Tape 1 Касета 1
(00:02:15) October 2nd, 1996 and we are in Washington, D.C. with Mr. Robert Zoellick. Thank you very much.
Glad to be here.
When did you first become involved and in what capacity were you involved watching things Ukrainian, things Soviet, for that matter?
I had worked with Secretary Baker when he was Secretary of the Treasury, and so I came over with him after the election of 1988 as part of the transition team, and so preparations for dealing with the Soviet Union were on our agenda then, and basically from that point on. I was confirmed on March of 1989 as Counselor of the Department, which is an Undersecretary level position. (00:03:00) I had responsibilities for policy planning, the executive secretariat, but in reality, what that meant was Dennis Ross and I were close support for Baker on a whole range of things. And then, in 1991 I also became Undersecretary for Economics, so, that’s the context in which I worked with the Soviet Union and Ukraine.
And when you moved to the State Department, what were some of the attitudes in the Bush Administration towards the Soviet Union. What were some of the priorities you had, goals, fears …
It’s interesting, because, some of this has actually been lost and some of the history had been done. There was a period in which Secretary Baker had made a number of courtesy calls on the Hill, prior to his confirmation, so this would be late in 1988. I went with him on a number of these calls, and I remember very clearly that there was a concern by a number of (00:04:00) Democrats as well as Republicans that Ronald Reagan, they were worried, had been in a rush with the Soviet Union. They considered Ronald Reagan a romantic, they figured that he also wanted to push achievements at the end of his term, and so people didn’t say this much later in 1989, but there was a caution, there was a warning that if we rush too quickly in to engage with the Soviet Union, that if we wanted to bring back treaties, for example, that the Senate might be skeptical. The big event, however, in that period, was Gorbachev coming to the UN, which I believe was in December of ’88, and that’s where he made a major proposal about reduction in the size of the Soviet Army.
But during this period there was always a concern of the degree to which Gorbachev was making real changes to the degree he was (00:05:00) public relations facts and very important concern from our perspective was the effect on our alliance relationships. The Bush Administration, if you look at its history, was keenly aware in how it was going to work with allies and solidify alliance relationships at the time of great flux. And, as you may recall, this was a period right after the INF Treaty, the Double Zero arrangements, and this left a real concern on the part of Germany about the short range nuclear missiles because those were the only ones left then in the deterrent force other than some air lunch missiles. So, without going into great detail, I mean, I could go into great detail, but I think the point is we were concerned about how we were going to engage Gorbachev, but through our alliance relations. One of the key issues that we knew would be in the agenda very early was the SNF issue. This put us in a position where we needed to deal with Germany (00:06:00) and this was one of my prime preoccupations because it was quite clear that Germany was going to be the key for a lot of Gorbachev’s public relations interests and Germany, at the heart of Central Europe, would be a key to what might be a possibility to end the Cold War. That lends start to go in the whole story of how we developed relationships with Germany that led to Germany’s re-unification, of which I was a part of.
Another key part in this period was a focus on Central and Eastern Europe and I think, if one parses through carefully some of the books and attitudes, for example, the piece done by our former Ambassador, Jack Matlock … Jack’s book, which I am just finishing reading now, is very good on things in Moscow. He’s actually not very good on the side of the policy-making in Washington after he left, and there was a change in attitude in (00:07:00) and one of the principal changes was that George Bush and the rest of us were focusing very heavily on Central and Eastern Europe early on. And that shows up in lots of initial proposals. For example; probably George Bush’s first early move was in May of ’89 where he came forward with a rather startling conventional forces reduction proposal, right before the NATO summit.
Now, part of that was to respond to Gorbachev. Part of it was to demonstrate that the US could lead the Alliance at this point of change. But, part of it reflected this focus on Central and Eastern Europe, because, I remember thinking during this time, that if people in Central and Eastern Europe could see Soviet tanks and troops leaving, that that would play into the whole political process that we hoped was being encouraged behind the Iron Curtain so -I could go into additional detail (00:08:00) – but I suffice it to say that there were differences of view within the Administration. Probably Dick Cheney was more restrained. Bob Gates’ book [(From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War -Simon & Shuster, 1996)] showed he was probably was more cautious and he’d been burnt on this. We were probably pressing at the State Department earlier on for the idea that “Let’s try to find out whether Gorbachev is serious”. In other words, we could proceed in a way we thought it wouldn’t hurt us that would lead to constructive relations with our allies, but let’s test him!
Now, and in fact, Baker gave a speech in the spring of ’89 that didn’t get much attention, because, as I recall, he gave it on the same day as one of the Oliver North verdicts, so it got blown out of the news, but it was trying to probe this testing concept. Now, we later changed that phrase because it sounded too negative, the idea that it had sort of jump through hoops. But the concept wasn’t a negative one. The concept (00:09:00) let’s engage him seriously and see whether he’s willing to make real changes. We later changed the rhetoric, after the summer of ’89, to “seeking points of mutual advantage,” and Baker gave a series of speeches leading into the Wyoming summit that were making that point.
So, brief history, it was a slow down. Some of it was urged by, actually, members of Congress, who thought that Reagan had been in a rush. Some of it reflected any new Administration. If you look at it fairly, you see that between January 20th and May, the Administration came up with a very major initiative in this area, and if you look, in comparison, many people felt that it took the Clinton Administration two or more years to get on its feet. So, we are talking about three or four months there. The other key point was, we were very sensitive to how we had to strengthen alliance relations before we engaged the Soviet Union.
(00:10:00) When did you decide that Gorbachev was in fact serious?
Well, I was of the view early on that he was clearly a very different Soviet leader and that he was unleashing changes in the Soviet Union. My view at the time was, and it certainly is today, that he often wasn’t certain where those changes were going to lead him. And, given my background in economics, and I started to get closely engaged in looking at the reforms in the Soviet economy, probably in the summer of ’89, starting with some internal materials then with a book that Anders Aslund had written at that time period that it struck me that his economic reforms were not going take him where he needed to go, and that in a sense was a series of experiments on both the political and economic front. (00:11:00) So, I guess I had the feeling all along that he was a very different sort of Soviet leader, that he was trying to change the system. I don’t think anybody had a sense of the degree … that he was going to lead to the break-up of the Soviet Union and an independent Ukraine.
There is a book by Zelikow & Rice [(Germany Unified and Europe transformed: A study in statecraft – Harvard University Press, 1997)] that talks about German unification that’s a very good account. They came across some memo that I’d written prior the main NATO summit talking about the possibility of Germany, we called “re-unification” at that point as opposed to unification. So, at least as of May of ’89, we were speculating about these range of possibilities.
How far did you think you’d be able to push Soviet-US cooperation? What were some of the things that were making you nervous about cooperation with the Soviets? (00:12:00) Was there a plan to push it to X point or you just pushed the envelope as you could?
There are lots of questions embedded in that. Let me try to take them in a couple of pieces.
First, I don’t think anybody had a good idea of how far Gorbachev would go, and indeed I don’t think Gorbachev had an idea how far he would go. Relatively early on, my colleague Dennis Ross and I came to the conclusion that new thinking in Soviet foreign policy which was the term they used at that point was more a slogan than a thought out concept . If we worked with the Soviet leaders, particularly those that were open-minded like Shevardnadze and some of his key people, that we might actually have a chance to pour content into the empty vessel of new thinking. But this was a gradual process by which one could (00:13:00) I think at the same time there was always a concern that Gorbachev who was a master at public relations and was seen as the toast of Europe, and particularly Germany, was someone who was also not adverse to manipulating this to cause trouble.
And, I give you an example; our first ministerial meeting in the Soviet Union, which was sometime in the first half of ’89. We came trying to engage the Soviets more deeply on a series of regional issues and we had just come off working out a bipartisan agreement on Nicaragua, and one way we wanted to engage them was on some of the Central American issues. And Gorbachev, basically made a public statement as we were leaving about cutting SNF missile forces, which everyone knew was a sensitive subject within the alliance. It really was not significant militarily but it was created to have a big public effect and that was not a (00:14:00) wise move on his part if he wanted to build trust. It didn’t build trust. So, in a sense, with Gorbachev, we certainly could see that he was not beyond trying to manipulate things to his advantage. On the other hand, he did seem to be serious in terms of trying to change the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
There was probably a significant breakthrough in terms of the personal relations at the time of the Wyoming meeting, the ministerial. And there are a couple of dimensions to this: one, is the Soviets made some concessions on arms control that suggested they were seriously trying to reach out; second, on the plane out because the Jackson airport couldn’t take Shevardnadze’s plane, Shevardnadze and a couple of his top people flew out on our plane (00:15:00). There two discussions on that plane that were very interesting in a number of respects.
One, was economics. Shevardnadze was trying to engage us in economics, and I was supposed to be the US interlocutor. He brought a fellow named Shmeliev, Nikolai Shmeliev, who was one of the reform economists, and a group of others to start discussing things on this, and this was in a sense both an opening on their part, but also a sense on our part of the seriousness in their struggle to try to change the economic system. But, this was also, as I recall, right after some of the problems in Tbilisi, and so, there was a serious discussion about nationalities issues on that flight and that was revealing in talking about the nationalities issue but also revealing in how open Shevardnadze was.
A related thought that certainly relates to the Ukraine story is that I remember talking with Dennis about how Gorbachev was unusual in terms of (00:16:00) not having much experience with the nationalities issue. To the best of my recollection, the Politburo was unusual at that time, that Shevardnadze was probably one of the only non-Russians to my recollection. Certainly, there were very few people that had a sensitivity to the nationalities issue. And that’s a theme that is going to run throughout the story of Gorbachev’s reforms because I think that he wasn’t totally cognoscente of the effects of the changes in the Soviet Union on nationalities.
But Shevardnadze was presumably.
I think that Shevardnadze was much more keenly aware.
When we spoke with Secretary Baker he said that he, in some of his first meetings with Shevardnadze, had encouraged the Soviet Foreign Minister to consider a series of referendums or elections on the nationalities issues to let the republics decide for themselves, and Shevardnadze said, repeatedly, “it would mean the end of the Soviet Union, it would mean the end of the Soviet Union” … (00:17:00)
My recollection is that Baker started that with the Baltics and, as you know, the Baltics were always in a special position because the United States had never recognized their incorporation. They also have domestic influence in the United States, so as the changes were going on, this was always present in the debate and my recollection is that Baker talked about the referendum idea but he also, I think, tried to urge Shevardnadze and Gorbachev to consider a way to let the Baltics out. And, the idea that if they didn’t start to deal with this problem that it was going to overwhelm them. But the answer always was “if we let the Baltics out, there will be problems elsewhere”. I think, much of the story of Gorbachev was that he unleashed forces way beyond his control. (00:18:00) In a sense, he had a very general vision of where he wanted to go but he didn’t have a strategy and he was then taken up with a series of tactical maneuvers and some of these were in the economic area, some of these were in the political opening area, some of these were in the nationalities issue.
Now, you had asked about our strategy and I hadn’t gotten fully to that. I think, if you go back and look at the speeches of that period, they are significant.
We tried to set out our logic to communicate to the american public and others what we were trying to do and there were three speeches that Baker gave in the September-October time frame: one was this points of mutual advantage speech, one was an arms control speech out in San Francisco and then he testified before the Senate Finance Committee about economic reform in the Soviet Union, which was unusual, because the Secretary of State would normally not testify before the Finance Committee but we wanted to make a point (00:19:00) about the economics and given Baker’s experience with the Treasury Secretary and I had written that statement. And, our point was that we wanted to proceed on a number of different fronts.
Now, the Reagan Administration had emphasized a set of four dimensions, but, I think of necessity, arms control always became the one that got the most attention. We really did want to emphasize the regional issues more because this was or way of seeing whether there wouldn’t be a serious change in Soviet policy, starting with Central America, but also dealing with Africa, eventually trying to deal with even the tough ones, like Afghanistan, Cambodia … This created the basis of relationships which were quite critical in the area of Central and Eastern Europe and Germany.
So, we wanted to emphasize the regional issues very heavily. (00:20) We also added a fifth category which we called trans-national issues and it was a way of trying to demonstrate a greater set of relations dealing with environmental issues and that eventually also became sort of economic issues. And, in the arms control area, we wanted to try to emphasize to an increasing degree, conventional forces, for some of the reasons that I mentioned. Also, while the human rights had been another piece of the agenda, we wanted, to the degree we could, to start to broaden human rights discussions to what I call building political structures, I mean, basically democratizing structures. This was for Central and Eastern Europe as much as it was the former Soviet Union.
So, we wanted to try to move on a broad front of issues. Our view was to proceed in a way that tried to support (00:21:00) the reform process but Bush was very keenly aware that he had to do it in a way that didn’t cause Gorbachev more trouble. And this is something that probably hurt Bush politically at home but I think history will judge correct on this. The classic was the fall of the Berlin wall where he was criticized for not showing more jubilance. It was quite clear why. Things were moving in our direction and he didn’t want to act in a way that got Gorbachev’s hackles up or caused Gorbachev problems at home. And, at Malta, which was another big step in the relationship, it was quite clear that that was a successful strategy and that Gorbachev and Shevardnadze were both aware that Bush was not trying to take advantage of the situation.
You brought up this implicitly, this sort of fear of conservative backlash that seems to permeate a lot of what our policy towards the Soviet Union was during the time. What specifically were we nervous about: was it a general sense that the reformers were few (00:22:00) and the conservatives many or did we have specific – bits of intelligence that said that there were specific threats we needed to be careful about?
Were, here my recollection is going to get a little fuzzy and there will be a whole host of details but one point is, relatively early on, definitely by September of ’89, we started to establish a relationship with Shevardnadze and Gorbachev of … very strong frankness and so part of our information didn’t have to come from intelligence sources. It came from them! They would explain the struggles they were going to have. I forget the various scoops, but there were Party congresses and other things and if you go back and look at the history of events, those became quite critical in terms of giving Gorbachev the freedom to act. For example, when he made his … the final decisions in 1990 on German unification. That came right after I think it was a Party Congress where he’d been able to (00:23:00) some of his opposition.
So that was one source of information. Obviously our Embassy and others were reporting on things. There was public debate: people like Ligachov and others who were opposing. And, I think in addition to the public sources, the direct conversations and intelligence, if one had looked at the history of the Soviet Union, I think one could justifiably be concerned that there would be forces in the Soviet Union that would resist: giving up Central and Eastern Europe, unification of Germany, and certainly, the destruction of the Soviet Union. So, I think that was prudence based on information and just, reasoning from history.
When did Ukraine first emerge on the radar screen of the State Department as something other than a typical Soviet Republic? (00:24:00)
Well, Ukraine – this is a little hard for me to recollect totally. But Ukraine always had a special sense, from its historical position, a sense that Western Ukraine and its relation with part of Poland had a different nationality basis than some of Eastern Ukraine. So, there were historical facts about Ukraine that we were aware of. We were also very aware of the close Russian-Ukrainian relationships and this is a very complicated series of ties. I guess I would say that in the ’89 period we were aware of the nationalities tensions. But they were focused more in our mind on the Baltics -which were a separate case-, Georgia, maybe some of the Caucasus. (00:25:00) There was a sense that there was a Ukrainian movement -now I’m drawing a blank on the name …
Rukh, yes, that we were aware of. But that was a far cry from saying that one expected that Ukraine was going to win its independence. So it would be part of the all over set of changes in the ’89 -’90 period, but probably not a specific focus, except through what was happening with the Soviet leadership. As I recall, at one point -now, this is fuzzy- there was a Ukrainian, sort of a hard-line Ukrainian leader that got deposed …
Yes. So in that sense you would have this feeling this reflected sort of the battles that Gorbachev was having within his own sort of party system.
But, let me jump ahead on Ukraine, because I may recall a little bit more on this than some of your other people do.
(00:26:00) One of the questions always raised about the Bush Administration, and it’s in your questions, is were we dealing only with Gorbachev, we were just paying attention to the center, you are not focused on the republics.
I give you a half and half answer on this: One, it is true that we dealt very closely with Gorbachev and Shevardnadze but we had to. They were the leaders of the country, we constantly had a series of issues whether they be the freedom of Central and Eastern Europe, German unification, right after German Unification, the Gulf War. And, frankly, the record was that these guys were both courageous and they were different in different ways, but also seemed to be unwilling to use force to stop what was a series of marches towards freedom.
But, at the same time, we were aware of two other forces that were important. One is what I’ll call democratic reformers and the other was (00:27:00) republican movements and they overlapped but they weren’t the same. We tried to develop ties in part through the Embassy but also I remember seeing a lot of visitors from the republics that would come through and they may not have seen the Secretary level, but they’d see me and others. I had a lot of meetings with Nazarbayev and others during this time. And so, we were trying to open ties with them but also not in a way that was trying to encourage succession or fragmentation, but what I’ll call communications and understanding. This was hindered by the fact that the whole diplomatic apparatus had been set up towards the center. We didn’t have very many consulates in the country. The Embassy did try to start to send people around to visit various places, but the information sources were modest.
(00:28:00) In addition, we encountered the fact that the whole nature of the Soviet system had pulled a lot of the capable people to Moscow. I was very aware of this. I forget exactly what time period but it would have been 1990-91, that through my work trying to look at the Soviet economy, I had started to encounter a lot of the Soviet economic reformers and I became very close with Yavlinsky early on – who actually grew up in Ukraine though his parents are Russian. And I tried to meet some of the Ukrainian economic reformers. I was struck by the fact that there was a substantial gap in the market economic knowledge between the two. I remember a man named Mr. Lanoviy, who at that time was one of the leading market economic thinkers. (00:29:00) He was a very sincere person, but his exposure to market economics had been substantially less than that of many in Moscow. I think this simply reflected the Soviet system. However they did it, there were people studying in Moscow institute who managed to read more about market economics. That was one dimension.
Another dimension was, we remember feeling torn about the fact that it was important for the reform forces in the Soviet Union to stay cohesive, and that as some of those reform forces devoted themselves to republic issues, it would of necessity take away some of the momentum from the reform forces in the Soviet Union. People would have to decide where they were going to focus their attention. It’s not that we made a decision to encourage one or another; we were sensible enough to know that this was out of our control, (00:30:00) but we were aware of the tension in that.
Third, we were certainly aware that some of the people who were starting to emerge as republic leaders were not that different than the old communist cadres, so the idea that these were great believers in national independence as opposed to opportunists was one that we were aware of. I guess I’d say that for a lot of the republics, we tried at various levels to establish ties, relationships and to get information while being sensitive to the fact that sometime Gorbachev didn’t welcome this. We tried to do it in a non-obvious offensive way, but nevertheless establish some ties. But we were aware that there were lots of current in the Soviet Union on this and were also sensitive to the fact that … I remember having lunch with a journalist (00:31:00) who asked – this was even before German unification – how far will Gorbachev let this go? and I remember that was a very good question. He was at that point saying “Will he let the Baltics be independent”. I think that’s, again, none of us could know that he was going to basically acquiescen in the break-up of the Soviet Union. That’s a rather major step. And I think one of the things that became critical in that was that Gorbachev was fundamentally uncomfortable in using force against his own people, and that became very critical.
Another related thought. I remember dealing with some of the Baltic issues on a very sensitive time. I think it was in January ’91 or December, about the time of the Gulf War, and there were clearly forces that were (00:32:00) engaged in violence in some of the Baltic Republics -against the Balts. It was never clear totally whether this was happening with Gorbachev’s knowledge, whether it was happening beyond his control. Either way it would have been bad. if it was happening beyond his control it was worrisome; if he were supporting it, it was worrisome. Again, I think one of the testaments to Bush and Baker’s success in this is that they handled Gorbachev in way throughout this process that they didn’t try to publicly lecture him, but they let him know that if he did use force in these areas it would ruin his relationships with us.
Not that we were trying to say “this is your penalty”; it was more “this is the reality that we all face”. At the same time that we were trying to encourage him and give him ideas about how to engage in a constructive way, remember that Gorbachev’s whole strategy was (based on) (00:33:00) opening to the West, and so he would pay an enormous price if he took actions at home that broke off his relations with the West. You then have to get into the subtleties of each of the cases, how you dealt with the Baltics. For example, as you know, we didn’t have diplomatic representation there, we never acknowledged their incorporation into the Soviet Union. We worked out a circuit rider system where we had – from our Consultae General in Leningrad – we had people go and be present. It was a way of showing interest, support getting information, but it was very sensitive to manage because, not surprisingly, the people who went there developed a big affinity for the Balts, but we needed to manage it in a way that also it didn’t create further provocation that made the whole thing explode.
Tape 2 Касета 2
One of the things that Gorbachev was nervous about – (00:34:00) we’re skipping that August 1991 – was President’s Bush trip to Kyiv. Can you talk a little bit about two things: first, the decision, why it was taken, and what the impact was supposed to be, intended to be and second of all, what’s now become the infamous speech that he gave …
Yes, the Chicken Kiev speech.
Brent Scowcroft notes would probably be better able to tell you about the specific decisions on the trip. My recollection was that it was trying to show at the presidential level what we had actually been doing at lower levels for quite some time which was to pay attention to places outside of Moscow and Kiev, obviously, as the capital of Ukraine, would be a key symbol of that. On the speech itself, my recollection, was that … I remember looking at drafts of the speech, and it actually had sort of a balance about paying attention of Ukraine’s concerns but also some sensitivity to the larger picture. (000:35:00) But I think that in the last evening that either the President himself or Brent put in some of the lines that were seen as provocative, like “suicidal nationalism”, or something. Now, I’d have to go back and look at the whole speech. Those warnings are not bad warnings as we’d seen them in the world. In that context at that time, I probably would have been more cautious about making that sort of a statement. But, I was on that trip and I remember the meetings and the meetings were by and large constructive. My sense was that at an official level the visit had achieved its goal of trying to sort of show an engagement, but, probably, the public interpretation to the speech was probably a negative one.
But one other issue we could do now or we could jump to is that I remember was very much in our mind (00:36:00) as that the Soviet Union was breaking up, was how to deal with the nuclear problem. And again, this one gets kind of overlooked in part because at least it worked out right at that point, but if you would go back you’d see that shortly after the coup against Gorbachev and Yeltsin taking control, Baker made a trip to the Soviet Union, both to see a lot of the parties going on, to show our interest. But we were focusing very heavily on what to do with nuclear issue. And, as I recall, the United States had its own initiative on tactical nuclear weapons, which was then trying to encourage the Soviet Union basically to withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons.
My recollection is that it was done and I think that’s a major achievement but then we were trying to deal with the follow-up of the strategic nuclear weapons. And this again ultimately, you know, proved successful (00:37:00) when I think it’s an important achievement particularly when in the current context here in 1996 you look at some of the reports that are out about the worries about nuclear leakage from some of the nuclear sites in Russia, which are of great concern and should be of great concern from terrorism as well as other problems.
I remember that affected relations with Ukraine because both Kravchuk and the Foreign Minister whose name began with z …
… would make representations to us and then sometimes they changed their mind. And, for better or for worse, Baker’s view was when you are dealing with the United States, if you give your word you better keep it, and if you don’t keep it, there will be a price to pay. And I actually think that’s important for a country’s foreign policy because when you get into a world where people think they can lie to you and that they don’t respect your power enough to feel (00:38:00) that if they agreed to something they have to stand by it, then, you are in bad shape, and I think that’s some of our own problems today (smiles). So, he was going to keep putting pressure on Ukraine in terms of these nuclear weapons. Now, another dimension however was that we were aware of Ukraine’s security concerns and here it starts to get fuzzy again but I remember we sent a three person group, I think it was Dennis Ross, maybe David _______ (Gamper?) and Paul Wolfowitz to Kiev to try to start some discussions. But my recollection was that during this period part of our problem was finding the right Ukrainian interlocutors. There was some upheaval in their own system. I emphasize this because, as I mentioned, I took part for the first time, I think it was last year, with this US-Ukrainian group that Brzezinsky put together, and I was very much struck by the (00:39:00) quality of our Ukrainian interlocutors and how different it was from just four or five years ago, on economics as well as on other issues. So, it’s understandable, Ukraine was going through its own period of upheaval.
Do you think that the Ukrainian inconsistency on the nuclear issue can be attributed more to deception or disorganization on part of Kravchuk and Zlenko?
It’s probably a combination of both. I certainly don’t ascribe it all to the deception but regardless of its cause, if it’s a priority for us, you have to put pressure on people to get it fixed, whether they were trying to waffle on the issue or whether they were just disorganized.
When the Soviet Union looked like it was collapsing, and I’d be interested in what you think the time frame was …
By the way, one other thing that was important on the visit to Kiev was that we stopped at Babyi Yar. (00:40:00) I remember that was another important aspect. A very moving place.
End of the USSR. When did it become clear to you that the Soviet Union as a country was probably going to split up? Secondly, what were some of the State Department’s concerns about how this would be managed and what the US role in this process would be?
Recognizing all the problems that Gorbachev had trying to deal with republics and nationalities, we were aware that he was stumbling towards devises including the all Union Treaty and the Federation Council to try to deal with them. I don’t remember the details of it now, (00:41:00) but I remember we were trying to do some thinking about this as well and also were aware that these could be steps that others in the Soviet Union might resist. I still don’t have a good sense of this, but there are some who theorize that the coup was related to the timing of the all Union Treaty.
The all Union Treaty was scheduled to be signed just a day or two after the coup ended happening.
By the time of the coup, we were very aware that if the Soviet Union remained, it would never remain in a way that it had been before. I don’t remember for sure by August ’91 whether we thought it was coming apart or not. I do remember that at the time of the coup that it was very clear to me -even before Gorbachev was released- that he was finished and that Yeltsin would be the next force. (00:42:00) Part of the story about the republic relationships revolves highly around Yeltsin, because Yelstin started to use Russia as his power base. He took policies towards other republics that reflected his power base- which gave other republics more running room and helped with the Baltics.
This then also relates to the question of the US government’s early relation with Yeltsin and this was a complicated one. We did have early dealings with him. I remember seeing him on some of his first visits. Some people built him up into Thomas Jefferson. It was quite clear to me that he wasn’t Thomas Jefferson. That didn’t mean that he wasn’t possibly going to be an important force for reform.
Frankly, as I think we’ve seen over time, his notion of democracy and Thomas Jefferson’s might be quite different. There was a tension. It was quite clear (00:43:00) that there was extraordinarily bad blood between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. And as I recall between Shevardnadze and Yeltsin.
I remember at one meeting when -it may have been Camp David- it was either Gorbhachev or Shevardnadze, when one of them asked “Well, what about Yeltsin?” We were trying to encourage ties. Either Gorbachev or Shevardnadze said “the problem with him is he’s a destroyer. He doesn’t make things. He just destroys everything. Now this reflected in part their own competition.
Our feeling was we wanted to maintain relations with him but we also did not want to do something that would undercut our fundamental relationships with Gorbachev and Shevernadze. The true test was that if he did take power, as he did, he would need us as much as we needed him, which turned out to be the case. There was really a smooth transition in relations.
(00:44:00) One other thing now. I’m sorry. I’m jumping around. Remember we had very close ties with Shevernadze and an assistant of his named Tarasenko, who worked very closely with us, a very decent man. So we had a window onto Shevernadze’s own perception of the struggles. Remember Shevarnadze resigned in December of 1990. That gave us a sense also, when you were asking about conservative forces, dangers of coups, which Shevardnadze was warning about. Part of our window on events came through Shevarnadze and some of the people who were closest to him. Not that he was telling secrets out of school, but he is a person who doesn’t hide his feelings very well. You could tell. A person who, in my view, is of great character and integrity, was struggling with this. Partly he would explain it as a reason (00:45:00) for why as we were negotiating things they were having difficulty.
For example, during this time, it was very disturbing to see. We negotiated some arms control arrangements with Shevarnadze, and he couldn’t hold them. Then the military came back, and we had to go through various kibuki arrangements where he had the military come in to argue their case, and we had to argue hard, tell the military ”no there’s no room.” During this whole period you’re seeing the political forces swirling around through these dealings.
In 1991 Gorbachev gave signals that he was allying himself with conservative forces. There were a scary few months in there. What was the thinking in the State Department? Did we see this as a temporary glitch? (00:46:00)
I have to qualify this. I’m a bit fuzzy on this part. To the best of my knowledge, we always saw Gorbachev as a tactical maneuverer. I think what we saw was he was trying to maintain his control by having relationships with some of the old forces and institutions of authority. He basically was cutting himself off from the Communist Party. He was trying to be leader of the government as opposed to the Communist Party. That was a big switch. Just to give you a small anecdote, it was striking to see how this might have effected the whole of governmental preparations. In other words, since the Communist Party had been the machinery through which decisions had been made, and the government was more of an implementing device. (00:47:00) Even when it came time to watching the briefing papers they had, what information they had, the whole administrative apparatus was in transition. No U.S. government always works smoothly, but at least we have some mechanisms. There are ways of seeing that.
A team went over from our White House. Governor Sununu talked to them about how you organize a White House, stuff like that.
So that was one dimension.
I think that one of the problems Gorbachev never quite could face up to -in part because his political power had weakened by the time he had to make the choice- was whether he would really throw himself in with reform forces, or keep a leg in with traditional institutions of authority and control, whether they be security system, KGB, others.
I saw this on the economic side. This now takes us into ‘91. (00:48:00) Remember I told you I’d gotten to know Yavlinsky very well. Yavlinsky was doing this work with Graham Alison up at Harvard, about the Grand Bargain. I had known Yavlinsky before, and they came down to see me. I had thought that Yavlinsky’s work on the 500 day plan was very good. There are different dimensions to this. One part was that I was warning Yavlinsky, however, that he needed to be very careful, from the Russian political perspective, about looking like he was coming to the west saying “I need to get this large sum of money.” What I urged him to do was to say that these were the reforms that Russia needs to undertake, it will be much easier with western help, but we need to undertake them anyway. It is a better way to position one self.
Prior to the London summit, which was in July ’91, (00:49:00) Gorbachev sent over this team, which included Primakov and Yavlinsky. And it appeared that Yavlinsky wasn’t sure if he was there for window dressing, or he was there for real. There were others, like Scherbakov and Pavlov, the finance minister, Prime Minister.
They had two different models of economic reform. My view was that the west could offer multi-billion dollar package once, but not twice. So it was important that Gorbachev was committed to serious reform. Many of what I’ll call the non-Soviet reformers spoke language that sounded like reform. They would refer to stabilization. But it was very clear to me, and it is important to listen carefully to people, that they had a very different concept of stabilization. As you know, a macroeconomist has a certain view of what (00:50:00) stabilization is about, but to these guys, stabilization was putting the top back on a boiling pot. Let’s get control over things. So they’d say “yes we have a stabilization plan,” and the macroeconomist says that’s great, but they don’t realize that they’re talking about two different things.
The point is that it was clear from this trip that Gorbachev was not willing to throw himself in with Yavlinsky and the full reform process. Instead, you’d have a continuation of this half command economy, half market economy, which in my view, was not workable. It is an example of the fact that Gorbachev was never willing to throw himself fully in with the reform process. One early little vignette on this, was one of our first meetings in Moscow in ’89, I remember Baker talking with Gorbachev about economic reform, saying:
Look, this is going to be painful. (00:51:00) It’s going to be difficult for your country. It’s better to do it earlier than later for two reasons. One is you are in a stronger position, and second, you can blame the pain on your predecessors, the era of stagnation. What any new American President does. If they have to make tough decisions, they blame it on their predecessors.
But it was clear to me, that Gorbachev didn’t really understand the market economics aspects of what he was trying to do.
We weren’t fundamentally worried?
Sure. Who knows what was going to happen? You have, what, 20 million Russians about in various republics. What ethnic strife that could cause. Nuclear weapons. There are all sorts of problems that one could imagine. Yes. One of our concerns, and this probably reflected the position that Bush took in Kiev, was not saying one is against independence, but do it in a way (00:52:00) that doesn’t create, in today’s language, a Yugoslavia. The world has seen what can happen, on a much smaller scale. In some ways it is amazing that this didn’t happen in the Soviet Union.
In some places it’s been a little rough.
Also, you’re drawing things out. We saw Armenia-Azerbaidjan, Nagorno-Karabakh. One saw the conflicts that were potentially raging. One had a sense of some of the blood feuds that existed.
We had a very good person at the State Department on nationalities issues, which is one of the reasons we were informed. He was in our intelligence bureau, then moved to the European bureau.
(00:53:00) He had been with Radio Liberty, and now is out as a consultant. Paul Gobble. Paul was great for information. He had no sense of what you do. He had great feelings, great sense of anxiety, he could explain movements very well. He wasn’t very good at saying, then, what do you do about it. But that wasn’t necessarily his job. Sometimes in his later statements, he assumes there are easy policy solution for the problems that he pictures very clearly, which is not the case. But he was very good in informing us about the nationalities issues.
You felt you had top notch information?
I don’t know if I’d say top notch because all the things I don’t know. And I do feel there is certainly a gap (00:54:00) in United States and western knowledge about nationalities in the Soviet Union. Because there hadn’t been the range of contacts. My point is that I think we knew a lot more than some of the press treatment and subsequent commentary suggested. I also think that we did more than was suggested, but we did it at other levels, sometimes short of Bush. Baker even had some meetings. It is true at the same time that we were concerned about the relationship with Gorbachev, but it is a much more complex picture of engagement.
I remember trying to follow who some of the individuals were, what were some of their backgrounds. But a lot of this was murky at this point. And also you have to recollect that at senior levels, including mine, this was not the only issue I was dealing with.
(00:55:00) Was stronger, more vibrant support for the nationalities and independence movements ever discussed with the United States, or was it considered risky?
There were different views within the Administration. People who discussed it. My rough recollection is that there were some people at CIA who were pushing this more, but there was always a question of whether CIA is supposed to be trying to make policy. They’re not supposed to make policy; it actually undermines their credibility as intelligence giver when they try to push policy. There were some at the Defense Department I think, but there one had to be careful because some of it was driven by their view that militarily, wouldn’t it be great if the Soviet Union broke up. I think that while there were shades of differences of view; (00:56:00) I don’t recall any major differences.
It was always rather clear where President Bush’s position on this, which was he supported and welcomed the outreach, the knowledge, but he didn’t want to have the United States put in the position where we could be accused of being accused of being provocative. Remember you could have some of these forces that were challenging Gorbachev use that against him as justification for a crackdown.
Also, as I said, we had, until Autumn of ‘90, we were dealing with the very sensitive question of unifying Germany in NATO, which most people never thought would get done, and did. We were still concerned with the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, because all those agreements hadn’t been put out. We were concerned the Baltics, and we were concerned about the Gulf War. You’ve got 500, 600 thousand troops (00:57:00) whose lives are at risk, who are about to fight a war, and you’re not going to deal with these issues lightly.
Again, to demonstrate some of the payoff of this, I was on the plane with Shevardnadze right after we heard about the invasion of Kuwait, and it was fortuitous that Dennis Ross and I were in Moscow. We worked with Tarasenko against all the wishes of Shevardnadze’s Arabist bureaucracy, to get a joint US-Soviet statement in Moscow condemning the invasion. At the end of the day, as Baker tells in his book, Shevarnadze never did get total approval for what he did from Gorbachev.
That in my view, was a very major symbol to the world, in the aftermath of the Gulf invasion, about the US and USSR standing together. It is a good example of what I was referring to during our break about coalitions. These are not easy to manage. Sometimes it requires you not to say everything publicly that you might want to say, because you are dealing with a whole host of issues.
Western recognition of Ukrainian independence: On August 24th the Ukrainian Parliament issued a proclamation saying vote for independence but they made it conditional on a referendum that was held on December 1st. During that time, were we focused, in the State Department and the Bush Administration more generally on developing policy towards Ukraine as an independent country? And the second question, which we’ll probably return to later, but keep it in the back of your mind, is recognition.
Well, I have three recollections on this topic: the first one you’ll find humorous. It always remains in my mind how we had to be careful never to refer to “The” Ukraine. That’s the joking one. The two serious ones (00:59:00) were that we developed, I think in the aftermath of the August coup, a series of principles that Baker used when he went to the various republics and talked republic leaders about, that we said would be the basis of our recognition. I forget the exact elements, but they were basically CSCE type of principles: they were sort of acceptance of borders, treatment of minorities, I think there was something with nuclear weapons. We were trying to employ the recognition process to deal with some of the concerns that you mentioned, in terms of the break-up of the Soviet Union. In other words, it was an effort to try to get new leadership to commit to core principles that would deal with security, stability, human rights, basic fundamentals, recognizing that, these are still words and it’s not the same as actions, but it is a starting point. That’s one recollection.
The other recollection I have, (01:00:00) and I think this time more from President Bush and I think he was probably right although sometimes it was frustrating. It probably is not best to have the United States to be one of the first to recognize … given the history of the United States and the Soviet Union and given, the sense of bi-polarity and how that could play in Soviet and Russian politics at the time but how it could also play into the future, I think it’s best for the United States not to go down in Russian history as the country that was eagerly trying to create the break-up of the Soviet Union. I think that was in Bush’s mind. He knew that politically at home he would be criticized for not rushing to recognize. Both the (01:01:00) short term and the long term it was better for the United States to be somewhere in the middle there.
I know you have another meeting … I don’t want to keep you too much longer …
Is there anything else you want to cover … oh, you mentioned Chernobyl. I was going to say that I, just as an analyst, I think that Chernobyl was very important in changing attitudes outside of Moscow. I’m doing sort of a book review now of different stories of the end of the Cold War and I’m thinking this through myself and, I suspect but I’m not close enough to it, that Chernobyl may turn out to be one of these more significant events in affecting Russia’s attitude, the Soviet Union’s attitudes about itself.
Within Ukraine, particularly this is something that people talk about ver, very often.
One last question about the 20 20 hindsight. In retrospect are you happy with the policies that the Bush Administration (01:02:00) had towards the Soviet Union, towards Ukraine.
I thought about that, and I guess the answer is yes. When you think about it in historical terms, freeing Central and Eastern Europe peacefully, uniting Germany in NATO which was important -we haven’t talked about German unification which was one of my major issues,- but that was very important to do that in a way that both linked the united Germany to western structures, Europe and NATO so you didn’t create a new power in Central Europe.
But also to try to do it in a way that avoided planting the seeds of future conflict with the Soviet Union or Russia. (01:03:00) So, I think that in general, that was a success.
Now, the area where I’ve often wondered whether we could have done more, but I don’t really think we could have, is that obviously the Soviet Union and Russia have gone through a major problem in terms of trying its economics reforms. My view is always that ultimately the future of Russia and Ukraine, in terms of economic reform, will depend on their own governments and their own decisions. There are things you could do to advise and help but it’s more complicated than people might think. So, I’ve wondered whether one could have done more to help on that front, but I do not believe that the sort of the Big Bang theory, the Grand Bargain would have worked, in part because as I mentioned, I saw on the scene what Gorbachev was willing to do in 1991 and it wouldn’t have been real. If Yavlinsky might have been in a more influential position earlier … (01:04:00) ,but those are ifs that I’m not sure we could have done much about.
Thank you very much.