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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 24: Comments from Georgy Shakhnazarov on Viktor Kulikov’s Report at the Warsaw Treaty PCC, May 25, 1988

Traduction de Vladislav Zubok

Texte intégral

  • 1 Odom, The Collapse of the Soviet Military.

1This biting and often sarcastic memo by top Gorbachev aide Georgy Shakhnazarov deconstructs the inertia and old thinking demonstrated by the Soviet commander of Warsaw Treaty Organization forces, Marshal Viktor Kulikov, and by implication, the entire Soviet military establishment. A year after Gorbachev insisted to the Politburo that a doctrine of sufficiency should replace the old commitment to parity with NATO (see Document No. 12), Kulikov insists to the WTO’s Political Coordinating Committee that the danger of war in Europe is actually increasing and that stockpiles, airstrips, “chemical support” and airborne troops all need to be expanded. Shakhnazarov comments that the economies in almost every East European country are in a pre-crisis state, in part due to the military burden. He also informs Gorbachev that the military, through their plans, could undermine the international credibility of new disarmament initiatives by interpreting “the concept of a defensive doctrine in a highly bizarre way.” Gorbachev’s response in the document unfortunately does not specify what kind of instructions Defense Minister Marshal Dmitri Yazov actually received from the Soviet leader. Yazov himself later would deny that there was “any new doctrine” adopted for the WTO. William Odom’s 1998 study1 of the Soviet military shows that they only paid lip service to the formulas presented by Gorbachev and his civilian advisers.


21 I get the impression that, despite many assurances of loyalty to a defensive military doctrine, a genuine reappraisal of strategic conceptions in this direction has not even begun in our country.

3On page 3 of the report [Viktor Kulikov] attempts to prove a thesis that, despite the INF Agreement, the danger of war in Europe will not decrease, but in fact will increase. Arguments used to prove this notion are not convincing. Meanwhile it effectively justifies a program of reciprocal increases in our military power. When planning the rearmament of all branches of the armed forces, [the military] does not provide data about the resources this would require, although the list alone makes it clear that military expenditures would not go down, but would go up significantly. And this is being proposed when the process of disarmament has begun and, in particular, the prospect of talks and the achievement of an agreement on conventional arms reductions and military forces in Europe is becoming brighter.

42. It has been known for a long time that the Romanians have been bluntly rejecting our programs for a military build-up, and the leaderships of other [East European] countries accept them without enthusiasm, united by Alliance discipline. Nevertheless, the report includes a rebuke to the fraternal countries which are more frequently refusing to purchase [Soviet] armaments (p. 6).

5Military expenditures in Eastern Europe (albeit according to Western data) are twice as high per capita as in the majority of NATO countries. Our friends understandably cannot afford to carry this burden any further, particularly under pre-crisis economic conditions in almost every [East European] country. Which is more profitable for us: that they continue their arms build-up and march towards economic disaster or, on the other hand, that they save on military expenditures and improve their economic situation, reinforcing de facto the security of the commonwealth?

63. The thesis that the role of “chemical support of troop combat actions” has increased (p. 5) is doubtful. The report also says that chemical troops will be reinforced with flame-throwers and camouflage (p. 11). How does this correspond to our declarations of readiness for a complete ban on and liquidation of chemical weapons?

74. The document contains a declaration about the need to support military-strategic parity with NATO (p. 7).

8This thesis under current conditions should be spelled out to avoid its “verbatim” implementation.

95. It is not clear what is meant [when it is said] that the combat and numerical strength of each allied army “is intended to be preserved on the level prescribed by the Protocols by the end of 1999.” Does this mean a planned over-fulfillment, building up a larger military force ahead of time?

106. An example showing that [the military] understands the concept of a defensive doctrine in a highly bizarre way can be found in the thesis concerning the intention to devote more attention in the next five-year plan to shock-assault detachments (p. 9). Until now this arm of the service has not predominantly existed for defensive tasks.

11Another example: on page 11 the report recommends increasing the stockpile of fuel and ammunition, creating these stockpiles on the territory of Hungary and Bulgaria, and creating stockpiles of armaments and equipment for the deployment of reserve formations, etc.

12On p. 12 the report points out the need to expand the network of airstrips, and to continue equipping protective hangars for military aircraft.

13In general the report admits that implementation of the prescribed tasks, which should maintain military-strategic parity, would require large-scale efforts by the Allied Command and the Ministry of Defense to equip troops, and large-scale mobilization of the scientific and industrial potential of the socialist countries.

14In other words, overall the report speaks not about a reduction of military efforts, but, on the contrary, their intensification. It would not be at all surprising that even if the report of the commander-in-chief does not leak to the West (and under present circumstances in the WTO such leaks cannot be excluded), the West would easily be able to conclude, on the basis of the facts and of those measures for a build-up that would be implemented, that in reality we do not want to disarm—moreover, we do not even want to lower the level of armed confrontation.

15In essence, the document presented does not indicate that any attempt is pending to reassess the real military-strategic situation in Europe. The key component of this situation is the continuing Western intention to preserve nuclear arsenals at a certain level. The focus is still on nuclear deterrence but not on the task of waging an offensive war by conventional means. With this in mind, we should rethink our strategy. Existing nuclear means protect us from direct aggression and thereby make a further increase in conventional armaments and military forces redundant.

16On the other hand, as many politicians from the Left are telling us, with some justice, only our concrete steps to reduce armaments will trigger corresponding measures in the West. This will provoke such a wave of popular movement there that governments will have to move towards us.

17Then should we provide bourgeois militarists with arguments to continue and intensify the arms race?

18Resolution of M.S. Gorbachev: “Cde. D.T. Yazov received instructions.”

19[Source: Published in G.Kh. Shakhnazarov’s Tsena svobody [The Price of Freedom] (Moscow: Rossika-Zeus, 1993) Translated by Vladislav Zubok.]


1 Odom, The Collapse of the Soviet Military.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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