would be so offensive to the Soviet authorities that they would crack down forcefully.  We wanted to see the loosening up continue.  We wanted to see the reforms move forward.

 

I can’t remember the exact substance of Gorbachev’s complaint.  He didn’t say, “I don’t want you to go, I don’t think that you should go.”  I’m not so sure he was (00:19:00) that overly negative about it, frankly.  He, after all, had traveled all around the United States.  What was wrong with the President of the United States coming to the Soviet Union and going to Kiev?  That was our position.

 

Why did we want to have the President go to Kiev?  Did we want him to see other cities or was it perceived that that might have been a show of support for the Ukrainian nationalists that were working towards independence?

 

I can’t really recall the answer to that.  We certainly didn’t do it in order to poke the Soviets in the eye, but, as I said before, we supported self-determination for these nationalities groups that had been forcefully included within the Soviet Empire, provided it was self-determination that was accomplished peacefully.  Peacefully.  (00:20:00) Pursuant to the Helsinki accords, which we had signed and which the Soviet Union had signed.

 

As “glasnost” took hold in the Soviet Union, the press and public opinion became relevant political forces, in a way that they probably hadn’t been before.  To what degree do you think that the press and the people voicing their opinions played a role in the events that happened in the Soviet Union?  Did it cause Gorbachev and other people in power to consider press reaction before taking decisions or was that still something that was a little alien to Kremlin decision-making?

 

 

I think that Gorbachev was quite a master at assessing what public reaction would be, or press reaction would be.  Particularly, you remember what a master he was of the press in the West.  (00:21:00) I think he well understood, and so did Shevardnadze, they were quite good with the press.  But I think the freedom of the press had begun to creep in, just was one more element that motivated the republics to want their own show.  It helped people who were independent-minded, people who were supporting independence.  It helped them to get the word out; it helped them to promote their cause.  I think there is no doubt about that.

 

I’m to ask a question now that is something you can chose not to answer …

 

Go ahead.  (Sara smiles, Baker smiles)  I know you can’t answer a question that would embarrass me.

 

We interviewed in Moscow Mr. Kriuchkov, who was the head of the KGB, the last, as it turns out, head of the KGB and other conservatives, Russians primarily, but some Ukrainians …

 

There you go, you asked me to name some conservatives.  There is one, [Vladimir] Kriuchkov, Pugo, that whole crew, Pavlov, the whole crew that was engaged in the coup.  Those would have been the kind of people that would have been working against Gorbachev and Shevardnadze.  Also, what was the name of the guy, the vice-president, who was the head of the coup?

 

Yanaev?

 

Yeah, Yanaev, he had a whole host of them, but go ahead, so what did he say?

 

He says that the break-up of the Soviet Union was an American plot and that we were very involved trying to do everything we could to cause the Soviet Union, in general, and specifically, to cause the splintering and he …

No, that’s not true …  No, I think that we supported principles and values that in retrospect you would have to say would cause the Soviet Union to break apart because those values would not permit the suppression of people (00:23:00) by force, the way the Soviet Union had been put together (smiles).  But it he’s arguing that we set out with a conscious effort to support the Soviet leadership in a manner that would bring about the break-up of the Soviet Union, that’s crazy!  We were, as I told you in the beginning of this interview before you even asked the question, we were surprised and I know darn good and well the Soviet authorities were surprised (smiles), but was it something that we would be unhappy about?  No!  No, if it had happened peacefully.  Our concern about break-up would have been something that might have happened violently.

 

But it was perceived that a peaceful break-up of the Soviet Union would be in American interests.

 

I’d say that’s true.  I believe that is true.  But was that a conscious goal of US policy?  I would have to say no.  But was it in (00:24:00) the interest of the United States for the superpower that had been our adversary through a forty-year Cold War to break apart?  Yes, I suppose it was … provided it was done peacefully.

 

You had many meetings with Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, and also there was very close contact, almost unprecedented contact …

 

You want to hang on just a minute till I get rid of that noise out there?  Are you getting a lot of background noise?

 

Yes.

 

[Technical filming break.  Camera operator’s voice in back].

 

[Vladimir] Kriuchkov, is he still floating around over there?

 

Well, he is.  He’s there.  I think floating is probably the right word.  He is on a pension now (00:25:00) and still very much acts like a spy-master although it’s unclear that he has many responsibilities.

 

He wasn’t convicted of anything in the coup plot?

 

He wasn’t, he wasn’t imprisoned. [Note: Sara is incorrect.  He was tried and imprisioned but given amnesty by the Russian Duma in 1994.]

 

Hmm.  He wasn’t.

 

No.

 

Hmmm.

 

He wasn’t imprisoned.  But actually it’s a terrific segway into a pretty spectacular event in the postwar years, which was August 19, 1991 when the coup against Gorbachev happened.

 

Yeah, yes.

 

Were we surprised?

 

I don’t think you could say we were surprised ‘cause we had warned Gorbachev back in June of a pending coup that we’d gotten word about.  Again, that’s covered in detail in my book.  We had learned of a potential coup back there in June and warned him both through Washington and through my meetings with Besmertnikh in Berlin … I think I was meeting with him there at that time.  So it didn’t come as too much as a surprise to us.  I think what surprised us (00:26:00) was the scope and extent of it, that the whole rest of all the government, all of the other major officials in the government were party to it.  And the second thing that surprised us was the naïve way they went about it.  The amateurism.

 

Yes, it seems quite spectacular, if you look at the coup plotters, they controlled most of the military forces, the security forces of the Soviet Union …

 

Sure …

 

… and they weren’t able …

 

… they didn’t do anything …they didn’t.  And they were … who was drunk on the day of the coup?

 

Yanaev.

 

Yanaev, yeah.

 

He was drunk in his office.

 

Terrible.

 

Was it an ill planned coup?

 

Yes.

 

Poorly planned and poorly executed.  It was a disaster (smiles).

 

It was such a disaster that it’s caused a lot of speculation as to what its intended purpose was.  Should we take it as face value and say it was a poorly designed coup, or were there machinations that went on behind the scenes. (00:27:00) Might there have been other goals?

One of the theories that is very popular now in the former Soviet Union is that Gorbachev himself was involved in some way giving tacit approval, and helping kind of plan overtly.  And there are various justifications for why he would want to do that.

 

I don’t buy that.  I don’t buy that.  I mean, these people had been convicted, they were in prison.  I mean, some of them.  Some of them were not dealt with too harshly.  No, I don’t think that was.  I don’t know what it would have gained Gorbachev?  And he misjudged badly.  He came back from that coup and started talking about reform, I mean, strengthening the Party, the Communist Party, when it should have been obvious to him that nobody wanted the Party anymore. (Smiles).

 

It’s a great curiosity, how did he misjudge?  Was he emotionally…?

 

You mean … well, I don’t know; I mean …

 

Quite a misjudgment …

 

He was so successful for so long, you know, particularly in terms of public opinion in the West.  People were so ready for (00:28:00) a reasonable Soviet leader after the steady succession of hard-line apparatchik totalitarian old men that we had dealt with.

 

Like Ronald Reagan’s joke he used to talk about.  When they said:  “Mr. President, why haven’t you done more with the Soviet Union?”  “Because they keep dying on me!”  (Sara smiles) And they were, you know, and so, everybody was pleased to have a Gorbachev come on the scene, and boy, the adulation in the West was incredible!

 

And, I think, as I wrote in my book, I think that his personal and political courage (00:29:00) and the personal and political courage of Shevardnadze are what made possible a peaceful end to the Cold War and a peaceful implosion of the Soviet Union.  Without those two guys, I don’t think it would have happened.  And I think they exhibited tremendous personal courage and political courage.  But they misjudged.  They didn’t think they were following policies that would result in the end of the Union.

 

What was their courage based on?  Was it the convictions, a belief in freedom for their people, a concern that they needed reforming of the system?

 

No, I think it was a concern that they couldn’t compete with the West and they needed to reform the system in a manner that would permit them compete with the West and that somehow they could get the economic benefits of reform and not really loosen up politically, á la China, although they permitted more political loosening-up than China has.  You go to China today and they’ll tell you “We are doing it right and the Soviets did it wrong.  We are doing it right, we are building a tremendous economic superpower here but we are (00:30:00) maintaining our tight-fisted control on the political side.”  Sooner or later that will split apart.

 

Hmm?

 

Yep.

 

One of the experiences you had that was really interesting was being in the Reagan Administration as the defense spending was rising.  There’s lot of talks in the former Soviet Union and in the United States that we had an overt policy to outspend them …

 

We did.

 

We did?

 

We did.

 

That was our strategy.

 

You bet.  You bet.

 

We thought they were weak economically, we knew they were weak economically, we knew they couldn’t compete with us.  We knew that every time we spent more on defense it was tough for them too keep up with us.  SDI scared them to death.  Totally petrified them.  Paralyzed them.  If you talk to them about anything having to do space based defense or any ballistic missile system or something, there were just … and we were right.  We were right.  (00:31:00) We were winning the Cold War and it was that major build-up in defense that Ronald Reagan put in place that I think really, was the coup de grace.

Wonderful.  Another interesting bit of timing:  The All-Union Treaty was scheduled to be signed on August 21st, (00:32:00) I believe, or the 22nd

 

That’s another reason for the coup.

 

That was what I was going to ask you.  That was clearly identified as a precipitating cause.  Was it clear in Washington policy circles that the All-Union Treaty would mean some sort of end of the Soviet Union?

 

It was clear it would mean a fundamental restructuring of the Soviet Union.  If you are talking about the All-Union Treaty that Gorbachev was trying to get signed.  That’s what you are talking about?

 

Yes.

 

That would mean a fundamental restructuring.  It was clear to us.  Was it clear to us that it would mean everybody would opt for independence and break away as independent countries?  No, I don’t think it really was.  But it was clearly a motivating cause for the timing of the coup.

 

And after the coup happened, it was clear that the democratic forces certainly in Russia were on the ascendance and Boris Yelstin was a major political figure like he hadn’t been before.

 

Yes.

 

Was it clear that the break-up (00:33:00) was going to start then?  I know on the 24th of August, Ukrainian parliamentarians signed a decree of independence and we heard, there were lots of decrees of sovereignty that various Supreme Soviets signed in various places …

 

Yes, but it wasn’t clear that it was going to be a break-up of the nature that took place, where everything was going to be totally independent.  What we thought might happen in August was a reconstitution under some other central authority.  And, again, as I point out in the book, it became quite clear that the Soviet Union as we knew it was no longer going to exist.  And I said that on a TV show here in Washington, I mean, in Washington, and Gorbachev got very upset about it and talked to Time magazine about it, talked to me about it … I mean, he’s over it now, but he didn’t think that … I said the Soviet Union as we have known it (00:34:00) has ceased to exist.  He didn’t get the nuance of the “as we have known it,” but we did think there might be some other central authority that would come into being.  We felt that even after Brest.  The meeting in Brest.  And the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States].  But the central authority really never developed.  And, I think by the time Gorbachev resigned, on the 25th of December, it was quite obvious, it was a three week period where it became very obvious that the Soviet Union was going to break-up completely.

 

Tape 2 Касета 2

 

From the time of the coup until the end of December, when the Soviet Union did break apart, did the United States adopt a wait and see (00:35:00) policy or were we interested in more actively trying to shape the outcome of events in the former Soviet Union?

 

We were interested in trying to shape the outcome of events, but the main event we wanted to shape was the peaceful end of the Cold War.  In other words, we just wanted to make sure that the authorities stayed committed to the reform course.  That’s the way we used to put it.  That meant no resort to the use of force.  That meant not taking the approach that the hard-liners in the Kremlin wanted to take.  That meant continuing on with glasnost and perestroika and all that they brought.

 

Again, we were not pursuing a conscious policy of trying to encourage the immediate break-up of the Soviet Union.  The Baltics (00:36:00) were a different situation because you have to remember we never acknowledged the fact that they were ever a part of the Soviet Union.  We were very supportive of the idea of independence for the other republics when it became apparent that that’s what they wanted and they put it on the table.

 

Were we supportive?  You bet we were supportive.  Absolutely.  But we wanted it done in a way that would permit two things, as I said in the beginning of the interview:  to all happen peacefully, and would not bring to bear the full force of the Soviet Union to try, once again, to go back to the mode of trying to suppress; and secondly that would have it happen in a way that would make sure we could accommodate our nuclear proliferation goals.

 

Were there ever any times throughout this process of perestroika where there were specific (00:37:00) moments, aside probably from the events in the Baltics, in January and February of ’91 which, clearly were moments we were concerned about, specific uses of force.  Were there times where we had intelligence reports or some sort of indication that there was a build-up, that the OMON forces, or any forces that would have posed a specific threat to a specific group of people or reformers?

 

Well,  we had it happen.  It happened in Tbilisi, it happened in Vilnius, it happened in Moldova.  There were a number of incidents where there was a resort to force and each case, the top dogs in the Kremlin disclaimed any knowledge of or any participation in it.

 

… That thunder is pretty tough out there.  It’s raining pretty hard (smiles).

 

Did the Bush Administration accept the view that Gorbachev (00:38:00) and some of the senior people in the Kremlin had no role in…

 

I write in my book that it was hard to believe, in retrospect, that they were not at least knowledgeable of things like Vilnius, of what happened in Vilnius.  It is conceivable, but while you had these incidents you had no really massive situations where literally hundreds of people were killed, you had no real substantial resorts to the use of force where it was clearly directed by the top leadership in Moscow.  Those were OMON forces in Vilnius.  Both Shevardnadze and Gorbachev disclaimed any knowledge of what happened in Tbilisi where a lot of people were killed.  Those were regular army people.  (00:39:00)

 

…under the command of Rodianov who is now the new Defense Minister.

You had very close personal relationships with two of the probably century’s most historical figures, Shevardnadze and Gorbachev.  Could you describe how you see them, as individuals, and also as political leaders?

 

Well, I think I already said that it was their personal and political courage that made possible the peaceful end of the Cold War and the ultimate dissolution of the Soviet Union, not because the dissolution was something they wanted but because of the policies that they pursued it is what ultimately resulted.  And, therefore, I think history is going to treat them kindly.  I really believe that.  When you consider how difficult (00:40:00) it is to take a country as big as the Soviet Union was and turn it around in a 180-degree direction politically, socially, economically, it boggles the mind.

 

And I used to see, particularly my friend Shevardnadze, had to wrestle with it and I’d see him more and more weighed down and weighed down with the burdens of representing a declining superpower and trying to keep things together but … gee wiz, the United Nations worked in the Gulf War, in the way the founders intended for the first time.  Why, why? Because the Soviet Union and the United States worked together.  Why did it all happen?  It happened because of Shevardnadze and Gorbachev.  Without them it wouldn’t have been that way.

 

It opened a whole new era in world affairs (00:41:00) and it led to the creation of twelve free, independent countries.  Not just Ukraine, but eleven others as well.  It just wouldn’t have happened without them.  And you can say it was the defense build up of the Reagan years, which it was, that put the pressure on them to make them decide to pursue the reform course.  I think that is true.  I just told you, I think that is correct.  Still it wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t made a fundamental calculation that they weren’t going to use force, and I’ll tell you somebody else that I think was behind that was Yakovlev, Alexander Yakovlev.  And he too, I think will be treated well.

 

In retrospect, the policies of your Administration, your State Department, proved quite successful; (00:42:00) you accomplished both of your goals.  There was stunningly little violence…

 

That’s right.

 

… in the Soviet Union’s break-up and, if I am not mistaken, Ukraine has finally gotten rid of the last of its ICBM’s as of earlier this summer.

 

That’s true, and so has Kazakhstan (laughter).

 

(laughter) Belarus … they did it a while ago…

 

Belarus did it first.

 

Yes.

 

Yes.

 

What policies, vis-a-vis Ukraine, specifically, not the whole of the Soviet Union, but Ukraine in the Soviet context, what would you have done differently …

 

I think we should have been a bit more aggressive in encouraging Ukraine to move on economic reform earlier than she did.  We welcomed strongly the independence of Ukraine.  There are many Ukrainian-Americans (00:43:00) that strongly welcomed that and many of us who are not Ukrainian-Americans that strongly welcomed it.  But it you asked me what do I think we could have done better I think we could have done a better job at really encouraging Ukraine, once she became independent under Leonid Kravchuk, to really reform economically.  There was good rhetoric, but there really wasn’t good performance on the economic side.  Politically, I think things went well.  I think they went fine.

 

What is your assessment of President Kravchuk?

 

I can’t, can’t, I didn’t really work with him.  I really liked President Kravchuk.  I mean, he came out of the Soviet system, but once Ukraine got its independence, there was no doubt where his sentiments were and he worked very well with us.  (00:44:00) He never came to the United States.  He didn’t get in touch.  We didn’t communicate and I thought that he served that new country very well, at the inception of its independence.

 

Thank you very much.