Thursday, May 28, 2009

International Relations: The Anatoly Chernyaev diaries

National Security Archive: The National Security Archive publishes its fourth installment of the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, the man who was behind some of the most momentous transformations in the Soviet foreign policy in the end of the 1980s in his role as Mikhail Gorbachev main foreign policy aide. In addition to his contributions to perestroika and new thinking, Anatoly Sergeevich was and remains a paragon of openness and transparency providing his diaries and notes to historians who are trying to understand the end of the Cold War. This section of the diary, covering 1989—the year of miracles—is published here in English for the first time.

After the “turning point year,” 1988, the Soviet reformers around Gorbachev expected fast progress on all fronts—domestically in implementation of the results of the XIX party conference and further democratization of the Soviet system, and internationally following the groundbreaking UN speech of December 1988, especially in the sphere of nuclear arms control and in integrating the Soviet Union into Europe. However, those hopes were not realized, and the year brought quite unexpected challenges and outcomes. By the end of the year, no new arms control agreements would be signed, but the Berlin Wall would fall, nationalist movements would start threatening the unity of the Soviet Union, and popular revolutions would sweep Eastern Europe while the Soviets stuck to their pledge not to use force. By the end of 1989, Europe was transformed and the Cold War had ended. Anatoly Chernyaev documented all those changes meticulously and reflected on their meaning in real time.

For Chernyaev, the year began with an argument over the final withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze tried to delay the full withdrawal of troops and to send an additional brigade to help the Afghan leader Najibullah repel attacks of Pakistani-supported mujahaddin and stabilize his government. Chernyaev and Alexander Yakovlev actively opposed that course of action on the grounds that it would cost hundreds of lives of Soviet soldiers and undermine Soviet trustworthiness in the eyes of international partners. The troops were withdrawn on schedule by February 15, 1989.

Domestically, the most important event was the first contested election to the Congress of People’s Deputies on March 26, 1989. Chernyaev himself was elected as Deputy, but expressed unease about being among the 100 candidates on the “guaranteed” party list. His reflections on the electoral campaign and the results of the elections show his sincere belief that the Soviet system could be transformed by deepening the democratization and his concerns over the limitations and resistance by the conservative elements within the party. The electoral campaign takes place at the time when the economic situation deteriorates quite significantly, leading to unprecedented discontent of the population and ultimately miners strikes in the summer.

An important theme of 1989 is the growing nationalism and the threat of possible breakup of the Soviet Union—“the nationalities bomb.” On this issue, Chernyaev seems to understand the situation much better than Gorbachev, who until very late does not comprehend the fact that the Baltic states genuinely want to leave the Soviet Union maybe up until the human chain of protesters forms on August 23, 1989. Gorbachev believes that they could be kept in by negotiations and economic pressure. The events in Tbilisi on April 9, 1989, where the police killed 20 civilians trying to disperse nationalist rallies, should have been a wake-up call. Chernyaev wonders if Gorbachev understands all the depth of the nationalities issue or if he is still under the influence of the Soviet official narrative of harmonious relations between ethnic groups under socialism.

The summer of 1989 brings the Solidarity victory in the Polish elections and the start of the Hungarian roundtable negotiations culminating in the first non-communist government in Eastern Europe in Poland and the Soviet acceptance of those events. On the heels of the Polish and Hungarian breakthroughs comes the change of leadership in East Germany and the almost accidental yet fateful fall of the Berlin Wall. In this case, just like on the issue of nationalism, Chernyaev shows a much better understanding of its true meaning than most other Soviet leaders. In the fall of the Wall, he sees an end of an era, the true transformation of the international system, and a beginning of a new chapter in the European history. The start of the process of German reunification and the Malta summit signified the end of the Cold War.

However, for Chernyaev, his position notwithstanding, the year’s main concern was the domestic developments in the Soviet Union, and specifically the insufficient progress in radical economic and political reform. A lot of entries deal with his disappointment in Gorbachev’s slow or ambivalent actions where he seems to be siding with conservatives, his inability to move more decisively even on the issues that he himself proclaimed such as land reform. Chernyaev’s main lament is that Gorbachev is losing time and political power as a result of his indecisiveness while the opposition is growing strong using “the Russian factor” and becoming more anti-Gorbachev and siding with Yeltsin more and more often in the Congress of People’s Deputies.

All through the tumultuous events of 1989, Anatoly Chernyaev remains at Gorbachev’s side, faithful to the ideas and the promise of the reform, but at the same time more and more critical at the weaknesses and inconsistencies of his boss and growing more dissatisfied by the emerging distance in their personal relationship. The last entry of the year, for December 31, is written in the form of a letter to Gorbachev, expressing all the disappointments and worries about the fate of the reform. The diary entries allow historians an opportunity to see the days of 1989 as they unfolded, through the eyes of a most perceptive and involved participant.

The Chernyaev Diary was translated by Anna Melyakova and edited by Svetlana Savranskaya for the National Security Archive.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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