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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 10: Proposal from Georgy Shakhnazarov to the CPSU for a Partial Soviet Troop Withdrawal from the ČSSR, March 1987

Traduction de Anna Melyakova

Texte intégral

1This provocative memorandum shows the essential role played by key reformers—top aides to Gorbachev—in thinking beyond conventional notions and ultimately (but not immediately) seeing their ideas put into action. Here, Shakhnazarov urges Gorbachev to announce unilateral Soviet troop withdrawals from Czechoslovakia during his upcoming April 1987 trip to Prague. The memo reads like a debater’s brief, taking each possible point of objection and arguing against it, finding every distinction between the Czechoslovak case and those of East Germany or Poland where force reductions at this time are unthinkable. The proposal also emphasizes the public relations and political gains to be had from such an action, and uses remarkable phrases such as: “Soviet troops are being kept in the ČSSR, for the most part, as a remnant of an empire and out of habit.” However, Gorbachev was not yet ready to accept this advice from Shakhnazarov, who at the time was not a formal adviser to the party leader (he was promoted to that position in early 1988), but a first deputy head of the CC Socialist Countries Department.

2What is new here is the notion of Moscow taking unilateral action to lower its military profile at a time when back-and-forth proposals for mutual NATO and Warsaw Pact troop reductions (including a Gorbachev speech in April 1986, a Warsaw Pact appeal in June 1986 for a 25 percent decrease on both sides, and NATO’s acceptance in December 1986 of specific talks) are producing only negotiations, not progress. Shakhnazarov’s own concern is how to advance reform in Czechoslovakia and strengthen the progressives in the party there. Gorbachev’s speech in Czechoslovak capital on April 10, 1987, would ultimately propose no such withdrawals, and would avoid any reinterpretation of the Prague Spring of 1968. Shakhnazarov’s idea of unilateral cuts—and not only in Czechoslovakia—would have to wait until the Soviet leader’s December 1988 United Nations speech.


3It seems advisable to assign the USSR Ministry of Defense to look into the question of withdrawing a substantial number of Soviet troops from the ČSSR and to generate proposals concerning M.S. Gorbachev’s visit to that country, which is being planned for spring 1987.

4By announcing a withdrawal agreement with our Czechoslovak colleagues during that visit, we would be investing this matter with major political significance. The political weight of the visit and the decision to withdraw troops would each increase the other’s impact on the world community.

5The desirability of such a serious political act at precisely this moment is dictated by a range of broad considerations.

6Firstly, it would substantiate M.S. Gorbachev’s statement at the X PUWP Congress in summer 1986 in which he said that Soviet troops stationed in other countries are not there indefinitely. This could fundamentally undermine attempts by Western reactionary circles to present that statement, which signaled a major turning point in the approach to the military-strategic situation in Europe, as a propaganda trick. The seriousness of our desire to achieve a breakthrough in new thinking in European politics would be significantly emphasized by a decision to withdraw troops from the ČSSR.

7The current political phase is marked by increasing pressures on the European track of our policies. Those Western circles which oppose disarmament are trying to play the disparity card on issues of weapons and armed forces between the Warsaw Treaty and NATO; they are building up resistance to our nuclear arms reductions program on that basis. Considering these conditions, the proposed troop withdrawal would undermine the validity of their tactics.

8Judging by an array of signs it is possible to say that Western reactionary forces are seriously apprehensive about the Soviet Union taking any such steps. Specific evidence of this is the concept they propagate that any withdrawal of Soviet troops from European socialist countries is called “the ousting of the Soviet Union” from those countries.

9In the political sense, the decision to withdraw troops would to some extent make up for our above-mentioned refusal to extend the unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. The peace movement in Western Europe would have a new, persuasive argument.

10From the point of view of Soviet-Czechoslovak relations, the proposed act would be very important and timely. In the country itself, the withdrawal of a segment of Soviet troops would be seen as a sign of greater trust in their leadership and the communist party, whose policies have provided a high level of political stability in society. At the same time, this step would express our confidence in the new leadership’s ability to consolidate the situation in the country; it would be a serious [expression of] preliminary support for the leadership. It would also serve to rectify the latent feeling of our Czechoslovak colleagues that their deep and sincere dedication to the Soviet Union and the CPSU is little noticed here.

11For its part, the Czechoslovak leadership has never, not even as a hint, mentioned the issue of withdrawing Soviet troops. That is why our initiative would have unique significance for them and would create political and emotional connections of a special kind.

12It is important to emphasize the point that a considerable decrease in the number of Soviet troops on Czechoslovak territory would significantly reduce the expenses associated with their presence and would be well-received by the general population.

13Before making a decision, it is necessary to weigh the possible or expected negative effects of this action.

14It is possible that the withdrawal of troops from Czechoslovakia would encourage the leadership of the HPR, the GDR, and the PPR to try to arrive at a similar adjustment for the Soviet troops stationed on their territories.

15Without completely excluding the several possibilities that exist for such attempts, we should emphasize that stationing our troops in the ČSSR has encompassed (and still does) special foundations, causes, and agreements, which differ from the status of our military forces in other East European socialist countries.

16When we brought Unified forces into Czechoslovakia in August 1968 we made the statement that they would leave the country once the threat to its freedom and independence had been eliminated. In the agreement on conditions for the temporary presence of Soviet troops on ČSSR territory of October 16, 1968, it was stated that they were to remain “in order to ensure the protection of the Socialist Commonwealth from the growing revanchist aims of West German military forces.”

17Both these conditions have to some extent run their course. Soviet troops are being kept in the ČSSR, for the most part, as a remnant of an empire and out of habit.

18There is a totally different situation in the GDR. There, Soviet forces are in a key sector of the European theater of operations, in a state that does not have the capability to withstand the NATO bloc with its own forces. Also, GDR territory does not provide sufficient defensive depth, and the republic does not share a common border with the USSR.

19The stationing of Soviet forces in Poland and Hungary, as in the GDR, is radically different from the situation in the ČSSR because its foundation goes back to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

20The military-strategic correlation of forces in Central Europe, considering the relative importance of nuclear missiles in the balance, allows us to withdraw a segment of our forces—tanks and infantry, without touching tactical-operational air-defense and missile complexes—without sustaining any losses. A shared border between Czechoslovakia and the USSR and the preservation of the corresponding infrastructures would allow us to return the withdrawn troops in case of a deterioration in the military-strategic situation. By the way, when preparing documentation for a withdrawal, this point should be discussed specifically. It would seem that the balance of plusses and minuses argues unequivocally in favor of the proposed step.

21A draft CC CPSU resolution is attached.

22[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Donated by G.Kh. Shakhnazarov. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Anna Melyakova.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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