Leonid Mlechin: ‘Gorbachyov’s foreign policy had only sound calculation, and it was crowned with success’
Nobody thought of prospects of enlarging NATO
Realnoe Vremya continues a cycle of interviews by the 35th anniversary of the beginning of dramatic reforms in politics and economy of the USSR named as Perestroika. Foreign policy of the Soviet Union was marked then for the end of the Cold War and a reduction in nuclear weapons and brought to the unification of Germany and fall of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Opinion journalist Leonid Mlechin shared his thoughts about the results of Mikhail Gorbachyov’s work on the international stage with us.
“The USA was against the expansion of NATO for several years in the 90s”
Mr Mlechin, after the USSR and USA signed an agreement on elimination of their intermediate-range and short-range missiles, which lifted a serious part of the world military threat, the unification of two Germanies became a result of the Soviet foreign policy and Mikhail Gorbachyov’s personal accomplishments. What do you think about many experts who accuse the Soviet leader of not documenting the intention of NATO to remain in its borders, and troops withdrawn from the former GDR weren’t properly accommodated in the Homeland and settlement of a lot of militaries in the open field first?
I will remind you that in 1968 in Czechoslovakia, Soviet authorities deployed troops instantaneously, it’s fine, they made it, while the withdrawal took then months, and the withdrawal was quite tough. Germans actually allocated huge money to withdraw troops, including to improve the former Western Group of Troops. Where this money ended up, in whose pockets is another question.
As for NATO’s expansion, it is a tough question. When it was said about the unification of Germany, nobody thought of NATO enlargement, it didn’t come to anybody’s mind because the states of the Warsaw Pact still existed in 1990. The NATO enlargement wasn’t a topic for discussion! Yes, the Soviet side insisted that NATO troops not be placed on the territory of Eastern Germany, but it was impossible anymore and strange. The NATO enlargement began just several years later when Eastern European countries obtained full independence but still feared.
But if you look at the history of NATO, you will see that the same USA was against the expansion of NATO for several years in the 90s: Poland, Hungary, Czechia asked to join the alliance, while the USA was against because it understood Russia wouldn’t like it.
Why did the USA agree in the end? It asked a question: “What grounds should we deny on?” And it didn’t see these grounds. You know, there was a dramatic reduction of NATO’s military potential in Europe in the 90s. All battleworthy American military units returned home, military bases of the USA closed, and NATO’s military potential didn’t pose a threat to Russia. NATO considered that there was a full partnership with Russia, and this is why the bloc didn’t need powerful military potential.
And those NATO militaries who were accommodated in Poland and Czechia from 1999 weren’t a serious threat to Russia either.
I will remind you that in 1990 there was signed an agreement on restriction of armed forces in Europe, and NATO significantly reduced its military potential, Bundeswehr switched to a voluntary service, military costs reduced. Then everything changed, of course, because relations between our country and the external world changed, and NATO’s recovery process was full steam. And with Mikhail Gobachyov’s foreign policy, the threat on the western flank stopped existing, the threat of a war on that side disappeared from 1990.
Pay attention to the following. Many say Russia was weak in the early 90s. Yes, we were weak, but did anybody attack us? Did anybody threaten us with armed forces? Nobody. All public opinion polls showed that a threat of war to people disappeared.
Germans actually allocated huge money to withdraw troops, including to improve the former Western Group of Troops. Where this money ended up, in whose pockets is another question
But the Baltic States, other Eastern European countries didn’t calm down, and they were admitted to the bloc in 2004.
Russia has always had very complicated relations with the same Eastern European countries, but does it matter if they loved us and why don’t love us now? A husband is loved by his wife! What mattered was that there was no threat from that side since the Perestroika times — this factor mattered. Did NATO plan to expand forces in these countries? No. This matters too.
“Gorbachyov’s policy didn’t have any romanticism, it was sound calculation, and it was crowned with success”
The fear of war disappeared, but for some unknown reason, the West didn’t want to help the USSR with the means it needed to keep the economy. At a “G7” summit in 1991 where Gorbachyov was invited, leaders of these countries didn’t rush to make such a decision. Was there some mistrust of Gorbachyov who broke the ice in the relations with the West?
Everything is simple here: when you give money, you should understand that it will pay back one day. In this respect, the post-war Marshall Plan is often remembered, and it is thought that Americans arrived in Europe, handed out money and sit on the pier. Far from it. The Marshall Plan was created by leading American economists for many months who clearly calculated, for instance, what Italy had on its territory. Let’s say, if there were workforce and garment factories, they would give it feedstock, and they would sew underwear and vests that as good would go to Germany that needed clothes. The Marshall Plan was well thought out and designed to make the economy in Europe start working.
But the case is that Europe already had a normal market economy, while the USSR didn’t have it. Everything destroyed here in 1991, and it turned out that the allocated money would simply disappear.
And it wasn’t Bush or the Britain premier’s money, it was their voters’ money, and it can be used only for good investments. If they needed to help, they think, they needed to send humanitarian aid. By the way, pay attention, that nobody would ask the West for anything a year later after the reforms because the economy started working, which is another situation.
If we pay attention to what the “new thinking” meant as a concept of the foreign policy of the USSR, it might seem that Gorbachyov was a romantic, the power-based method of solution was rejected, people’s interests were above the state interests... Or don’t you agree with such an idea?
If a person spent all his life working in the Komsomol and party, what a romantic can he be? Gorbachyov’s policy didn’t have any romanticism, it was sound calculation, and it was crowned with success. If the military threat and danger for the world disappeared, it is the greatest achievement of the country’s policy — when it turns out not in a circle of enemies but among neutral and friendly countries. A reduction in the arms race is an undoubted success because such problems were impossible to solve previously. They aren’t remembered today only because the dissolution of the USSR, people’s worse life overshadowed all these achievements of Gobachyov’s policy or they were even compromised.
Mikhail Gorbachyov’s beautiful words shouldn’t be considered as granted, but serious opposition of two powers disappeared, and it is the most important thing, partnership relations improved. Yes, there might be arguments, but you already could discuss foreign issues and decide something, while it is an achievement of diplomacy.
Remember that relations with China improved too, which is forgotten too. Relations of our country with the main partners in the foreign camp improved. But now people put other things on the forefront, and all this doesn’t matter for some unknown reason. Yes, now the world is completely different now, the countries are different, the problems are different. And at that stage the foreign policy of the Soviet Union achieved its goal — the fear disappeared.
If a person spent all his life working in the Komsomol and party, what a romantic can he be? Gorbachyov’s policy didn’t have any romanticism, it was sound calculation, and it was crowned with success
“If the grandfathers fought in the war because of the shed, should we maybe demolish this shed and build a football pitch?”
How to achieve such diplomatic successes as those in the late 80s and early 90s?
The most important thing is open-mindedness, an ability to go to the mirror, look at it and say: “I should start with myself, have I maybe done something wrong?” And if you see it, try to change what you might have done wrong. And then you say to another person: “Friend, you have done something wrong too, and you should fix what you have done wrong, and let’s come to an agreement”.
Another important thing is that both Gorbachyov and Eduard Shevardnadze didn’t have complexes, they weren’t arrogant, they simply have a sound world outlook. And when you have a sound outlook on the world, the world will change.
So you have an argument over the shed. It is important to sit, think, remember that the grandfathers warred because of the shed. Should we maybe demolish this shed and build a football pitch? Common sense and sound calculation were key factors of Gorbachyov and Shevardnadze’s successes.
Tell me then what did Prime Minister of Great Britain Margaret Thatcher mean when during Gorbachyov’s visit to London in 1984 (though who was not the leader but second-in-command of the USSR) that she could deal with this person?
Thatcher had seen Soviet leaders who hardly moved and could read a text on paper only, while this one walked himself and could not only talk with her without paper but also discuss something. Gorbachyov might not agree with her but he could discuss complicated issues with European leaders.
What did the foreign policy give ordinary people in the West’s countries?
Fear always pursued them, it was decades of military fear. And everything changed from the middle of the 80s, there was euphoria in the West — you arrived somewhere, and you were welcomed because they really believed that a military danger disappeared, changes arrived and they could stop fearing, lead a normal life. Businesspeople were glad because new markets, a possibility to trade opened. There was absolute euphoria!