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Svetlana Savranskaya
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Thomas Blanton
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Vladislav Zubok

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Document No. 117: Memorandum from the CC CPSU International Department, “Towards a New Concept of Relations between the USSR and the States of Central and Eastern Europe”, January 5, 1990

Traduction de Vladislav Zubok

Texte intégral

1This remarkable critique of Soviet foreign policy would be unimaginable under any regime prior to Gorbachev’s (or subsequent to Yeltsin’s, for that matter). The clear-eyed realists and new thinkers (Rybakov and Ozhereliev) in the International Department of the Central Committee offer their boss, Georgy Shakhnazarov, a devastating indictment of past Soviet practice as well as then-current Soviet confusion.

2The memo opens with the dramatic statement, “the crisis of the neo-Stalinist model of socialism in Central and Eastern Europe has become a general crisis and has broken into the open arena.” More candor follows: “during the entire post-war period the USSR systematically interfered in the internal affairs of its neighbors, including through the use of military force.” But this was “based on the tacit international acceptance that this region was a sphere of Soviet influence.” Yet, complains the memo, Moscow’s policy priorities are still not clarified—quite a bold statement given that Gorbachev has been asking for a “strategy” paper since June 1986! And why? Because the “[f]oreign policy of the Soviet state has been paralyzed by a sense of the CPSU’s moral responsibility for the current complications the communist parties are facing in Eastern Europe.”

3The document details a series of “erroneous foreign policy actions” taken “in the outdated spirit of loyalty to a narrow group of party leaders.” The most serious such errors include Gorbachev’s visit to Romania in 1989 and the awarding of Ceauşescu with the order of Lenin; the failure to change the official interpretation of 1968 during Gorbachev’s visit to Czechoslovakia in April 1987; and Gorbachev’s failure to tell the truth about the Katyń massacre during his visit to Poland in 1988. In effect, this is an indictment of every major Gorbachev trip to Eastern Europe. Each of these visits provided “[d]emonstrations of loyalty to leaders who had long lost public support and who were simply hated by the people, were steeped in corruption and obscenely violated the principles of communism they publicly advocated, hurt the interests of the USSR and the CPSU…”

4And who are the officials in Moscow still working on Eastern Europe? Policy is still “in the hands of people personally responsible for Soviet actions in the spirit of the Brezhnev Doctrine.” In addition, all of Moscow’s ambassadors are useless; they are “as a rule, non-professional ambassadors who lord over the personnel of Soviet services abroad in their customary command style, and adhere to conservative tenets aimed at preserving the status quo.” They “distort[] the real picture of the country” and therefore are unable to forecast events: “Our policy in Romania provides the most stunning example of this.”

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1. ASSESSMENT OF THE SITUATION IN THE REGION

5At the end of the 1980s, the crisis of the neo-Stalinist model of socialism in Central and Eastern Europe has become a general crisis and has broken out into the open arena. During 1989, in all the states of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, the accumulated contradictions came together, which led to a change of social order, while in three countries the changes took the form of a chain-reaction (in the GDR and Czechoslovakia they were peaceful, in Romania it was bloody). A palace coup in Bulgaria, although it prevented an open conflict, still came too late.

6The most significant element in the new situation, in the political sphere, is the end of the era of one-party states in Eastern and Central Europe. Real power is gradually passing into the hands of the leaders of states, governments and parliaments.

7Communist parties have lost the leading role in society, both de jure and de facto, and are continuing to lose their positions. […]

2. ASSESSMENT OF THE OLD CONCEPT OF RELATIONS BETWEEN THE USSR AND THE STATES OF CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE

8Until the middle of the 1980s relations between the USSR and these countries were based on the tacit international acceptance that this region was a sphere of Soviet influence. Although, as a matter of fact, this situation was “sanctioned” in theory only in 1968 in the so-called doctrine of limited sovereignty, during the entire post-war period the USSR systematically interfered in the internal affairs of its neighbors, including through the use of military force.

9Until 1985, the priority principle of Soviet foreign policy was to maintain the status quo, and the nature of political relations was determined mostly by the special role played by communist parties in the life of the East European countries. The CPSU built channels through which it could influence the formation of party-government elites, and used these on a broad scale until the mid-1980s. Against this backdrop there was an established tradition of strictly observing unquestioned loyalty to those groups of party leaders who were in power at the moment, and also a tradition of keeping secret from one’s own [people] and the international public any disagreements within the WTO and the CMEA. This unwritten rule covered, in particular, N. Ceauşescu, who as early as the end of the 1950s broke away from direct Soviet control; limited autonomy [fronda] was tolerated since Romanian domestic policy remained neo-Stalinist. Loyalty was no longer observed only in those cases when East European leaders set themselves on the path toward reforms, which were regarded by the CPSU leadership as a departure from the fundamental assumptions and basic laws of socialist construction.

10After the beginning of perestroika, the CPSU leadership, in accordance with the proclaimed principles of new political thinking, renounced the Brezhnev Doctrine, thereby creating an international climate that favored far-reaching shifts in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. However, party-to-party relations were not de-coupled from inter-state relations in due time. The nature of relations inside the WTO and the CMEA remained undemocratic (the absence of rotation in the posts of commander and chief of staff of the Unified Armed Forces, secretary of the CMEA, etc.). Other mechanisms of political cooperation, its traditions, and its protocol remained generally the same. Strict controls on the coverage of relations with the East European countries in the mass media did not diminish. These problems lay outside of the policy of glasnost. In other words, there were many relics from the past in the system of relations.

11Despite the profound shifts that have taken place in the East European states, the priority interests of Soviet foreign policy in this region have not yet been clarified, the main directions of this policy have not been formulated, and a new, adequate set of policy instruments has not been created. Multiple Soviet delegations in the states of Eastern Europe failed to forecast events, even in the short run, and failed to direct the actions of Soviet diplomacy into the correct channel. Our policy in Romania provides the most stunning example of this.

12The information that came from the embassies, the central apparatus of the Foreign Ministry, services of the KGB abroad and other Soviet delegations gave grounds for distorted assessments of the internal processes that had been brewing in Eastern Europe. Changes in Poland and Hungary provoked excessive alarm, although as the subsequent turn of events showed those countries managed to carry out a smooth transition to a new social order, and the national-state interests of the USSR have not been impaired in any significant way. As to the leaders of the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, Soviet services abroad criticized them more for their criticism of perestroika in the USSR than for their reluctance to undertake much-needed radical transformations. As a result, an unprecedented power vacuum emerged in those countries, and processes were set in motion, which caught both Soviet and international diplomacy unprepared (for instance, the rapid rapprochement of the two German states).

13A series of erroneous foreign policy actions took place in an outdated spirit of loyalty to a narrow group of party leaders. The most serious errors: a visit by M.S. Gorbachev to Romania (1989), awarding N. Ceauşescu with the order of Lenin and sending a very high-ranking party delegation to the last Congress of the RCP. Then we should mention [Gorbachev’s] visit to Czechoslovakia (1987), which led to a most serious disenchantment on the part of the population of that country who expected that this visit would bring about changes. During [Gorbachev’s] visit to Poland (1988), a chance was missed to reinforce friendly relations with the Poles and to enhance the prestige of the Soviet leadership by giving a clear answer to the question about the perpetrators of the Katyń crime. Another missed opportunity was the delay in acknowledging that the intervention in Czechoslovakia [of 1968] was a mistake.

14Demonstrations of loyalty to leaders who had long lost public support and who were simply hated by the people, were steeped in corruption, and obscenely violated the principles of communism they publicly advocated, hurt the interests of the USSR and the CPSU, compromised their policy and perestroika, and increased anti-Soviet sentiments that had remained hidden until a given time and are only now budding openly. All these errors can be compensated for only to a certain extent through the successes of Soviet foreign policy on other issues and in other regions of the world.

15Other causes of the aforementioned weaknesses and errors should be named:

  • The foreign policy of the Soviet state has been paralyzed by a sense of the CPSU’s moral responsibility for the current complications the communist parties are facing in Eastern Europe.

  • At all stages [the process] of preparing and implementing foreign policy was in the hands of people personally responsible for Soviet actions in the spirit of the Brezhnev Doctrine. Many of them still adhere to old political assessments and preserve personal ties with national governing cadres retaining a conservative neo-Stalinist orientation. They have become the source of less than objective information about events in the country [of their location].

  • Principles of staffing and the formation of Soviet diplomatic services in Eastern Europe, as well as the traditions present in the activity of all [Soviet] representations do not correspond to the present complex situation in the region. People who have been sent there are, as a rule, non-career ambassadors who lord over the personnel of Soviet services abroad in their customary command style, and adhere to conservative tenets aimed at preserving the status quo. Messages they send to Moscow get screened through strict ideological filters. Their contacts in the country are almost exclusively with the state-government establishment. All this significantly devalues the information they obtain and distorts the real picture of the country. Obtaining this sort of information does not require keeping so many services in the field; similar conclusions can be drawn in Moscow from an analysis of the official media of these countries.

  • The East European departments of the Foreign Ministry are staffed with cadres who have been schooled in corresponding embassies and who rely on the “battle experience” [zakalka] they have obtained there in their practical work.

16An analogous picture obtains in the area of trade cooperation.

17After the war, instead of the traditional division of labor in Central and Eastern Europe oriented toward the Western part of the continent, under our strong pressure there emerged a relatively self-isolated economic system under the domination of the USSR. Following the Soviet example, the countries adhere to the principle of autarkic development in their economies. The policy of integration was undertaken only in the 1970s; however, it did not bring the expected fruits because the proposed measures were largely voluntary by nature and hardly reflected the interests of the countries and immediate subjects of economic activity. Cooperation therefore boiled down to centralized barter and commercial and financial relations, and concerns over efficiency played a subservient role. Problems of scientific-technological progress were not resolved; the quality of goods on the CMEA market remained shoddy. For these reasons centrifugal tendencies in economic relations grew stronger, and the CMEA lost its prestige and is now on the brink of total collapse.

18In the first half of the 1980s, attempts were made to revive its activity through formalistic bureaucratic programs and face-lifting changes in the mechanisms of cooperation. However, all these measures came to naught because of a lack of coordination between internal mechanisms and the different paths various countries took in their foreign economic policies.

19After the beginning of perestroika, the USSR proposed a course aimed at the fundamental renewal of forms and methods of economic cooperation. A rigid definition of the main parameters of integrationist mechanisms characteristic of the administrative-command system of management was declared unworkable. A new concept of an integrated socialist market reflected the goal proclaimed in the majority of East European countries: to move to a market economy. However, the achievement of this strategic goal is proceeding in a halting way since in reality market mechanisms do not yet function in any of the member-states of the CMEA. Rather, there is an increasing trend toward bartering in economic relations and even stricter measures to protect market trade from citizens of neighboring states. Under such conditions an integrated market remains merely a distant guideline for restructuring in the sphere of integrationist interactions. […]

20[Source: Donation of Professor Jacques Levesque. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Vladislav Zubok.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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