Version classiqueVersion mobile

Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 116: Four Soviet Foreign Ministry Documents regarding the Situation in Romania, December 20-25, 1989

Traduction de Vladislav Zubok.

To Comrade Gorbachev M.S.

Texte intégral

1The final document in this chronological sequence—a conversation between U.S. Ambassador Jack Matlock and Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Aboimov on Christmas Eve 1989—is clearly the headline item of this group, which was declassified and published by the Russian Foreign Ministry in 1994 (with obvious public relations benefits in mind). But the whole sequence rewards attention for the evidence the documents provide on the Soviet role in Eastern Europe’s 1989 revolutions, and specifically in the lone violent transition—the bloody ending of the Ceauşescu dictatorship in Romania.

2The first document below, a note from Foreign Minister Shevardnadze to General Secretary Gorbachev, reports that Moscow is relying on Western telegraph services for news of Romania as of December 20. This is the day the Romanian army ceases its attacks on the mass demonstrations in Timisoara and the protesters proclaim it a liberated city; it is also five days after the first protests sought to protect dissident pastor László Tőkés, and three days after the Securitate (with the army) began shooting. This note suggests the KGB is providing little good information to the top leadership in Moscow, and, contrary to certain suspicions afterwards, probably is not conspiring to overthrow Ceauşescu. (The Yeltsin government, which released this document, would surely have declassified any material derogatory of Gorbachev and his pledges of non-intervention.)

3Ceauşescu himself thinks Moscow is behind the troubles, as the second document relates: Romanian Ambassador Bukur calls on Deputy Foreign Minister Aboimov on December 21 with specific allegations from a Ceauşescu speech that the Timisoara protests were “allegedly prepared and organized with the consent of member-states of the Warsaw Treaty Organization” and that “interference in the internal affairs of the SRR [is] allegedly being prepared in the Soviet Union.” The reference to WTO members points to Hungary, since the Transylvanian region had been part of Hungary until 1920, and the dissident Tőkés, himself of Hungarian descent, had spoken out for the rights of the Hungarian minority.

4The third document shows exactly who has the best information in real time about events on the ground in Romania—Yugoslav diplomats, whose consulate in Timisoara and embassy in Bucharest are witnessing the events first-hand. Yugoslav Ambassador Veres notes succinctly that the causes of the uprising are “rooted in profound popular dissatisfaction with the economic situation in the country accumulated over [many] years, with low living standards, with the lack of basic food and consumer goods, and with the leadership’s unwillingness to undertake at least some measures to democratize the political system.”

5The final document represents one of the most striking examples anywhere of American recognition of the end of the Cold War. After Ceauşescu flees Bucharest on December 22, the provisional government appeals for international support against continuing violence, and on December 23 French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas actually mentions the possibility of Soviet assistance. Secretary of State James Baker, set to appear on a major American television show on Sunday, December 24, and expecting questions about Romania, tasks his ambassador in Moscow (eight hours ahead of Washington time) to query the Soviets urgently about the situation there.

6The key exchange between Matlock and Aboimov comes when the U.S. ambassador “hinted at an idea, apparently on instructions from Washington.” that “the military involvement of the Soviet Union in Romanian affairs might not be regarded in the context of ‘the Brezhnev doctrine.’” The Soviet diplomat quickly and vehemently declines the invitation: “We stand against any interference in the domestic affairs of other states. Thus, the American side may consider that ‘the Brezhnev doctrine’ is now theirs as our gift.” This last phrase clearly refers to the American invasion of Panama which has just occurred on December 20, to remove the longtime U.S. intelligence asset and dictator, Manuel Noriega, and reveals the Soviet attitude toward Matlock’s (and subsequently Baker’s own) invitation as at best “stupid” (Shevardnadze’s subsequent characterization), and at worst a provocation to put the Soviet Union on a par with the United States in Panama. The White House would disavow Baker’s television statement, but that invitation, together with the Matlock-Aboimov exchange, stand as perhaps the most dramatic American expressions of changed attitudes marking the end of the Cold War.

7Mikhail Sergeyevich:

8Regarding the events in Romania in the last few days, we can still only judge on the basis of information from news agencies, primarily Western ones. This information is often contradictory and does not allow one to construct a true picture.

9Our attempts to obtain the official version via Bucharest have produced no results. Today, December 20, the Romanian ambassador will be invited to the MFA USSR in order to elicit information from him on this issue.

10Until we have complete and objective information, we should not, in our opinion, be in haste to issue a statement from the USSR Congress of People’s Deputies. At best we could go no further than to instruct the Commission on Foreign Affairs [of the Congress’ Supreme Soviet] to prepare a draft proposal on our possible reaction with all circumstances in mind.

11E. Shevardnadze

12December 20, 1989


13Memorandum of conversation
with Ambassador of the SRR in the USSR I. BUKUR

14December 21, 1989

15I received I. Bukur at his request.

16The ambassador recounted the address of N. Ceauşescu on Romanian radio and television on December 20, and handed over its complete text.

17When I asked if the events in Timişoara involved human casualties and what the present situation was in that region, the ambassador responded that he possesses no information on this issue. He referred to the fact that the address of N. Ceauşescu also says nothing on this score.

18I told the ambassador that during N. Ceauşescu’s meeting with the Soviet charge d’affaires in the SRR on December 20 [the former] expressed surprise that Soviet representatives made declarations on the events in Timişoara. Besides, during the meeting it was asserted [by Ceauşescu] that the Romanian side possesses information that the action in Timişoara was allegedly prepared and organized with the consent of member-states of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Moreover, the actions against Romania were allegedly plotted within the framework of the Warsaw Treaty Organization.

19According to our information, officials in Bucharest in conversation with ambassadors of the allied socialist states expressed the view concerning some kind of interference in the internal affairs of the SRR allegedly being prepared in the Soviet Union.

20I must declare on behalf of our side that such assertions can only puzzle us; they have no foundation and do not correspond with reality.

21Answering the ambassador’s question as to whether my words reflected the official viewpoint of the Soviet government, I told him that so far I have no instructions to make any declarations on behalf of the Soviet government, but my words certainly reflect our official position, which is that the Soviet Union builds its relations with allied socialist states on the basis of equality, mutual respect and strict non-interference in domestic affairs. Considering the grave character of the statements by Romanian officials I cannot help tentatively expressing our attitude toward these statements. […]


22Record of conversation
with the Ambassador of the SFRY in the USSR, MILAN VERES

2322 December 1989

24I received M. Veres at his request.

25He referred to instructions from the Union Secretariat on Foreign Affairs of the SFRY and shared available information on the events in Romania, corroborated by the General Consulate of the SFRY in Timişoara and by numerous Yugoslav citizens who have returned from the SRR. He also reported on Yugoslav evaluations of the developments in Romania.

26The beginning of these dramatic developments could be traced to the events of December 15-16 in Timişoara where a large group of people protested the actions of the authorities with regard to the priest, L. Tőkés. This process grew into a huge demonstration by the population of the city against the existing order. According to the estimates of officials of the General Consulate of the SFRY, up to 100,000 people, including workers, university and school students, participated in the demonstration. Protest actions also took place in Arad, Brasov, and Cluj. Large contingents of militia and military were used against the demonstrators in Timişoara. According to the Yugoslavs, during those clashes several hundred people died, and according to certain unverified data the number of casualties exceeded 2,000. In the downtown area, shops, restaurants and cafes were destroyed, and many streetcars and automobiles were also burned. Timişoara is surrounded by troops, but protest actions continue in the city. Workers have seized factories and are threatening to blow them up if the authorities do not satisfy the people’s demands. Officials of the General Consulate of the SFRY, the ambassador remarked, noticed that a number of soldiers and militiamen expressed their sympathies with the demonstrators. There were also slogans: “The Army will not shoot at students and school children.”

27The Yugoslav-Romanian border is practically sealed; its defenses are fortified by troops along its whole length, including check-points. So far the Romanian side has authorized passage only for people with diplomatic and other service passports. The ambassador informed us that the Yugoslavs had evacuated family members of officials from their General Consulate. He disavowed reports by a number of Western news agencies that participants of the demonstration [in Timişoara] found refuge on the territory of the Yugoslav compound, whose premises allegedly were penetrated by Romanian militia.

28According to Yugoslav estimates, stressed M. Veres, the main reason for the disorders in Timişoara and for their subsequent spreading to a number of other cities, including the capital of the SRR, is rooted in profound popular dissatisfaction with the economic situation in the country accumulated over [many] years, with low living standards, with the lack of basic food and consumer goods, and with the leadership’s unwillingness to undertake at least some measures to democratize the political system.

29The ambassador pointed out that the Yugoslav public is very concerned about the situation in their neighboring country. The SFRY mass media are informing the population in detail about the events, including many reports about reactions abroad. On December 19 the Union Executive Vece [executive branch of the Yugoslav state] came out with an appropriate declaration expressing profound concern and regret with regard to casualties during the crack-down on the demonstrations. On December 20, the CC CPY Presidium denounced the actions of the Romanian authorities and laid political responsibility at the door of the leadership of the RCP [Romanian Communist Party]. [The CC] declared a temporary suspension of all contacts with the RCP and repealed an earlier invitation [to the RCP] to send a delegation to the 14th Congress of the CPY (January 1990). Every Yugoslav public organization, as well as both chambers of the Skupcina [parliament], made sharp protests. Late on December 21, the Presidium of the SFRY adopted a resolution denouncing reprisals against the demonstrators, which had led to a large loss of human life.

30M. Veres stressed that a particular cause for concern in Belgrade is the situation with Yugoslav ethnic minorities in the SRR. He said that the SFRY supports a peaceful resolution of the situation in Romania and is against any foreign interference in Romanian affairs […]

31Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR I. ABOIMOV


32Record of conversation
with U.S. Ambassador to the USSR J. MATLOCK

3324 December 1989

34I received U.S. Ambassador J. Matlock at his request.

35Referring to instructions received from Washington, the ambassador said that, in the opinion of the American leadership, the Soviet Union and the United States should continue to exchange opinions with regard to the events in Romania. The situation in Romania is still very uncertain. The American side is very concerned by the fact that warfare between the forces of state security and army units continues, and casualties among the civilian population are mounting. In this regard Matlock referred to the positive significance of the fact that the opinions of the Soviet Union and the United States coincided, to the effect that support should be given to the group that is trying to govern Romania and fulfill the will of the Romanian people.

36Then the American presented the following thought. The United States took note of the belief expressed by the Soviet Union that military intervention is out of question. The United States regarded with equal interest the declaration of the Soviet government concerning its readiness to lend immediate humanitarian assistance to the Romanian people. The American side would be greatly interested to hear the Soviet assessment of developments in Romania, as well as the opinion of the Soviet side with regard to the most effective ways of supporting the Romanian people and the new leadership of Romania. […]

37I informed the ambassador that earlier, in addition to the declaration of the Soviet government, a TASS declaration was published. This step by our side was necessitated by grave concern over the very tense situation at the residential building occupied by officials of the Soviet trade mission in Bucharest. It turned out to be in the epicenter of combat and for some time was partially under siege by the terrorist forces. Only by the end of the day were they dispersed, and we were able to evacuate the inhabitants from the house. I drew the American’s attention to the fact that two of them were lightly wounded, not one, as had been earlier reported. Now these people are on Soviet Embassy territory.

38At present the main task is to carry out the evacuation of Soviet citizens from Romania, above all women and children. I informed the U.S. ambassador of the options that are under consideration. […]

39We maintain contact with representatives of the new Romanian leadership, if only via telephone. We have informed them about our steps directed at giving humanitarian assistance to the Romanian population. Several times we inquired of the new leadership of Romania as to their urgent needs. We received no clear answer to our question. It looks like the [National Salvation] Front Council still lacks clear ideas on this score.

40With regard to the question raised by the American about the most effective approaches to organizing humanitarian assistance to Romania, I repeated that there is no full clarity about that. The Soviet Union is carrying out measures to prepare such assistance and its practical implementation, according to [the USSR’s] own understanding of Romania’s needs.

41We informed the new Romanian leadership and also the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Health Organization that we had set up hospitals in border cities of the Soviet Union to receive wounded from Romania. In Moldavia they are already expecting the first group of 600 wounded.

42On the means of assistance. The first load valued at a half million rubles (11 rail cars) will be sent by rail. Trains in Romania are still functioning. In addition, we gave instructions to the Moldavian leadership to get in touch with border districts in Romania and clarify two issues. First, what do they need most. Second, what is their advice as to the best way to transport these loads.

43To finish our thoughts on the situation in Romania, I remarked that we are in close contact on these questions with our Warsaw Treaty allies as well as with all other states that are approaching us. So we take as a positive sign the desire of the American side to exchange opinions. We consider contacts of this kind very useful.

44Reacting to our words, Matlock believed that now the United States was seeking optimal means of cooperation in order to give assistance to Romania. According to Matlock, the United States would be ready to provide assistance with medicine and food as well as with the logistics of transporting this assistance. In this context the American ambassador made the following request. If the Soviet side develops some ideas on this score, the American side will be very interested in being kept up to date.

45I responded that naturally we would be ready at any moment to share our considerations with the American side.

46Then Matlock touched on the issue that, apparently, he wanted to raise from the very beginning of the conversation. The administration, he said, is very interested in knowing whether the possibility of military assistance by the Soviet Union to the Romanian National Salvation Front is totally out of the question. Matlock suggested the following option: what would the Soviet Union do if an appropriate appeal came from the Front? Simultaneously, the ambassador hinted at an idea, apparently on instructions from Washington. He let us know that under the present circumstances the military involvement of the Soviet Union in Romanian affairs might not be regarded in the context of “the Brezhnev doctrine.”

47To this sounding out by the American I gave an entirely clear and unequivocal answer, presenting our principled position. I declared that we did not visualize, even theoretically, such a scenario. We stand against any interference in the domestic affairs of other states and we intend to pursue this line firmly and without deviations. Thus, the American side may consider that “the Brezhnev doctrine” is now theirs as our gift.

48Developing this thesis further, by way of clarification, I drew the interlocutor’s attention to the fact that it was on the basis of these considerations that the Soviet Union was and still is against convening the Security Council (SC) to consider the situation in Romania.

49The American, however, immediately inquired what the Soviet reaction would be if the National Salvation Front itself appeals to convene the SC.

50I said that we are still not ready to contemplate such a hypothetical possibility.

51In the end, both sides confirmed their positive evaluation of the exchange of opinions that had taken place. They expressed support for continuing contacts regarding the rapidly changing situation in Romania.

52Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR I. ABOIMOV

53[Source: Diplomaticheskii vestnik, no. 21/22, November 1994, pp. 74-79. Translated by Vladislav Zubok.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

Conditions d’utilisation :


Volume papier
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search