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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 12: Notes of CC CPSU Politburo Session, May 8, 1987

Traduction de Svetlana Savranskaya et Anna Melyakova

Texte intégral

1This Politburo discussion about the Warsaw Pact’s doctrine features a notable level of internal disagreement, debate, and substantive argument—quite different from the usual Politburo style of call-and-response and preaching-to-the-choir. Here, Defense Minister Sergey Sokolov and other old guard run headlong into the new thinking on military affairs. The deliberations also include the first open admission in available Politburo records of the imbalance of forces in Europe, the first acknowledgment that Soviet troops will have to be withdrawn from Eastern Europe, and the first explicit recognition, insisted upon by Gorbachev, that a new doctrine of “sufficiency” needs to replace the traditional Soviet insistence on “parity.” If matching weapon for weapon continues, Gorbachev says, “we can forget about building socialism.”—“[W]ill we keep turning the country into a military camp?” Bolstering his argument, he refers to an earlier meeting with Margaret Thatcher, at which the British leader explained the West’s threat perception (“they were afraid of us; that we invaded Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Afghanistan”) and tutored him in the concept that real deterrence requires only a credible retaliatory capacity, not an equal number of weapons.

2Here we also find a cautious early version of the 1988 United Nations speech: the ideas about a troop withdrawal are tentative—“Let us say we keep 170,000”—yet there is an explicit recognition that it is “not so important how many troops there are” although their presence in any numbers is important as a “political matter.” Only 20 days after this discussion, the young German pilot Matthias Rust lands his small plane near Red Square after evading Soviet warning systems, thus giving Gorbachev the opportunity to fire Sokolov and an array of top military leaders who could not accept the new doctrines.



3Gromyko: We have always had a defensive doctrine, both in the political and the military sense.

4Shevardnadze: I am for publishing the truth about the number of our troops in central Europe. […] Not for withdrawal, but for the truth [about numbers] and argumentation.

5Yakovlev (supporting Shevardnadze): We should say something about the imbalance. Otherwise we will come not only to a propaganda dead end, but a political one as well.

6Gorbachev (to Marshal Sokolov): When you enter a place, think about how you will leave. […]

7Sokolov: Our (Warsaw Treaty Organization) military personnel levels are right now higher than NATO’s by 170,000. Out of that, 70,000 are Soviet troops, the rest are allied troops. There is no imbalance. And then, how would we reduce them? How do we keep what we’ve won? Withdrawing troops would be a political mistake.

8Chebrikov: The issue of an imbalance deserves serious attention. But we are taking into account the territory from the Atlantic to the Urals. In that case, there is no imbalance.

  • 1 Negotiations on conventional arms forces in Europe (CFE) were being held in Vienna.
  • 2 Since the mid-1970s, when the negotiations began, the Soviet Union had been unwilling to admit its (...)

9Dobrynin: The essence of the issue is whether to say that we have more troops in the center of Europe than NATO has, or not. We need to close down Vienna1 somehow. If we want to be honest, we have to say that. We have been cunning for 13 years, and we have to admit it now.2

10Medvedev: There is a phrase in the doctrine: “we will respond with all available means.” Does this mean with nuclear weapons as well? It is necessary for every formula to be precise, not “in general.”

11Vienna will not be “resolved” if the sore point (imbalance) is not resolved.

12We cannot continue with lies. […] We cannot ignore public opinion. And we need to speak openly about the territory of Europe as being from the Atlantic to the Urals.

13Zaikov: It would be better to speak about imbalance in Mikhail Sergeyevich’s speech.

14Gorbachev: They (in the West) know about it anyway …

15Zaikov: They know, but it is a different matter when you say it. We need to acknowledge it openly. The question of control arises next. So far we have been trying to avoid control ourselves.

16Gorbachev: How the imbalances were formed—the skewed proportions in different types of weapons, here arguments must be used as well.

17Akhromeyev: I think that we should try to find a solution to the issue of the imbalance in armaments in Europe, and we should state it openly.

18Gorbachev: Firstly. I disagree that there is “nothing new” in the document. Our understanding of the problems has deepened. Policy is the main issue here. Speculation continues. Remember, I told you about my meeting with Thatcher. She said they were afraid of us; that we invaded Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Afghanistan. This perception is widespread among the public there. It persists in the minds of many people. Anti-Soviet propaganda is based on it. We should strengthen our policy for the humanization of international relations with our actions.

19There were public statements by our generals in military journals, for example Marshal Grechko’s article. They put the West on guard and reinforce their distrust.

20That is why politically it makes sense for me to give a speech and publicly state the new doctrine.

21Secondly. What should the character of this doctrine be? We are not just “sitting” or “lying” on our military doctrine, we are trying to find a way to make the world more stable. Now even parity has ceased to be a guarantee. Therefore, we propose to act in an appropriate fashion. And we will not be stubborn about having 27,000 tanks and almost 3.5 million soldiers there.

22I would like to support Vadim Andreyevich [Medvedev] on the issue of implementing “all appropriate means.” This is too ambiguous.

23We overlooked a very important question—the question of sufficiency. Many scholars and the public have responded to this idea. And we need to make a statement that we are striving to keep armaments at the lowest level.

  • 3 The Defense Council was formally the highest Soviet decision-making body on defense and national s (...)

24About the imbalance. I must say: nobody in the Defense Council3 could explain clearly what strategic parity is. This is not a question of statistics, it is a question of military policy. Strategic parity means that we have a reliable guarantee of the defense of our country. And the enemy will not attack us because in that case it would receive an unacceptable retaliatory strike. If we anticipate such a result, then we have parity. But if we start counting—they have a rifle, we have a rifle—then we can forget about building socialism. They have 6 billion [sic] people working on armaments. So should we try to catch up with that number? We should put an end to such an approach. I ask the question: will we keep turning the country into a military camp in the future as well? They clearly want to pull us into another round of the arms race. They are counting on our military exhaustion. And they will portray us as militarists. They are pulling us into SDI.

25These are the positions from which we should formulate our military doctrine.

26And when we speak about the number of our troops in Europe, and if we state the numbers honestly, then we will have to come to the decision to withdraw them at an appropriate time. It is important for the leadership of our allies that we maintain our military presence there. And it is not so important how many troops there are. We also need a presence; it is a political matter—so that others know: if they touch our allies, they will have to deal with our power.

27Somewhere in here lies the fruit of long contemplation. This must be the only direction of our thinking. […] We need to approach Eastern Europe from these positions. We have defenses there, we have strong powers.

28What is the difference whether there are 380,000 there or 300,000 there? What is important is the matter itself, and the positioning of the troops.

29Therefore, the approach of one soldier there, one soldier here, they have a bullet we have a bullet, is not our approach.

30We need to find a way to resolve Vienna. The numbers are important here, we need to make that clear. Let us say we keep 170,000. But there should be no rush, as if we were going to withdraw the rest immediately. We should tell the government heads about this at the PCC in the context of the Budapest initiative. We must not allow it to look like a retreat. We need to think this through, discuss it with our allies, and then make a proposal to the West during negotiations. Let them react. Maybe they will tell us that we do not need to do it. It is important for us to give free rein to a policy of trust, trust and more trust. The West talks about it all the time, and we are just dancing around it.

31And if we are talking about Europe as between the Atlantic and the Urals, then you (NATO members) should go ahead and withdraw troops. We will have to deal with their troop numbers. Here they are afraid, because they would have to ship the Americans across the ocean.

32[Source: V Politburo TsK KPSS. Po zapisyam Anatoliya Chernyaeva, Vadi-ma Medvedeva, Georgiya Shakhnazarova (1985-1991) (Moscow: Alpina Business Books, 2006), pp. 180-183. Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya and Anna Melyakova.]


1 Negotiations on conventional arms forces in Europe (CFE) were being held in Vienna.

2 Since the mid-1970s, when the negotiations began, the Soviet Union had been unwilling to admit its superiority in conventional forces in Europe, especially in numbers of tanks. The figures were never published and were kept secret as late as Gorbachev’s U.N. speech in December 1988 when he announced deep unilateral reductions in conventional forces in the European theater.

3 The Defense Council was formally the highest Soviet decision-making body on defense and national security policy (including arms control negotiations), subordinated to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. The chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was also chairman of the Defense Council.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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