Tape 1 Касета 1
(00:01:20) It is November 15, 1996 and we are here in Washington, DC with General Brent Scowcroft. Thank you very much, General Scowcroft.
Surely. A pleasure.
We’d like to start off with a bit about your background and what your role was in the Bush administration during the time of Ukrainian independence.
Well, I have a military background, but I have served in the White House for every President from Nixon on except for Carter. With President Bush I was the National Security Advisor, (00:02:00) a position which runs the National Security Council, which is composed of State, Defense, CIA, all of the foreign policy organizations to coordinate and integrate foreign policy, security policy.
Can you describe US policy towards the Soviet Union and the republics of the Soviet Union during the Bush Administration?
At the beginning of the Bush Administration there were, we thought, exciting changes in the wind, but hadn’t really taken place and while a lot of people were saying the Cold War was over, and so on, most of it was rhetorical. What we had not seen since the (end of the) Cold War really started in Eastern Europe (00:03:00) with the iron curtain coming down … we hadn’t seen any fundamental change in that. What we were looking for were the kind of changes, especially in Eastern Europe, that would indicate that there was a different policy in Moscow and then that started to develop. We put more emphasis on Eastern Europe than on the direct bilateral relationship with the USSR. That’s how it started out. Of course, 1989 turned out to be in Eastern Europe a very dynamic year.
Were there specific policy signals, changes, that you were looking for from Moscow vis-a-vis Eastern Europe? Specific tripwires that would give the signal that perestroika (00:04:00) and Gorbachev were serious.
Yes. We were looking for specific actions on the ground that matched his rhetoric. That gradually took place. One of the signals that I remember was in East Germany when he went there to celebrate the 40th anniversary of East Germany and did not support the regime. That was one of the specific indicators that we sought, that he was going to be different.
During the “pausa”, that was characteristic of the beginning of the Bush Administration, there was a break of several months (00:05:00) if not a bit longer. What was going on at that time within the National Security Council and with the different members of the foreign policy community?
Well, this was a new Foreign policy team. And we needed to do two things. We needed to get ourselves organized and going, setting up our own policy ideas and concepts. Also, since it was a continuation of a Republican regime, and the President had been the Vice President in the former regime, it complicated things. We were a new administration, and yet there was a certain amount of continuity. So we wanted carefully to review all of the Reagan policies and see which ones we wanted to continue, which ones we wanted to change, and so on. We wanted to do that (00:06:00) very deliberately, and I think our feeling was that at the end of the Reagan Administration, there had been a certain amount of rush toward good feeling with the Soviet Union, and we wanted to set a very measured pace, and not be swept up in any emotions of détente that were not real.
Was the issue of nationalities discussed during this time, the Soviet Union as constituent republics rather than as a country an issue that was one of these factors?
Not really at the beginning, no. Only so far as it related to the Central European countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but the constituent (00:07:00) parts of the USSR, it was a little bit early for that. And I’d like to confess we were, at least I, I’d better not speak for everyone. I was surprised somewhat at the resurgence of nationalism in the constituent Soviet republics, and how little success the Soviets actually had in stamping out those feelings.
When did the nationalist issues emerge on the radar screen in the National Security Council?
It started really in late 1989, and we probably noticed it prominently first in the Baltic republics, (00:08:00) but then you could see it spreading to Ukraine, to Moldavia, and Georgia, the Caucasus states. It didn’t take long, but as we came into office, I can’t say that we anticipated it.
As it was spreading, did it occur to the National Security Council that it would be as crucial an element in the end of the cold war, as it turned out to be?
No, I don’t think we did. We saw that nationalism was one of the prominent problems that Gorbachev had to face, there’s no question about that. We identified that early, along with the economy, (00:09:00) a few other things…they all went together. The notion that it [nationalism] would turn out to be fatal, or one of the principal elements [leading to the collapse of the USSR]? No. That we did not see.
Did we, as Mr. Kriuchkov has accused us of doing, or the CIA, have a plot to bring about the end of the Soviet Union by exacerbating the nationalities issue?
No, no, we really didn’t. As a matter of fact I think within the administration, there was probably a spread of opinion about that. As a formal policy, we didn’t take any position about the continuity of the Soviet Union, or its breakup into its constituent elements. The Baltics are a special case, (00:10:00) because we’ve never recognized their incorporation into the Soviet Union, and so on. And all of us applauded the efforts toward autonomy at least, but the notion of independence and us trying to break up the Soviet Union, as I say, there were different views within the administration.
What were some of the views?
I think they ranged from the notion that a Soviet Union broken into its constituent parts was much less of a threat to the United States, to on the other hand, that the break up of the Soviet Union could lead to chaos or worse. There was a fundamental question about control of nuclear weapons in that case, and what might happen. (00:11:00) That was the range, and people were all along that spectrum.
Looking at the nuclear issue for just a moment, what were some of the policy debate and discussion going on that that time? What was the policy formation process? It became very important for Ukraine later on.
Yes, yes it did.
What was the policy formation process?
This really started when the possible breakup of the USSR became evident, and that was what does one do about nuclear weapons, because four of the Republics, including Russia prominently, had nuclear weapons. What do you do about that? (00:12:00) That’s a discussion that continued into the independence of Ukraine, in the administration.
It became perceived by some in Ukraine as almost the defining issue in the relationship between US and Ukraine. Were there other issues that we felt were potential difficulties aside from the nuclear issue?
Difficulties in the relationship? I think not. Issues, yes. That is, issues of what kind of support can we give to Ukraine in the process of breaking away from the very tight (00:13:00) relationship it had had with the USSR and Russia. Dependence on energy sources from the outside, for example, and the leverage that would give over Ukraine. But the principal issue was, in the early months of an independent Ukraine, the dominant issue was that of nuclear weapons, and we had a difference of opinion within the Administration on that.
What were the differences?
I, and probably Dick Cheney — I don’t want to speak for him, but I think probably so — I did not think that ought to be the defining issue. I actually welcomed the diffusion of nuclear weapons, because there was no doubt in my mind that (00:14:00) whatever weapons remained in Ukraine would not be a threat to the US, and therefore I was fairly relaxed about how to handle them. I thought that it was more important to try to shore up an independent Ukraine and help it live independently, which was a very difficult process, than it was to say we’re not going to do anything for you until you agree to give up your nuclear weapons.
What were the benefits to the US? Why shore up an independent Ukraine?
A. The innate American interest in self-determination. One can carry it to an extreme down to every little local group, but in the case of the (00:15:00) constituent republics, they clearly wanted independence, and therefore they deserved our support as Americans, because it is one of the fundamental tenants of our belief. And I think that was important. Strategically, of course, once it was clear they were going to be independent, then it obviously became in our interest to support that independence, and not to have to face a struggle, by Russia, for example, to reincorporate the Soviet Union.
Was it seen at all as advantageous to the US to have a potentially friendly buffer between Russia and Western Europe, and did Ukraine have a relevant role?
I don’t think that was really an element. (00:16:00) It was more the things that I discussed, because the collapse of the Soviet Union happened so fast, and so dramatically, that the threat to the west, at least the conventional threat – an attack into Western Europe by Soviet troops – happened very rapidly. So we were not focused on that. The attempted coup in August of ‘91 was led by all of the security agencies. These are the people we were most afraid of. It was a poorly—shall we say, poorly— (00:17:00) organized and led coup. That in turn gave us some comfort.
Many people have said that the All-Union Treaty that Gorbachev was interested in having signed in 1990 and 1991 provided a precipitating cause for the organization of coup. A key treaty signing ceremony was scheduled for August 20th and the coup happened on August 19th. Do you agree with this theory, and do you think that Ukraine’s refusal to vote on joining the All-Union Treaty would trigger events?
The proposed signing ceremony on the 22nd, 20th, whatever it was, of August ‘91, (00:18:00) it seems likely that it was a precipitating element. That is that the coup members seemed to have thought that once that was done, that would change things so much that you couldn’t go back, and therefore they had to stop it. There are various rumors also that they had other motives for moving as fast as they did before they were perhaps completely ready. I think that in the conservatives’ mind, in Moscow, that this new all union notion of decentralization if you will, probably had a lot to do with it. Once that happened you couldn’t turn the clock back. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. (00:19:00)
On the ground in Ukraine, many people thought that the United States didn’t really know what was going on in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 in the republics.
I think that is true.
What general information did we have and where was it coming from? When did the US realize it needed to know more?
There was obviously some ferment going on. As I said, our focus initially was specifically on Poland, but on the Central European countries where there was actual movement, and we really concentrated there to encourage that movement. (00:20:00) It was only as we saw that spreading that we became clearly aware that what was going on in the Soviet Republics was more than just a little grumbling, that it really had some substance to it.
Are there specific events that stand in your mind indicating that independence movements were likely to be successful?
One of the things I remember was demonstrations in Tbilisi that were brutally suppressed by Soviet troops. That was one of the clear manifestations there. Probably Ukraine, and growing ferment in the (00:21:00) Ukraine was the most important. In the Caucasus, they had always been restive, there’s no question about that. So another uprolling of that in Georgia was perhaps not as important. I don’t remember a specific thing in Ukraine, but just a general, a growing ferment was I think the most important signal that something fundamental was going on.
Because it was Ukraine?
Do you recall any Ukrainian leaders – the independence movement called RUKH remembered sending each representative places — was there discussion about what level one should meet these people in Washington when they would arrive? (00:22:00)
Yes there were. I don’t remember the specifics of them, and we were always careful to be correct, to do as much as we could without stepping over the line. It’s not a line, it’s really a grey area – things you obviously don’t do and things you can’t do, and I don’t remember the specifics of it, but yes. Yes. Clearly. And we started. Not even only with non government groups, even with the presidents or leaders of the various republics we started meeting with them. Not the President (Bush) frequently, but I would meet with them and so on and so forth. Yes. (00:23:00) We went as far as we thought we could.
To what extent were our allies, specifically Germany, involved in formulating a policy towards the big changes in the USSR, and independence in the republics?
Germany importantly, but Germany was focused almost exclusively on its own problems with its eastern counterpart. That was all consuming, because Kohl thought he had an unsolvable problem. In the summer of 1989 when the exodus from East Germany started, I think Kohl soon figured out that it was untenable.
A, that all these people could not be absorbed into West Germany; and B, it was denuding East Germany (00:24:00) and its ability to continue as a state, so something had to be done, and that’s what gave German unification the great impetus it did. Throughout 1990 that was the German preoccupation.
Many people have accused the Bush administration and the State Department more particularly of favoring Moscow and the Kremlin at the expense of the republics. Do you think this opinion holds merit?
I think it doesn’t. I will say one thing that we were always concerned about was a move, such as actually happened in August 1991, a move by conservatives to throw out Gorbachev or to turn the clock back. (00:25:00) First of all, to repress the Central European states as had happened in 1956, 1960. Over and over again they had gone beyond what the Soviet Union could tolerate, and there was a crackdown. We were always concerned about that, and about overloading Gorbachev to the point where he would be thrown out. After all, he was moving in the direction we wanted him to move, but no, we did not favor him at the expense of the republics. What we wanted was a process continuing at a rate which could be tolerated by the Soviet regime, in other words which would not precipitate a revolt by the conservatives. Now we didn’t quite make it. (00:26:00) But, that was our attempt. It was not favoring one over the other. It was trying to move things, trying to keep things moving, but we thought it important to move at a pace which could be sustained. We thought if we pushed too hard, moved too hard, that would galvanize the conservatives and maybe stop the process altogether.
What would pushing too hard be?
Well, we never knew. That was the problem. We never knew. So we would encourage things as much as we thought, but not to the point that we thought it would cause an explosion in Moscow. We had a constant debate about how fast that was.
Can you think of specific examples (00:27:00) where you pushed and the Soviets gave you feedback that maybe this was too much?
No. No. We never got any direct feedback, well Gorbachev used to complain, but we didn’t get direct feedback. One of the examples of what we tried to do was about the Baltics, and recognition of their independence in the last days. There was a lot of pressure in the United States to recognize them right as soon as they declared independence. But their true independence could only be granted by Moscow, and so we thought if we recognized before Moscow said “yes you’re free” we could prevent it, or if the conservatives came into power later on, they could say (00:28:00) “Well, their independence was granted by duress, so we don’t recognize them”. We thought it was important that Moscow say “OK,” on its own, “you’re free.” Then we recognized them. So it was that sort of thing we tried to do. Were we right in every ca… I don’t know whether we were.
Could we do anything to encourage Moscow quietly?
Oh, we did all the time.
What kinds of things did we do?
Well, on the Baltics for example, we continually said: “the Baltics are different. You ought to let them go,” and so on.
In private discussions with them?
Were they responsive?
Well, they were responsive in a way. And Gorbachev said “well, you know, the Constitution provides for separation, but there’s no mechanism for it. We have to revise the Constitution.” There were all kinds of things like that. He listened, whether he did anything about it… (00:29:00)
President Bush traveled to Ukraine in August of 1991…
…against Gorbachev’s wishes.
How was that trip planned? What was the message we were trying to send to the world, the Ukrainians, the Russians?
The message we were trying to send was that we recognized that the Soviet Union was a collection of peoples at this time, and that Moscow was not the sole center of the peoples which constituted the Soviet Union. We wanted to demonstrate that. We were sympathetic to the aspirations…we never said independence at this period…but aspirations for self-expression of the various peoples of the USSR, and that’s why we wanted to go. (00:30:00) The best place to demonstrate that clearly was Ukraine.
Tape 2 Касета 2
(02:00:00) So, President Bush made a visit to Kiev, were you on the trip with him?
Yes, I was.
What was going on in the entourage? What were peoples’ perceptions of Ukraine and of the nationalist movement and of the communist control?
Well, the Ukraine always had a different atmosphere. I was first there in 1972 and even then, (02:01:00) you went to Kiev and it had a very different atmosphere from Moscow—lighter, not so heavily oppressive. And that was even more apparent. It was a warm welcome. It felt good. It was just a more friendly, congenial atmosphere than Moscow.
President Bush spoke in front of the Ukrainian Parliament and it has become one of the best known American speeches to Ukrainians…
…for a variety of reasons.
I can understand that.
Can you describe a little bit what the goals were of that speech, what its message was and what you think its impact was.
Yes, yes. The goals of the speech, and it was a speech designed not just for Ukraine—maybe not even most importantly for Ukraine. (02:02:00) It was a speech that we wanted to have delivered in the region, outside Moscow, and it happened that Kiev was the only place that the President went.
What he was trying to say was that all of this nascent nationalism which was coming to the fore was wonderful, but “don’t get carried away.” And the message was specifically with the example of Yugoslavia, which was already starting to tear itself apart, Moldavia, which was already starting to tear itself apart. And the possibilities of something similar between East and West Ukraine. That’s what he was saying; “be careful, be reasonable, be constructive. Don’t be destructive; don’t let the worst elements (02:03:00) of intolerant nationalism carry you away.” Timing probably not so good, maybe the venue was not right. But I will stand by the speech and whether it did any good or not, but I think it was a message, that needed to be put up.
Rumor has it that president Gorbachev played some role in the some of the language that was in the speech…
None. (Fairly strong reaction) None. I would be amazed if he…I can’t believe he ever saw it before it was delivered.
It has been published in several places that President Gorbachev was concerned about president Bush making the trip to Kiev … …
Yes, he was.
… and in order to sway these concerns president Bush agreed to put in the phrase “suicidal nationalism” …
No. Nonsense. Did not happen.
Thanks. Turning now…
In fact, Gorbachev agreed that if we wanted to go to Ukraine we could go to Ukraine before I ever saw the draft of the speech. So I’m sure he didn’t.
Ok. (laughs) a few minutes ago we were discussing Gorbachev’s attitudes towards perestroika and that the U.S. was very friendly backing his movements towards democratic reform . There was a frightening period, right around the time foreign minister—then foreign minister—Shevarnadze resigned in 1990, 1991…trouble in the Baltics. (02:05:00) What was going on inside the National Security Council at that time? What were you thinking?
Well, we were puzzled about what Gorbachev was up to, what Shevarnadze was really trying to say, and we were troubled because even at that time…first of all, I don’t think… at least I was under no illusions that Gorbachev was a democrat, small d. He was a reformer, and one of the things he clearly wanted to do was end terrorism as the motivating vehicle in the Soviet Union. But I think he wanted to reform the Soviet Union, not to dismantle it, or not even necessarily to turn it into a democracy. And I think that the comments he made when he came back from his captivity in the Caucasus (02:06:00) where he defended the Communist Party even under those circumstances are an indication of that. Shevarnadzhe, we thought, was a good influence on Gorbachev, that he really believed in the transformation of the Soviet Union into a democracy. So we were very concerned when he resigned. You can see that was part of the change in Gorbachev, because he did not have this moderating influence – whom he felt so close to – anymore and therefore was more open to the right, and he continually played left and right off against each other to maintain himself. So, yes, we were alarmed (02:07:00) by that turn to the right.
Did we adjust our policy accordingly?
Well, because we thought we were right, and we held fast and there were some tense times with Gorbachev, again, primarily about the Baltics. There was a crack down in the Baltics, which was a part of this general crack down. And we said “ok”… I mean we couldn’t do much about it but what we did do was, say “ ok, no trade agreement, no change in “MFN” (most favored nation). So we did apply pressures, and the pressures lasted right up into the U.S.–Soviet Summit in June of ’90, where it was only as a result (02:08:00) of a last minute agreement by Gorbachev that he would lift the pressure on the Baltics that we agreed to sign a trade agreement but not send it to the Congress until we saw evidence that he had changed.
When and how was the decision to recognize Ukrainian independence taken in the Bush administration?
That was a very interesting period. This was after the attempted coup when Gorbachev’s power was seriously limited and Yeltsin had already made it clear that he was the boss. He had publicly humiliated Gorbachev (02:09:00) and so on…Gorbachev was—I think—by that time clearly on his was out but we did not know exactly what and how. He felt very strongly that—I don’t know whether you believe this —but he said very strongly that Ukraine was crucial, and that they were going to have a referendum, and that even if the referendum on independence passed he thought they would join the Union Treaty, and Yeltsin said he did not think they would.
We were again under severe pressure, domestic pressure, this time, (02:10:00) and the President, perhaps a little prematurely, made a statement that if—before the referendum—if Ukraine voted for independence we would of course recognize that independence. Gorbachev got very upset at that. He said that “you are trying to influence the vote.” But we had done it and stayed with it. Yeltsin was absolutely right. That effectively marked the end of the Soviet Union, I think. (02:11:00)
The Ukrainian vote for independence?
Yes, yes. Because it was quite clear that without Ukraine an all-Union arrangement—whatever you call it— did not make much sense.
What were the domestic pressures in the U.S. that you referred to?
How influential were they in formulating or effecting U.S. policy?
Well, they were ever-present, very vocal, and we were sympathetic.
Sure. Was there ever discussion in U.S, immediately after the results of the referendum, instead of a couple of weeks or three weeks after the results. Recognizing independence as a symbolic gesture?
Actually, I don’t think we waited that long. (02:12:00)
Couple of weeks.
Ok, ok. We were trying to be as gentle to Gorbachev as we could be. That’s all. He was clearly desperate. He had been good to us and we didn’t want to be the ones to administer the coup d’grace.
In retrospect, how would you have altered the Bush administration policy towards the Soviet Union, the break up of Soviet Union, nationalism, and to what extend are you happy with the way things have turned out?
I think on the whole I’m very happy with it. Even in a sense with the attempted coup. (02:13:00) You know that violated in a sense our attempt to move things fast…slowly enough so that an attack on Gorbachev wouldn’t take place. But had the coup attempt not happened it might have been much more difficult denouement of the Soviet Union, quite clearly.
Now, I think, one of the understated themes in the end of the Soviet Union was the personal rivalry between Gorbachev and Yeltsin, and I don’t think Yeltsin sought the break up the Soviet Union for its own sake. It was the only way… I mean he pulled it out from under Gorbachev, (02:14:00) and he left him without a job! And that is a very important factor in the way things really happened. But as I say, the key event in having it fall apart was Ukrainian independence. Because with only one Slavic republic and a bunch totally alien non-Slavic nationalities around it, it wouldn’t have worked.
Do you think that the Ukrainian nationalistic movement, which seems very small in terms of numbers, played a key role—or the key role— in promoting the vote for independence on that day. We had U.S. advisors in there, there were (02:15:00) commercials that were sponsored by U.S. money. Various things were going on. Do you think that vote was representative of the will of the Ukrainians or was it kind of historical quirk?
I honestly cannot answer that question. I don’t know and I wasn’t close enough to it. I will say I think the nationalist movement in general in Ukraine was a very responsible one. Were there some firebrands? Of course.
But it moved slowly enough and patiently enough that it helped keep what could have been a very divisive development, given the different nationalities in Ukraine and the importance of Russians in Ukraine. It could have been a much more difficult problem, but I think that the moderation in which it moved has been an important factor (02:16:00) in the fact that Ukraine is, I think, settling in now quite nicely. It didn’t have to happen that way.
Did we work with the nationalist movement to try to affect a moderate perspective?
I cannot answer that. I don’t know. I hope so. (laughter)
Thank you. Those were the questions that I was particularly interested…is there anything that I haven’t asked that you …
You’ve asked…I’ve already told you more than I know…
Not true (laughter). Then we thank you again very much for participating…
Not at all. I enjoyed talking with you and I wish you well on your project.
Thank you very much, thank you.