Judgement in Moscow (contents)


6.6   The Privatisation of power

6.7   The chronicle of collapse

6.8   “I am not naive, you know …”

6.9   Allies

6.10   I did all I could


At the beginning of this book we described the determined efforts of the Politburo to shift its aid for Communist Parties abroad to “trade relations via firms controlled by fraternal parties” (1.3, Firms run by the Friends). The reason becomes clearer in the context of this plan “for the survival of the socialist idea”.

First attempts to implement this plan began as early as 1987. They intensified in 1988 and 1989. Within the proposed “shared European [socialist] home” other forms of activity were required of foreign Communist Parties and of Moscow’s interaction with them. Confrontation and class struggle were to be replaced by cooperation with left-wing forces and the Politburo was eager to strengthen its lackeys as the future masters of that home.

6.6   The Privatisation of power

From 1988 onwards similar processes of communist privatisation were introduced in the USSR. KGB structures and the Central Committee International Department set up numerous supposedly commercial joint enterprises with their Western Friends. Under cover of a new law about cooperatives the Party and managerial nomenklatura began to lay its hands on State property, becoming more closely entangled with the black economy. By 1990 this process had embraced almost the entire country and served, for the most part, as a means of laundering money, belonging to the Party or stolen from the State, and transferring it to Western financial institutions.

Many documents about this process have now been published. Here, for example, is a note by Central Committee Secretary Shenin (4 December 1989):

The problem of Party property

Political developments in the country and the formation of a multi-party system in many respects set new tasks in ensuring the material support for the Party’s continued activities and the creation of stable sources of finance in both Soviet and foreign currency. On this depends the material basis for the CPSU’s international ties and also its ability in cases of need to provide at least minimal aid to communist parties abroad.

As the lessons of East European communist parties bear witness, if measures are not taken in good time to adapt Party property to the demands of commercial activity and include it in normal economic processes, especially during the transition to the market, the consequences for the Party will inevitably be severe.

Symptoms alarming for the CPSU are already being noted today. We shall be starting from scratch and have to work in conditions that are unfamiliar for the Party, adapting to the demands of the market and to competition. Party cadres who are being entrusted with this activity will immediately be confronted by the task of “learning to trade”. Furthermore, considerations of reasonable confidentiality will be required in using, in a number of cases, anonymous firms so as to conceal their direct links with the CPSU. The final goal, evidently, will be to systematically create, alongside the existing commercialisation of Party property, the structures of an “invisible” Party economy, in which a very restricted circle of individuals, determined by the General Secretary or his deputy, will be allowed to work.

We also now know the text of the agreement that the first Soviet oligarchs signed with the CPSU, on being given control over Party property:

Personal commitment to the CPSU

I, [name], Party member since [year], Party membership card [number], do hereby confirm my conscious and willing decision to become a trustee of the Party and to carry out the tasks entrusted to me by the Party in any post or situation, without revealing that I am a trustee. I commit myself to preserve and carefully use in the interests of the Party the financial and material funds entrusted to me, and guarantee to return them at the first demand. All the funds earned as a result of economic activities using the funds of the Party I recognise as its property and guarantee to transfer them at any time and in any place. I guarantee that I will observe strict confidentiality about the tasks entrusted to me by the Party, which have been given to me by those authorised to do so.

Signature CPSU member

Signature of person, accepting commitment ……………..

By the end of 1990, for example, the newspaper Pravda with all its printing and typesetting resources, was privatised with Gorbachev’s full approval (24 July 1990, No 14724) [1].

Towards the end this mass plunder of the country gave the impression of rats fleeing a sinking ship. It is important to realise, therefore, that this was not the original plan. The communists had no intention of leaving the stage. On the contrary, the idea of perestroika was to strengthen their power and save socialism. As Marxists, however, they saved themselves in a Marxist way. The key idea of perestroika drew on Marx’s well known axiom about the three forms of relationship between the ruling class and property: ownership, use and management. Since the end of the 1920s and the New Economic Policy the Communist Party had held all three forms of relationship to the means of production in its hands. Perestroika was something of a return to NEP. The Party proposed to retain ownership in its hands, leasing management of the property to those ready to take it on, and thereby ensuring the joint use with the producer of all the means of production in the USSR.

A dozen times during Gorbachev’s time in office (and a further 15 times after his departure), the Western press announced that a “market economy was being introduced in the USSR”, but there was no question then of any kind of capitalism, nor is there today. The Gorbachev reforms of the economy never went further than encouraging cooperatives, production at the level of family and brigade, and, towards the end, joint stock companies, by reducing the role of the Party in management of property through a reduction in the role of Gosplan and the central ministries and of Party control over local production. In 1989 there was despairing talk about “individual labour activity” (artisan activities) but no one considered legalising private property. Until the day of his dismissal Gorbachev’s favourite slogan was, “Let us give socialism a second wind”.

Is it any wonder that perestroika stirred not the slightest enthusiasm among ordinary manual workers? Enjoying the “use of the means of production” jointly with the Party had no appeal for them. The partnership was too unequal and the reputation of the partner, very unattractive. The “black economy”, however, which had already becoming so tightly entangled with the Party structures, flourished in these new forms. The new cooperatives were mainly intermediary organisations that redistributed the socialist product on the private market. As a result corruption became the rule, the shortage of goods increased, and queues in shops with empty shelves grew yet longer. The tendency of the Party to split up into regional mafias was reinforced. This was further aided by attempts to decentralise the management of the economy, encouraging a growth in economic autonomy. Instead of improvement this lead to managerial chaos, while the local authorities manipulated the nationalist feelings of their republics, attempting to gain greater political independence.

These so-called reforms were insufficiently radical to revive the economy, but they were too radical for the political system. Under Lenin the New Economic Policy had seriously undermined the Party, leading to a mass desertion of its ranks. Sixty years later the Party had changed, becoming a far less idealist and much more bureaucratic body, and the population had lost almost all faith in it. Over the intervening decades an enormous administrative apparatus had grown up and it had no wish to lose its managerial function. The majority of enterprises in the country were run at a loss and survived only thanks to subsidies from the centre. They could not be “restructured” but only shut down, throwing millions of workers onto the street. No matter how cleverly the Party tried to manage the situation, it could not avoid these problems, by shifting them onto someone else’s shoulders and retaining only a controlling share.

In spring 1989, the Party began the last phase of reform, trying to solve this problem, by transferring the centre of power to the soviets, to the local authorities. Once again this looked reasonable and thoroughly Marxist on paper. If the ruling class had decided to share the right of ownership in the means of production with others, it must also share power with them. There could be no certainty about the stability of the situation, to put it more simply, if the social basis of the regime was not widened. It all sounded very Leninist, and revived the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!” What appeared reasonable in theory, however, proved a disaster in practice. Cunning measures were taken to control the nomination, selection and registration of the candidates and a third of the places in the Soviets were reserved for the Party nomenklatura. Yet despite complete control over the media, the elections to the Congress of People’s Deputies, and subsequent elections to soviets (councils) at other levels, were a total fiasco for the Party. Everywhere that alternative candidates managed to stand, the people voted for them, expressing their total mistrust if not hatred of the CPSU. This election campaign, for the first time in 70 years, gave a stimulus to popular activism, stirring people intimidated by decades of terror : instead of an ecstatic “All Power to the Soviets!” they cried, “Down with the Communists!” Only at a lower level did the experiment succeed. There the heads of regional and district Party committees simply took over the chairmanship of local executive committees. That did not work in the major cities.

The restructuring or perestroika of the Party ended effectively in 1989, showing that the socialist utopia had outlived its days. It had no supporters anywhere, except in the West, and the attempt to introduce it everywhere had led to a loss of control over the experiment. As soon as the barbed wire around the socialist camp was removed the inmates began to flee. The first to make their escape were the Eastern Europeans, thereby burying the idea of convergence within Europe into a common socialist home. They were followed by the non-Russian republics of the USSR where the newly-elected Supreme Soviets immediately voted for the sovereignty of their republics. In Moscow itself where, by one means and another, the “aggressively submissive majority”[2] was preserved at the Congress of People’s Deputies, one in five of the deputies were, nevertheless, elected in opposition to the official candidates. They had nothing but popular support behind them – neither Party, nor financial structures, nor all-Union organisations. They were the real heroes of this drama, however, which millions watched without pause on television. The Congress was the highest legislative body in the Soviet Union. It did nothing significant but had enormous educational importance because, for the first time, it showed people the nature of the regime. Stirred by this unheard-of spectacle, the people began to move. The miners went on strike and the national movements in the republics were strengthened. The miners were bought off with empty promises but the threat that a local version of Solidarity would arise continued to hang over the country. By the end of 1989 and in early 1990, the USSR was already beyond control and the spontaneous popular movement threatened to unite behind the demand for the revocation of the CPSU’s political monopoly on power. Gorbachev’s reformers could do nothing but submit to this demand and abolish Article 6 of the Constitution, which formally enforced that monopoly.

If what happened can be called a revolution then it was a revolution from below, and it happened not thanks to Gorbachev and his accomplices but against their will. What had been planned as moderate changes within the system got out of control and grew into a revolution that uncovered the fundamental and incompatible divergence between the intentions of the Kremlin and the longings of the people. The Soviet leaders understood this too late, but from the beginning of 1990 until their fall all their efforts were focused on halting the chain reaction.

The first attempts to slow the process, especially the disintegration of the USSR into independent republics, began in April 1989 with the bloody suppression of peaceful demonstrations in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and the no less bloody incitement of clashes between ethnic minorities and the majority population (in Abkhazia, Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Azerbaijani town of Sumgait). There then followed military operations in Baku and an exacerbation of the situation in the Baltic republics where Russian immigrants were used as an instrument of imperial policy. No one now doubts that Moscow provoked these “ethnic conflicts”, acting on the old imperial principle, “divide and rule”. This frankly criminal policy left long-drawn-out and, at times, unsettled conflicts, but it could not halt the collapse of the empire. It was easy to provoke conflicts, but impossible to keep them under control.

In the Russian republic, there was an attempt to control the process through fictional “parties” set up for the purpose by the KGB, and by infiltrating political organisations that had come into being independently. This was only successful for a time. Such “socialist pluralism”, like its pre-revolutionary prototypes, only facilitated further destabilisation — Zubatov’s trade unionists helped to create the 1905 Revolution. As society became polarised, the pluralists of Gorbachev and the KGB were faced by a choice: either the movement would leave them behind or they would have to confront the regime. Few risked unmasking themselves and supporting the authorities. By late 1990, early 1991, the demand that the Communist authorities step down had become so unanimous that it was supported, it seems, by the communists.

By then, however, most Party leaders were mainly concerned about their own survival and the process of Party privatisation turned into a panicked flight. It is almost impossible to trace where these Party billions, together with a substantial part of the Western aid to the USSR at that time, ended up. Just as it is impossible to disentangle all the ties linking the International Department and the KGB to Western organisations and individual politicians. After the collapse of the Putsch in August 1991 the chief manager of the Central Committee Kruchina leapt to his death from the window of his apartment; so did A. Pavlov, his predecessor in that post – two of the people who had direct control over the management of Party property and finances during perestroika. The remaining functionaries who had overseen the process of Party privatisation also disappeared quietly from the scene. Valentin Falin, for instance, the last head of the International Department, lived quietly on his pension, writing books about his brilliant plan to save the Soviet empire, which the fool Gorbachev was unable to implement properly. His former Central Committee colleagues lived just as quietly in other parts of the world. No one was tracking them down or troubling them with awkward questions. The world magnanimously ruled that this was an acceptable price for their “voluntary withdrawal from the stage”.

It was amazing. For more than 70 years they had been wrecking the country and destroying entire nations – spreading bloody subversion throughout the world, and crushing the slightest expression of the free human spirit. During the last seven years of the Soviet Union’s existence they resorted to bloodshed and the most brazen deception, as they fought desperately to save their regime. Finally, having lost control, they robbed the country and ran away like cowards, hiding behind the backs of their Western accomplices. And now we were supposed to be grateful to them!

6.7   The chronicle of collapse

The Communists managed to destroy the most important documentary evidence of this period, especially about the so-called putsch. There is no doubt, however, that from the end of 1990 onwards the Politburo began actively preparing to reverse direction. The plan, evidently, differed little from the state of emergency introduced in Poland in 1981 and, what is particularly important, Gorbachev was at the centre of these preparations.

All the legends about a “plot” against him by conservatives and reactionaries were just a continuation of the disinformation about a struggle between reformers and conservatives in the Soviet leadership. As we have seen, no such struggle existed. Up until 1989 there was no sign of disagreement within the Politburo. Those who then began to express well-founded concerns about losing control over the course of events were immediately removed from power. It could not have been otherwise. That was how the Communist system worked. Differences of opinion among the leadership were permitted only in discussion of a problem, not after a decision had been taken. The word of the General Secretary was final and was not to be questioned.

The suggestion that Gorbachev did not know about certain decisions taken by his colleagues is simply ludicrous. The general secretary was informed about everything,  the smallest detail of the measures being taken and the most minute aspect of events. A “list of certain documents on which Comrade Gorbachev issued instructions in 1990” (15 February 1991, No 01499) is not complete. Some of the pages are missing, but what remains can leave no doubt about the thoroughness with which the general secretary was kept informed. Everything passed across his desk: the problems of the economy in particular regions, the situation in certain Party organisations, and international events. Every document carries his instructions, with a note added on their implementation – the Central Committee apparatus could not work any other way. It had been created to work continuously and possessed full, indeed excessive, information. As the Party lost control over events, however, these documents started to mirror the mounting unease. In February 1990 Gorbachev was presented with “certain ideas about a solution to the German issue”. “Comrade Falin,” Gorbachev wrote, “please read. We need a plan of action for the immediate future. M. Gorbachev”. And he instructed that the paper be distributed to all members of the Politburo (26 February 1990, No 03997) [3].

At the same time Falin reported on “additional evidence about the tragedy in Katyn”. Its handling posed a challenge. Should they or should they not admit that the imprisoned Polish officers were shot on Stalin’s orders? It was bad to make such an admission, but by this point it could not be avoided. “Comrades Yakovlev, Shevardnadze, Kryuchkov and Boldin,” wrote Gorbachev, “please give me your views” (23 February 1990, No 03900) [4]. USSR People’s deputy Comrade Yulin was voicing “critical remarks about the Central Committee and the Party for taking what, in his view, were mistaken political and economic decisions”. Gorbachev wrote: “Comrades Stroyev and Monyakin. Talk to Comrade Yulin” (25 April 1990, No 08597) [5]. From April 1990 onwards loss of control was becoming increasingly obvious. The nationwide television channels were beginning to ignore orders. “Comrade Medvedev,” wrote Gorbachev in despair, “work must continue to regroup forces in central television (while it is still possible to do so!)” (23 April 1990, No 08400) [6].

The problems mounted higher and higher. The economy was falling apart, electricity supplies were becoming erratic; there was an “uncontrollable spread of radio nuclides in Belorussia” as a consequence of the Chernobyl disaster; in Armenia “the State programme for clearing up the consequences of the earthquake in Spitak was disrupted” … By autumn the panic was widespread. Emergency measures were considered “to acquire property abroad and create joint enterprises” (18 May 1990, No 70460 and 9 August 1990, No 71404) [7]. Suddenly, the signature “Leopold Rothschild” appeared on a document dated “18 September 1990 (Britain No 16383)” stating that the “interest of Britain in setting up a banking syndicate to provide loans secured by gold has been confirmed” [8]. Whether there is some link here or not, I would not presume to say, but after the August putsch it turned out that the USSR’s gold reserves had suddenly “vanished”.

When it was a matter of killing people – in Tbilisi in April 1989, in Baku in January 1990 or in Vilnius in January 1991 – or approving operations involving the use of force, no one apart from the general secretary could give the go-ahead. Of course, Gorbachev tried to avoid such methods, since his tactics were based on his reputation as a democrat. Yet he never excluded the possibility of situations where he might have to give the same order as the Chinese comrades on Tiananmen Square in April 1989 as notes taken by Chernyaev at a Politburo meeting show (4 October 1989) [9]:

  • LUKYANOV reports that 3,000 actually died on Tiananmen Square.
  • GORBACHEV. We must be realists. They have to hold on to power, just as we do. Three thousand … What of it? Sometimes you must retreat. That is the basis of strategy and tactics. If a course has been adopted there may be different manoeuvres within its framework.

The documents totally refute assertions that the orders to use force in Tbilisi (1989), Baku (1990) and Vilnius (1991) were given without Gorbachev’s agreement. Two days after the killings in the Georgian capital, for example, we find a passage in the discussion between Gorbachev and the visiting SPD leader Hans-Jochen Vogel that cannot be interpreted as anything but an admission (11 April 1989) [10]:

There are destructive elements, extremists and even anti-Soviet groups, which are trying to use glasnost and democratisation for their anti-socialist goals. However, we shall stand up for our interests, the interests of socialism and the people. You have heard about the events in Georgia. That was an organised onslaught by outright anti-Soviets headed by a certain Gamsakhurdia. They are taking advantage of democratic processes, stirring up passions, putting forward provocative slogans, even demanding that NATO forces be introduced into the republic. In this case people must be shown their place, decisive counter-measures taken against these political opportunists and to defend perestroika, our revolution.

Next year saw the mass killings in Baku and the introduction of a state of emergency in Azerbaijan. Again documents show that not just General Secretary Gorbachev but all the secretaries of the Central Committee were in their offices that night. The decision to stage a surprise attack on the city and not to announce the state of emergency beforehand – which, of course, led to many more deaths – was deliberate. Politburo member Vadim Medvedev noted in his diary (19 January 1990): [11]

In the morning before the session began in the Great Kremlin Palace Gorbachev summoned the leadership. There was a meeting about the situation in Azerbaijan which is getting worse. The regime there has in effect collapsed and the buildings of the Central Committee, the Council of Ministers and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet are almost empty. Emergency measures must be taken.

A meeting with the press group for the Transcaucasian Region [Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia]. The latest TASS report is more detailed and dramatic in view of the announcement to be made about the state of emergency and the sending in of troops. The edict of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet concerning the announcement of a state of emergency has been sent to TASS under an embargo. Lines of communication for transmitting it to Azerbaijan have been prepared.

At the Politburo meeting it was decided that the secretaries of the Central Committee should be at their desks that night. All, apart from Yakovlev, observed this decision.

Yet the mood throughout the Soviet Union continued to grow more radical. Opposition organisations that had been under control and uncoordinated until then began to unite. Gorbachev received a report about the founding congress of the Democratic Russia movement, held in the Rossiya cinema in Moscow on 20-21 October 1990 (24 October 1990*, Pb 1193): [12]

“The congress was attended by 1,270 delegates from 73 regions and autonomous republics, representatives of parties, non-governmental organisations and movements opposed to the CPSU. Twenty-three USSR People’s Deputies, 104 RSFSR People’s Deputies, deputies from Mossoviet and Lensoviet and other local soviets took part in the work of the Congress. More than 200 guests were invited to the congress from the union republics, and also from the USA, Britain, FRG, France, Japan, Poland and the Czechoslovak Republic. The work of the congress was covered by about 300 Soviet and foreign correspondents. …

“The main attention of the congress was on the organisational strengthening of the democratic movement in its struggle against “the monopoly of the CPSU on power”, the creation of an information network of democratic forces and their political infrastructure, the activisation of the masses and the holding of joint protests with other opposition movements. …

“The distinguishing feature of the congress was its rabid anti-communism. Strategy and tactics were developed for removing the CPSU from the political arena and the dismantling of the existing State and political system. … There were unbridled attacks at the congress on the USSR President M.S. Gorbachev, the chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet A.I. Lukyanov, the chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers N.I. Ryzhkov, the chairman of the USSR KGB V.A. Kryuchkov and the USSR Minister of Defence D.T. Yazov …

“The harsh and uncompromising tone of the documents adopted by the congress is noteworthy. In essence, all of them are a call for confrontation, civil disobedience and a further destabilisation of the situation within the country. An analysis of the documents adopted by the founding congress, the nature of the speeches, the entire atmosphere of the congress and campaign that led up to its opening provide irrefutable evidence that a united bloc of antisocialist, anti-communist forces has been created to undermine the socio-political foundations of the country, seize power and remove the CPSU from the political arena.”

However the Politburo might regard such an attempt, the emergence of such a centre of opposition when society was in its current state represented a deadly threat. The Soviet leadership had to act, and act swiftly. It was then, I think, that they took the decision to change course and introduce a state of emergency throughout the Soviet Union. By the end of 1990 Gorbachev had replaced almost all his team. There would be no more playing at reform. Other people were needed for the new task: those who would blindly follow orders and not be afraid of bloodshed. Some, like Shevardnadze, resigned, knowing perfectly well the direction in which things were moving. Others like Ryzhkov and Bakatin were dismissed by Gorbachev himself. It is laughable to suggest that he “didn’t know”: he was the chief organiser of the change in direction.

From January 1991, he and his new team began implementing the plan. They tested it first in Lithuania (11 January 1991*, No 00766):

Ranking staff of the Central Committee … who are in Lithuania, report that the House of the Press and DOSAAF (where the regional defence department is located) in Vilnius and the officers’ mess in Kaunas have been brought under control of the paratroopers. This operation was carried out, overall, without major clashes. At the same time it must be noted that the information issued on the Mayak radio station about these events was not objective. In particular, it was reported that the military had committed outrages and, supposedly, that there are victims and casualties. At 5 pm local time there was a press conference at the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party at which the head of the Ideological Department, Comrade Yermolavicius, reported that a Committee for the National Salvation of Lithuania had been set up in the republic. This committee has taken over all power […] The committee has adopted an appeal to the people of Lithuania, and also sent an ultimatum to the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR, in which it demands an immediate reaction to the appeal by the USSR President.

The Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR rejected the ultimatum after calling the committee “impostors” who did not have the legal right to speak on behalf of the people of Lithuania.

Seven months later, the putsch in Moscow followed just the same pattern: the seizure of key military installations, a press conference, and the creation of a Committee “with full powers and authority”. This was nothing more than a repeat performance. Gorbachev’s more liberal advisers who were working directly with him during these days had little doubt that this had all happened on the orders of their boss. This was how Chernyaev described his soul-searching in his diary:

13 January 1991, Sunday.

… I did not think that Gorbachev’s inspiring undertaking would end so dishonourably. I am worn out by dismay and, alas, the disorganisation of our activities, a sort of “spontaneity” in our affairs, and, most of all, a tendency to believe “our people” and in the last resort to seek support from them (from the CPSU!)

All this has led to the “spontaneous” actions of the paratroopers and tanks in the Baltic republics and ended in bloodshed. They say that 180 were wounded and 14 killed in Vilnius during a single night! …

On Friday I insisted that Gorbachev call Bush about the Persian Gulf on the eve of Day X. The conversation was “friendly”, but about Lithuania M.S. was deliberately misleading and promised not to use force. …

The Lithuanian business has totally wrecked Gorbachev’s reputation, perhaps for ever. Yes, it’s true … even though he despises those who “panic”. …

In short, I was again faced by the situation in 1968, Czechoslovakia. Then, however, it was a question of breaking off relations with Brezhnev, whom I hardly knew. Now I must do so with Gorbachev, who is linked to a great historic cause, although he is ruining it with his own hands. In the press and on the radio, here and in the West, they are wondering, was the Vilnius operation taken with Gorbachev’s knowledge or have events inside the country already slipped beyond his control? Or is this an independent act by the Lithuanian communists and the military? I am also tormented by doubt. However, I suspect that Gorbachev, unknown to himself, wanted something of the kind to happen. The demonstration by workers in front of the Supreme Soviet in Vilnius, which led to the departure of Prunskiene, provoked matters. However, if it had not been for that, then probably they would “have been forced to think up” something else. It would be unthinkable, it seems to me, for M.S. to betray Burokiavicius and Shvets (secretaries of the Lithuanian Communist Party Central Committee). Seemingly, they were fostered as a Fifth Column within Brazauskas’ Communist Party from the beginning. …

I foresee that tomorrow will begin with misleading information in the USSR Supreme Soviet. Lukyanov will provide it. …

14 January 1991. Monday. …

This morning Ignatenko talked to me about resignation. Andrei Grachev came from the session of the Supreme Soviet and asked not to be confirmed as head of the President’s international department: “1968 and 1979 are enough for me. It’s unbearable”. What about me? …

15 January 1991. Tuesday.

I did not go to Gorbachev’s meeting with Velikhov’s Foundation for the Survival of Mankind. It was unpleasant to meet him. I feel ashamed to look people in the eye. I thought he would not turn up in such circumstances. I had prepared papers and a speech for him before the events. However, again I “underestimated” him. He went. With him he took Yakovlev, Boldin and Bessmertnykh, who had only just been confirmed [as foreign minister] at a meeting of the Supreme Soviet. And as if nothing had happened for almost two hours he assured the Americans and others of his commitment to the New Thinking. While, as was expected, they did not ask any questions …

Ignatenko arrived. He said that yesterday evening he, Yakovlev and Primakov began persuading Gorbachev to go to Vilnius, lay a wreath, speak before the Supreme Soviet there, visit some factories, the military, and so on. Gorbachev seemed to accept this. He said: draw up texts by tomorrow morning for my speeches there. They wrote them and put them on his desk. All day Ignatenko was running around, trying to find Gorbachev and learn what he had actually decided to do. M.S. acted as though nothing had happened and there had been no conversation with the three of them. From this, Ignatenko concluded that M.S. had not been “disinformed” as many believe. He is implementing his own plan for intimidating the Balts. …

16 January 1991. Wednesday.

Today is the last day in this sitting of the Supreme Soviet. Gorbachev had his last chance to set things right with Lithuania and thereby his image as the leader of perestroika. He even instructed Primakov that morning to draw up a text. Zhenya [Primakov] and Ignatenko, naturally, drew up a text condemning what had happened. However, M.S. did not use it. And after the report by Dementyev, who headed the Supreme Soviet delegation (Oleinik, Ter-Petrosyan) to Lithuania – their report was empty, a formality – and after the “following discussion”, Gorbachev proposed … to suspend the Law on the Press and introduce a censor from the Supreme Soviet into every newspaper. There was a commotion and M.S. did not insist. However, he had shown his own face and thinking. It turned out that he was on the side of those who did the killing in Vilnius – there was something to be hidden and not shown. …

Primakov today submitted his resignation. M.S. replied: “I’ll be the one to decide about that, not you”. …

There was no reply from Gorbachev to our suggestion that he meet with his aides. Anna, my daughter, is clearly in favour of me resigning. Today I saw her for the first time since her return from Copenhagen. I briefly presented her with my perception of Gorbachev, who was following a single thought, to remain in power at any cost. His new speech against Landsbergis and about Yeltsin’s press conference, like his preceding speech at the Supreme Soviet, was muddled, empty, petty and personal. Not at all what the moment requires.

17 January 1991. Thursday.

After Gorbachev had released everyone by 9 am he suddenly beckoned me into his office. He spoke about Lithuania. … Gorbachev spoke as though he regretted that it had all turned out that way. There was such resistance, you see, such a split, and such hostility in society, that they lined up to attack one another. I said to him: “Well, they could have fought among themselves, even killed each other. Why send in the tanks? That’s fatal for your cause. Is Lithuania really worth it?!” “You don’t understand,” Gorbachev announced. “It’s the army. I couldn’t openly distance myself from the army and condemn it after they had tormented the military so in Lithuania, and their families in the garrisons.”

The events in Lithuania provoked an extraordinarily strong reaction, not only in the non-Russian republics, where people easily identified themselves with the Lithuanians, but in Russia itself. People instinctively realised that the regime had begun its offensive against them all. In Moscow where anti-communist demonstrations had been growing throughout the autumn hundreds of thousands took to the streets, as Gorbachev was informed (23 January 1991*, Pb 223):

On 20 January a demonstration authorised by Mossoviet was held from 11 am to 2.30 pm. It was organised on the initiative of a number of USSR People’s Deputies and the coordinating council of the Democratic Russia movement. The column of demonstrators marched from Mayakovsky Square along the Garden Ring and Kalinin Avenue to the 50th Anniversary of October Square, where a 90-minute rally was held.

Up to 150,000 people took part in the demonstration. The composition of the organisations and politicised movements involved was traditional. Expert evaluation indicates that representatives of the scientific and creative intelligentsia were predominant among those taking part, as were persons from ethnic groups not to be found in Moscow, and also people from outside the capital. … The rally was clearly anti-presidential and anti-communist in tendency. Among the characteristic slogans were “Mikhail Bloody-hand, Nobel laureate”, “Put Gorbachev and his gang on trial”, “Put the Soviet President in the dock”, “The bloodshed in Lithuania is the latest crime of the CPSU”, “Red Fascists of the CPSU – hands off Russia and the Baltic”.

Of the 33 main themes raised in the slogans and speeches, the anti-presidential theme came first, the anti-communist theme, second; support for the present leadership in Lithuania, third; support for Yeltsin, fourth. … There were a great many demands to put the Committees for National Salvation on trial and to reject “the reactionary course of Gorbachev and the CPSU”, even to the point of a political strike throughout Russia (from the resolution adopted at the rally) and armed resistance if force was used …

The resolution adopted contained a demand for “the withdrawal of punitive forces from the Baltic republics ”, the dismissal of Gorbachev M.S. and Yanaev, G.I., the dissolution of the USSR Congress of People’s Deputies and USSR Supreme Soviet, the creation of a Russian army, and calls for the formation of a political organisation based on the Democratic Russia movement with party cells in the workplace and at home.

In our opinion, this demonstration should be seen as a confirmation of the course taken by opposition forces to change the State and social system and to remove the present leadership of the country from the political arena.

The tactics of the forces opposing the centre and the CPSU have changed qualitatively. The RSFSR Supreme Soviet under the leadership of B.N. Yeltsin has become the core for the consolidation of democratic and national-democratic movements in the republics.

Boris Yeltsin and the RSFSR Supreme Soviet constituted the only functioning political structure, it is true, and had moved centre stage. In February Yeltsin would use a live broadcast on nationwide television to call on the country “to declare war on the government”. The situation was further exacerbated by a sharp price rise in January. There followed a wave of protests and strikes, culminating in March in a demonstration half a million strong in Moscow, which took place despite an official ban by Gorbachev and the deployment of troops in the capital. At the end of March all of Belorussia, hardly the most rebellious of the non-Russian republics, went on strike. Gorbachev received a report (15 April 1991, no 03182) from the Central Committee department for relations with non-governmental and voluntary organisations:

A month ago the attitude to the miners’ strikes in the majority of workplace collectives was cautious. Over the last few days support for their actions has increased everywhere. The example of events in Belorussia shows that economic demands put forward by workers under the influence of opposition forces have been transformed into political demands, linked above all to an expression of mistrust in the central organs of power and the CPSU.

The official Soviet trade unions became alarmed because “the workers are increasingly supporting not the trade unions but spontaneously created strike committees”. To restore their own authority, the official trade unions decided to hold a one-day strike: 50 million people took part.

It was necessary, evidently, to dissipate this wave of protest. Plans to impose a state of emergency were deferred and “negotiations” began with the Baltic republics. Simultaneously, Yeltsin agreed to hold talks with Gorbachev, which resulted in the Novo-Ogarevo Agreement, signed on 23 April 1991. A lull followed – a truce, it seemed. It could not last long. Not a single problem had been solved and the republics that made up the USSR refused to sign any kind of new “union treaty”. Control had not been re-established over the Soviet Union; no end to the crisis was in sight. A return to the scenario of martial law was inevitable. It is impossible to suppose that Gorbachev’s assistants hid anything from him, let alone that they concealed such a wide conspiracy as the 19 August putsch. Without his approval no part of the State, no military or KGB unit, could go into action. This was what wrecked his plan, in fact, his stage-managed August putsch, when his assistants had to introduce martial law, supposedly without his authority: not a single commander agreed to act without a direct order from Gorbachev. Each knew very well that without such an order their actions would qualify as treason. They would be shot and bear the entire responsibility for the putsch.


In the absence of first-hand written evidence we can only guess what ideas guided Gorbachev when he dreamed up such an unbelievable turn of events as a conspiracy against himself. Yet all the details of that strange plot convince me that this is what it was: thoroughly copied from the scenario of Khrushchev’s removal from power in 1964, the conspiracy was based on disinformation about the “struggle between reformers and conservatives” in the Politburo. This disinformation, persistently retailed throughout Gorbachev’s time in office, served as the basis for his success in the West. The most rabid anti-communists, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, were taken in by this deception and were constantly saving Gorbachev from the mythical conservatives.

Pro-Soviet forces, meanwhile, made this a legal basis for transferring billions of dollars into the Kremlin’s treasury. What could be more logical than to stage such a performance and introduce martial law? On the brink of disaster, the Kremlin acted out the scenario with which it had alarmed both West and East for seven years – a conservative plot and the removal of Gorbachev. This would allow the Soviet leadership to pacify the country, using the harshest measures. Then, in three months’ time, Gorbachev would triumphantly return, mercifully soften some of the harsh measures adopted by his assistants and renew a moderate “perestroika” before an enthralled West. With such a denouement, he would have secured a further 30 billion dollars in credits and loans from the West …

As with the Velvet Revolution, the Kremlin strategists, for all their cunning, failed to take one thing into account: the reaction of their own people. They were so accustomed to ignoring their views that they did not consider what role the people might play in this performance. Neither had they appreciated how far their own power structure had disintegrated. The Party was already divided up among a variety of “commercial structures”, and the army high command did not want to become a scapegoat. KGB officers did not know what might happen to them in the final act of this spectacle. None of them wanted to pay with their lives to save a rotten regime, and no one – except the West – now believed Gorbachev, mired and tangled in his own lies. Encountering mass disobedience within the Soviet Union, the leaders of the so-called putsch lost their nerve and raced to Gorbachev in the Crimea. Evidently they wanted him to lead the resort to martial law. A fine conspiracy, was it not, when the plotters turned to their victim for advice and protection? You can just imagine them trying to persuade Gorbachev: “Mikhail Sergeyevich, nothing is going right without you. The army refuses to move without an order from the commander-in-chief, while the people are gathered in crowds around the White House [Russian parliament] and cannot be dispersed without bloodshed. You are our only hope …”

Subsequently, Gorbachev denied this and, just as naturally, the plotters (or, to be precise, the leadership of the country) asserted that they were acting on his orders. Which of them is right we can only guess. Without an independent, objective and dispassionate inquiry it was impossible to make any sense of their lies. That tribunal, as we know, was not convened. One thing, however, is beyond doubt. All the preparations for introducing martial law took place under Gorbachev’s direct leadership. Did he waver at the last moment, like Jaruzelski? Or did he really organise this entire diabolical spectacle in order to look better in the eyes of the world – to return from Crimea as a peace-maker to a country controlled by his assistants? To the present day that remains unknown. The putschists, as we know, never faced trial.

It is not really that important. Three days and nights of universal disobedience were quite sufficient to topple the regime. After the failure of the putsch, the CPSU was banned, the Central Committee building was sealed off, and crowds intoxicated by that moment of freedom roamed around Moscow pulling down the statues of the Soviet leaders [13]. Yet this was not a revolution. Deprived of its lynch-pin, the USSR simply fell apart, disintegrating into its constituent national republics, each controlled by its own Party mafia. A “new” political elite rose to the surface, but it was just a section of the old nomenklatura which had made a timely adjustment to the new circumstances. It had no desire for radical change and no need of the old ideology, for it retained the commercial structures, property, fictitious parties, the media and international ties with old “Friends “. A “shadow regime” came into existence in which it was impossible to determine who supported whom and who was working for whom – an era of kleptocracy from which, I fear, Russia has not emerged to this day.

Only Gorbachev, after his return to Moscow, continued talking about the renewal of socialism, a new role for the already vanished CPSU, and a new treaty between “union republics” that no longer existed.

6.8   “I am not naive, you know …”

It is easy to understand the raptures of the Left about perestroika, their joy at this “revolution that never was”. From the very beginning, they saw no alternative to détente; the preservation of the ruling CPSU elite with the appearance of democracy fully corresponded to their desires. The only way their complicity in the crimes of the regime could be concealed was if the regime was proved not to be criminal or, at the least, was shown to have changed its ways. In this sense, Gorbachev was a real find for them. If he had not existed, they would have had to invent him.

As a matter of fact, that was what happened. The reformer, liberal and democrat Mikhail Gorbachev was dreamed up by the Western Leftist elite with the help of Soviet disinformation. They began to create the same image of a “liberal” and “reformer”, let us recall, when Andropov came to power in 1983. However, Andropov’s health was not good and he died without receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Gorbachev was simply younger and healthier than his teacher and patron – that is the only difference. Had Andropov’s kidneys been in better condition, he could have become the idol of progressive humanity, and the entire world, holding its breath, would have followed his “courageous battle against the conservatives” in the Politburo. Then he, not Gorbachev, would have been declared Man of the Eighties by Time magazine (1 January 1990), “The Copernicus, Darwin and Freud of Communism rolled into one”, and crowds of Western sheep would have bleated in ecstasy, “Yury, Yury!” instead of “Gorbi, Gorbi!”

What difference did it make whether it was Gorbachev or Ligachev, Andropov or Chernenko? It was not a matter of the abilities of the Soviet leaders but of powerful forces for “peace, progress and socialism” in the West, for whom “the survival of the idea of socialism” was a question of their own survival. Thanks to them, the world sank into a post-totalitarian absurdity instead of healing itself from the Communist plague. While they were engaged, amicably saving their idol from his own people, no true and “uncontrolled” opposition capable of replacing the nomenklatura and stabilising the situation could take shape. The people, deprived of their leaders and bewildered by glasnost, could not withstand the opinion of the entire world. “The opinion of the West” for them became the absolute and only criterion of truth in that confused period of fantastic lies. How were they to know that this “opinion” had been manipulated by the ideological brothers of their prison warders? Lacking political experience, how could they understand that delay was fatal and that they must save either the country or an alien “idea”? That the drawn-out death throes of the regime would make it almost impossible for the country to recover? The seven years lost during the restructuring (perestroika) of the Communist Party and wasted in “support for Gorbachev” would count terribly later.

The success of glasnost and perestroika would never have been complete, however, and the effect on the entire world would never have been so catastrophic, if the euphoria had not also paralysed conservative circles in the West. This is much harder to understand, especially when “paralysis” hardly seems an appropriate word for several of the West’s leading conservative politicians. One of the earliest and most consistent supporters of Gorbachev, for instance, was Margaret Thatcher. Before he was appointed general secretary she declared “I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together.” [14] Did a politician of such standing, who had devoted her life to fighting socialism in her own country, not see the simple truth that her new friend was doing exactly the opposite? Could she not at least see that the CPSU general secretary was not a tsar and the Communist regime was not a monarchy and that, therefore, whatever his personal inclinations, she would be doing business not with him but with the communist regime?

This was not an excuse on the part of Mrs Thatcher. Her personal loyalty to Gorbachev subsequently made her say and do extraordinary things. I could not believe my ears when in autumn 1988 I heard her on a live phone-in with Soviet callers on the BBC World Service [15]. The jamming of radio broadcasting from abroad had only just been lifted and Soviet people, their brains already addled by glasnost, heard from the lips of “the most popular woman in the USSR” that the “departure from the old-fashioned form of communism … is a historic change”. Where did the legendary Iron Lady see such changes? The recent Party conference in Moscow [28 June 1988], she went on to say, was “a landmark in the history of freedom of speech”. This was because those “who spoke from the platform did not always speak ‘from a text’ but now sometimes said directly what they felt”. As if she had no recollection of the “Evil Empire”, Mrs Thatcher called on the different nations of the USSR to remain “loyal to the Soviet Union as a nation of nations” and to be satisfied with a certain cultural and religious autonomy, like various tribes and ethnic groups in Nigeria. This was said at a time when an attack was being waged on the sovereignty of the three Baltic States, whose inclusion within the USSR in 1939 neither Britain nor the USA had ever recognised.

Thatcher, alas, was no exception. US President Ronald Reagan, a man for whom the name of Lenin was anathema all his life, did not fail to praise Gorbachev for returning to “Leninist ways”. That was also in a radio broadcast to the USSR. His successor, George Bush Sr., and his Secretary of State James Baker, went further than everyone else, and to the very last day they opposed the inevitable break-up of the USSR. “Yes, I think that I can believe Gorbachev,” Bush told Time [16] at the very moment Gorbachev was beginning to lose control. “Looking him in the eye, I could judge him fairly … He is deeply convinced by what he is doing. He has political intuition.” This phrase is quite illogical. If your opponent is “deeply convinced by what he is doing” that does not mean you can trust him – Hitler was “deeply convinced” by what he was doing. The thought that they might be pursuing quite different goals did not enter George Bush’s head. It is not surprising that the Malta summit between Bush and Gorbachev (2-3 December 1989) strongly recalls a second Yalta : thereafter the State Department invariably regarded mounting Soviet pressure on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as an “internal matter for the USSR”. Two months before the Soviet Union collapsed, when Bush was on a visit to Kiev, he urged the Ukraine not to break away from the USSR.

The extent to which the Bush administration failed to understand the Soviet game in Europe can be seen from its position on the reunification of Germany. Hastening to Berlin immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Secretary of State James Baker considered that the event demonstrated Gorbachev’s “exceptional realism. President Gorbachev must be given his due, as the first Soviet leader with the courage and foresight to allow the repressive policies in East Europe to be abolished” [17]. In gratitude, evidently, Baker’s chief concern was to respect the “legitimate anxiety” of his eastern partner, and slow the process of reunification. [18] “[I]n the interests of stability in Europe” he declared “the movement towards reunification must be peaceful in character, and gradual, step by step.”

The plan Baker proposed was a total catastrophe since it wholly coincided with the Soviet plan to create a “common European home”: it was suggested, to begin with, that the European Community and then the Helsinki Process be strengthened, leading to the further integration of Europe. All of this, naturally, was not to be rushed. It would take years, advancing “step by step”, [19] and “as these changes occur, as the divisions of Europe are overcome, so the reunification of Germany and Berlin will gradually take place in conditions of peace and freedom.” Without consulting Bonn, Baker went to East Germany to meet with the Kremlin’s new puppet rulers “to declare the intentions of the USA to try to raise the authority of the East German leadership and prevent the appearance of a political vacuum that could provoke a powerful striving towards reunification” [20]. This was in January 1990, not long before the elections in the GDR which decided the key issue – would Germany be reunited on Soviet or on Western terms? Luckily, the East Germans proved less “patient” and more rational. Knowing only too well whom they were dealing with, they voted for rapid reunification, disregarding Baker and pressure from the rest of the world.


Why did the West and the USA, with its conservative, anti-communist administration have such a thirst for “stabilisation” or, to put it simply, the salvation of the Soviet regime? James Baker, we may say, was an illiterate, pompous and self-regarding fool, who dreamt of becoming the architect [21] of some global structures reaching from “Vancouver to Vladivostok” (the Baker Doctrine). At one conference, I remember, I proposed a new unit to measure political idiocy, a “baker” — on this scale the man in the street would have a reading of a thousand bakers. At the height of the bloody Soviet performance in Bucharest at Christmas 1989 James Baker III declared that he would “understand if the USSR sent its troops to Rumania so as to help those who had risen against Ceausescu “. Baker explained the new, pro-Soviet approach of the USA after the Malta summit by saying that “the Soviet Union has changed its position, abandoning a policy of suppression and dictates for a policy of democracy and change” [22]. That was said as the Soviet army crushed the democratic opposition in Baku and killed several hundred people there (something about which Baker also expressed his understanding). Yet Baker did not stand alone and simple stupidity is not the explanation. The tragedy is that such a stupid position was then adopted by almost all Western countries, including those with conservative governments.

In his first term of office Ronald Reagan had successfully begun an economic war against the Soviet Union [23]. After his re-election, especially in 1987, he almost called it off. As if not believing their own success, both Reagan and Thatcher started playing the unaccustomed game of “supporting the reformers” in the Kremlin, not asking where these democrats and liberals had come from. Restrictions on the transfer of technology, loans and credits were also eased. By the end of 1987 the OECD noted, “At present the monthly debt of the USSR has attained 700 million dollars”, while the overall debt of the Soviet bloc had risen since 1984 by 55% [24]. “Astonishing as it may seem, as the debt has grown, the terms of repayment have been eased … the average repayment of the Soviet debt has fallen from 1 to 0.15% above Libor. Brazil is paying no less than 0.75% above Libor.”

Continuing this tendency to “slip into detente”, President Bush and his administration took things to the point of logical absurdity as they saved Gorbachev from his own people: striking miners, the protesting democratic opposition, and nations enslaved by communism demanding their independence. Like the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf, the Cold War ended earlier than was needed to ensure victory, leaving us with the worst of all possible scenarios. The malignant regime had not been killed off, the country was in ruins, and the demoralised people no longer had the strength to finish the job. It was worse, in a sense, because the Kurds, at least, did not have to listen to fairy tales about Saddam Hussein, the saviour of mankind. No one thought of awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize …

What then had happened to our former allies, those who had supported us in the struggle against détente and were, supposedly, convinced anti-communists? The novelty of glasnost and perestroika was that the Party, having built up its power over 70 years on the basis of communist dogma, now saved the regime by demonstrating its anti-communism. This was for the anti-communists. The Kremlin suggested they should themselves ask for any changes. The West wracked its brains, what else should they demand?

Let them release Sakharov and then the political prisoners, then we’ll talk. They released them.

Well, if they publish Solzhenitsyn, … They published him.

Now let them leave Afghanistan. They left.

You could feel how difficult it was for Western thinkers, as they tried to put their fingers on the features that distinguished a normal country from a totalitarian regime. No one, it suddenly turned out, had given this much thought before. Each of them invented new criteria, after fulfilling which Moscow acquired a new ally. Finally, President Reagan’s team, then considered the most extreme, put forward their demand:

“Pull down the Berlin Wall.” Down it came.

The tragedy of our time was that if one part of humanity understood very well the essence of the communist idea (but sympathised with it), the other supposedly hostile part did not understand it and mistook the symptoms for the illness. Very few understood that the communist ideology is a source of evil not because the regime was inhuman and persecuted people for their beliefs, not because it occupied neighbouring countries and threatened the whole world, but because the ideology itself was inhuman. For that reason our handful of supporters did not belong to the establishment. They were considered mavericks and extremists, like us, and during the years of perestroika our combined influence declined to nothing. What could we do? Write yet another article that might be published alongside a dozen others praising perestroika? The conditions of life in the West put us on a par with charlatans and obvious Soviet agents: they have an opinion, and you have an opinion, there is no place for knowledge here.

The Western establishment, whether right or left, lives according to its own rules, and these do not permit any great divergence from consensus, from the need of politicians to be re-elected and of public figures, academics and journalists to enjoy mutual respect. This corrupted little world lives according to “golden rules” and not by its brains. Its position towards communism was determined not by whether it was true, but as to how “moderate” it was. A horde of charlatan Sovietologists and Kremlinologists made careers arguing on the basis of no serious evidence about who in the Kremlin was a hawk or a dove, a reformer or a conservative. An equally large number of charlatans lived at the expense of the bastardised “arms control process”, although anyone could understand that it was not a question of armaments and no one knew how many the Soviet Union had. I have not mentioned the army of professional diplomats for whom the greatest value on earth is “stability” at any price, at the price of freedom, and their main task in life is “improving relations” (with the devil).

Finally, as an establishment themselves, the elite could not help but feel a certain kinship with the Soviet elite and the Soviet establishment. It was, at least, more understandable, closer and more convenient than the crowds of ordinary people – let alone us “extremists”. “Better the devil you know.” That summed up all their wisdom. Yet any politician, the most honest, had to take this herd of philistines and arse-lickers into account: it was impossible to rule otherwise. The Left establishment knew very well what it was doing, but the Right did not raise objections either. Ronald Reagan, for all his instinctive hatred of Communism, had no response when they told him: “What if Gorbachev is removed from power tomorrow, like Khrushchev, and everything goes back to the Brezhnev era? The whole world will curse us for not having supported him.”

On closer inspection, true anti-communists who fully appreciated what we had to cope with proved fewer in the West than in the Soviet Union. Inwardly, in the depths of its soul, the world had long ago given up the fight. It had reconciled itself to the inevitability of “peaceful coexistence” with evil, adapting itself to such cohabitation and did not believe it would come to an end. At best, people hoped for a “mellowing” of the regime, and its “liberalisation”, i.e. the miraculous appearance of a reforming tsar in the Kremlin. They took the bait that the wily Central Committee set before them. It is not surprising, then, that humanity has been so unwilling to find out what really happened. It does not want an investigation; it does not want to read documents from the Kremlin archives, or the confessional memoirs of “former” murderers. Each individual knows that he will find little praiseworthy about himself in such revelations. Contrary to all the facts, people preferred to repeat the obvious lies about the brave reformer Gorbachev who saved humanity from the horrors of communism. It was more peaceful and comfortable that way …

However, some will say to me that not everyone was like that. For example, the Iron Lady, surely she was better? It cannot be true that she also gave in and capitulated to communism: that doesn’t agree at all with her image. Indeed, it does not. It was a question that vexed me throughout the years of perestroika and those that came after. Attempts to argue with Mrs Thatcher, to explain anything were, however, quite pointless. She simply refused to listen. At the mention of Gorbachev’s name, she simply exclaimed, tossing her head back like a proud mother referring to her child: “Isn’t he marvellous?” And that would be the end of the conversation.

I did not give up, however, and at every new encounter I again returned to this sore issue. It became something of an obsession. Finally in 1992, when digging through the Central Committee archives in Moscow, I happened on a document from the mid-1980s confirming that the Soviet Union had aided the striking British miners[25]. It contained little that was new. Everyone was aware that the Soviet Union had transferred a million dollars to the National Union of Mineworkers at a critical moment during the strike. At least, the fact was well known, but then it was believed that the aid came from the Soviet trade unions. Now, as I looked through the text, I could see that the decision was taken, of course, by the Central Committee, and among those who signed it was Gorbachev. He was then the second secretary of the Central Committee and no decision could be taken without his signature.

Naturally, on my return to London I hurried to see Mrs Thatcher, in anticipation of the effect. Knowing how important the 1984 miners’ strike was for her, since her government could well have fallen as a consequence, I had no doubt that at last I had hit the target. On seeing the signature of her friend, she turned pale:

“When was this signed?” she wanted to know. I pointed to the date.

“That’s worse,” she said quietly. “I asked him about it at the time and he said he knew nothing.”

This was my long-awaited moment of triumph:

“The difficulty of doing business with the communists is that they have a nasty habit of lying to your face,” I stated slowly and clearly, enjoying each word.

There followed a long pause. Too long, in fact.

“I am not naive, you know …”

That is how a mysterious footnote appeared in her memoirs, which were ready to go to press [26]: “Since then I have seen documentary evidence that he [Gorbachev] knew perfectly well and was among those who authorised this payment.”

6.9   Allies

I fear, however, that the perestroika years merely laid bare a difference in the assessment of communism that always existed between Western conservatives and those who had come from communist countries and endured “real socialism” for themselves. For me communism was and remains an absolute evil, and nothing worse can exist. For them it was one problem among many and not necessarily the most important.

I think they never understood, moreover, the universality of this evil, its international nature and, therefore, the general threat it posed. In their heart of hearts the majority were inclined to see it as a sickness not to be feared by “civilised” nations: those who became afflicted by it in some way “deserved” such retribution, in the way that leprosy in early times was regarded as divine punishment for one’s sins. Among conservatives in particular, for instance, there is a widespread myth that communism in Russia was a consequence (or a variety) of a profoundly Russian despotism. “The answer to many mysteries concerning the behaviour of the Soviets lies not in the stars but the Russian tsars. Their remains may lie in the Kremlin crypts but their spirit haunts the Kremlin halls,” wrote former US president Richard Nixon [27]. If that was the case, why not begin detente? Russia cannot be changed; she is that way because of her history. The only hope lies in the appearance of an enlightened despot on the Russian throne.

Or, in 1991, our favourite conservative thinker (whose gravity was measured as one baker), explained to the ill-informed Europeans [28] that

“by an irony of fate, the limited European nationalism of the 19th century also gave rise to another, quite different ideology of rationalism and universalism, which also reached beyond the borders of a single State: Marxism. In the Soviet Union the Bolsheviks combined this ideology with the Slavophil philosophy, itself a reaction to Western values which it declared to be alien.”

Where Baker found Slavophil views among the Bolsheviks we can only speculate. He was sure about the antidote, however: “I believe that trans-Atlantic ties embody universal values of enlightenment.” Let us leave to one side these illiterate excursions into history. If that is what they taught him and his friend George Bush at Yale University when they were both students there, what can one do [29]? If they did not realise that Marxism had its origins in the ideals of the Enlightenment they would not see the danger it presented. That is important. Without a Slavophil distortion, Marxism was acceptable to them and for the New World Order. Why fight it?

In this, it is curious to note, they were at one with Europe’s Mensheviks for whom the myth of a good socialism and a bad Russia which distorted socialism has always served as a form of self-justification. (It remains unclear why they supported this distortion so persistently throughout the 74 years of its existence.) If this was just a convenient falsehood for the Left, the conservatives repeated it, unaware that they would then have to legitimise the socialist experiment in their own countries. In this sense Europe’s conservatives were no better than Nixon and Baker. For them communism was never a supra-national evil, and our struggle against it never become one they shared. How much it cost, the endless confusion between “Russian” and “Soviet”, an identification of the nation with the regime, and the executioner with his victims! At times it became absurd: “the Russians had occupied Afghanistan” and the “Soviet scientist Sakharov” was distressed by this. Was this merely a linguistic misunderstanding, or ignorance? I do not know. Genuine and sincere colleagues are more precise, specifying whether they are fighting against your nation or against the regime that has enslaved it. Especially since they were in no hurry to fight against the regime. I remember what former British prime minister Harold Macmillan once told me: “It is not our concern to change the Soviet system. That is up to the Russians themselves. Our duty is to reach agreement with them so as to maintain a balance in the world.”

This was the wisdom repeated by Margaret Thatcher in the interview when she informed the world that she could “do business” with Gorbachev. “We shall not try to change them, and they will not change us,” she said. I then answered her in the spring 1985 issue of Survey [30]:

“What a charming basis for “constructive relations”! Ordinary business means you give them credit and technology and instead of hard currency […] they undermine your economy. You build them factories making trucks, and they send those trucks full of their soldiers to Afghanistan. Do not try to change them – they will betray you one way or another. That is the essence of the economic reforms which Comrade Gorbachev is so much in favour of: the West will build up the Soviet economy and they will meanwhile build communism throughout the world.”

The reader may appreciate my feeling of Schadenfreude when, seven years later, I found the document confirming who authorised aid to the striking British miners.

Our alliance with Western anti-communists, in a word, was never an equal affair. When they faced difficult times, during the Cold War or the detente of the 1970s, we worked together; when we faced difficult times, during perestroika, they forgot about us. When we were allies we did not understand one another. Their interpretation of the Soviet threat was too narrow, mainly restricted to its military aspect. In the battle of ideas weapons have only psychological significance, while there is no frontline in the war – it extends everywhere. That, however, was beyond their grasp. Having reduced the USSR to bankruptcy in 1986 they relaxed and did not push on to the end. As soon as the Soviet Union ceased to be a threat to the world they stopped taking an interest in it. What happened thereafter to hundreds of millions of people did not interest them, evidently, because of the arrogance (if not chauvinism) I have already noted whereby the nations punished by communism were somehow mystically themselves to blame.

Our disagreements, though muted by the presence of a common enemy, began to emerge almost immediately. By the end of the 1970s, when the world could see that the USSR had no intention of observing the Helsinki Accords over human rights, our ways parted. The only adequate reaction to the arrest of the members of the Helsinki Groups in the Soviet Union, we believed, would be to annul the Helsinki Accords or threaten to do so if those arrested were not released. The West was inclined to act as if nothing important had happened and to “continue the Helsinki process” no matter what. This position could have been understood when left-wing parties were governing the majority of Western countries, but it did not alter in the early 1980s when there was a sharp turn to the right. The Reagan administration did not risk raising this issue, although many influential Republicans had openly supported our point of view when they were in opposition.

Yet this was the key issue in relations between East and West. The Helsinki Accords, for all their shortcomings, embodied a fundamental principle by establishing an equality between the three “baskets” – security, cooperation and human rights – and their inextricable connection. The Accords acknowledged the crucial and indissoluble link between Soviet aggression abroad and the regime’s anti-democratic and repressive nature, and recognised that any form of cooperation would turn into surrender. In the event, economic relations became aid to an enemy; cultural relations were transformed into an instrument of Soviet propaganda; and diplomatic relations merely confirmed the false image of the Soviet Union as a normal State. The Helsinki Accords, furthermore, contained a very important concession by the West, “a recognition of the immutability of the post-war borders in Europe”, i.e. a de facto recognition of the Soviet occupation of Eastern and Central Europe and its legitimisation. With good reason Brezhnev regarded these agreements as his greatest achievement and told one of his aides [31]: “If we can complete the Helsinki process then I can die.”

This is not surprising. Brezhnev wanted to “go down in history as the person who had underpinned victory in wartime with victory in the political sense”. Only having secured Soviet territorial gains in Europe with Western recognition could he proceed to a widening of influence in the whole of Europe, to the “struggle for peace” and disarmament. For the USSR, these agreements made up for the non-existent post-war peace agreement in Europe and secured its empire at last.

The entire strategy of the West was thus in question. A denunciation of the Helsinki Accords would effectively mean a revision of the Yalta agreements and would raise questions about the legitimacy of the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe an countries (including the Baltic States, Ukraine and Belorussia). The mere hint of such a possible shift in relations, when a number of US senators and congressmen suggested that these issues be raised at the 1980 Madrid Conference, was enough to send Moscow to panic stations. “The initiative of the above-named congressmen has received support from a majority in the House of Representatives,” the Central Committee reported to whom in horror (25 October 1979*, St 182/27). “This does not yet oblige the administration to take specific steps, but these demagogic suggestions may give Carter a pretext for unleashing a new hostile campaign against the USSR.”

The Helsinki Accords could have become an excellent instrument of foreign policy, had the West decided to use them. However, it was not only Carter who failed in this respect: neither did Reagan, Thatcher and Kohl, who effectively controlled Western policy in the 1980s, have the nerve to do so. The Helsinki process was turned into an instrument for the Soviet policy of suppressing dissidence and the development of a further onslaught on Europe. Instead of forcing Moscow onto the defensive “on its own territory” (Eastern Europe, the non-Russian republics), the West allowed it to begin a peaceful offensive that almost cost Western Europe its liberty.

Even at the height of the peace-movement hysteria unleashed by Moscow in the early 1980s, however, it was still not too late to change the situation. Instead of accepting the Soviet rules of the game and discussing “peace” in the abstract and outside the historical context of relations between East and West, and instead of the endless wrangling over the numbers of missiles and warheads which only further frightened an uninformed population (playing into the hands of the USSR), the West should have returned to the Helsinki Accords, which permitted issues of security to be linked to the nature of the Soviet regime. The West could not lose in such a discussion since it would have set the debates in true perspective, showing who was to blame, and a political solution to the conflict between East and West was already proposed, while the Soviet signature on the Helsinki Accords would not have permitted any talk about “unacceptable” conditions for Moscow.

What could the Kremlin have answered at that moment in response to an ultimatum that it must observe its obligations under the Helsinki Agreements? Nothing, apart from demagogy. The denunciation of the Accords by the West would have opened up a magnificent gambit – the suggestion that an international conference be called to conclude a post-war peace treaty. This would inevitably lead to questions of self-determination for the countries of Europe occupied by the USSR under its agreement with Hitler. Who could be opposed to such a peace treaty at that tense moment? Openly pro-Soviet forces would have found themselves in a difficult position, while unprejudiced popular opinion would certainly have been on our side. This is not a hypothetical suggestion. In 1984, when the anti-nuclear hysteria reached its peak in the USA, we conducted a convincing experiment in California and Massachusetts, the two most liberal states in the country. Voters in Los Angeles were asked in a referendum the following question [32]:

“Do you agree with the following statement (Yes or No).

“The council of Los Angeles county should send a letter to the leadership of the USA and the USSR,  stating that the risk of a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR would be reduced to a minimum if all nations were able to express their opinion on international issues, including national arms policy, without fear.

“The population of Los Angeles county hereby calls on all nations who signed the Helsinki Accords on human rights to respect the terms of these agreements as they concern the right to freedom of speech, religious convictions, the press, assembly and emigration for all citizens.”

Despite the desperate efforts of the professional peace activists, two thirds of the votes were cast in support of the proposal. A similar resolution was put to the vote in Massachusetts in October: “… encouraging the Soviet Union to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki Accords, thereby reducing the threat of a nuclear clash”.

There can be little doubt that the US government could easily have extended this experiment across the country and totally disarmed the pro-Moscow peace activists. Despite such a striking display of support, however, the Reagan administration did not follow this lead, let alone base its international policy on it. There was no appetite for talk of denouncing the Helsinki Accords or calling a peace conference in Europe. The conservatives, alas, proved quite incapable of mastering the principles of “ideological struggle “. Help for anti-communist movements, the so-called Reagan doctrine, was restricted to the purely material aspect, most often financial or military aid. The vast propaganda work to ensure they gained popular support was beyond their understanding. This and much else fell to us, who had neither the funds nor the political capacity. Just how much can purely public groups do, dependent on means gathered from public and private funds? Resistance International, which we set up in 1983, was stretched to the limit trying to counteract the enormous, well-funded and powerful structures of the USSR. Often our Western friends simply did not understand what we were trying to do. They understood work with the press, at conferences and in press conferences, but anything more complex came up against insurmountable barriers of bureaucratic incomprehension.

The most vivid example was our suggestion to provoke mass desertions from the Soviet units based in Afghanistan. It would seem clear that no matter how many arms you supplied to the Afghan mujahedeen they would not achieve a purely military victory. Other approaches were needed, therefore, that would make it too “costly” for the Soviet occupation to continue. The most obvious solution was to make it possible for Soviet soldiers to escape abroad. We imagined how each week, among other news, the Politburo would be informed that several hundred more Soviet soldiers had deserted, while those who fled earlier and reached the West had just given a press conference. How many such reports would the Politburo have tolerated before it began feverishly to organise the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan? The direct participation of Soviet forces in military operations would be reduced to a minimum so as not to provide additional opportunities for desertion. That reaction would be a great relief to the Afghans and they would have been able to deal with the demoralised government army themselves.

We already knew from our friends among the mujahedeen that Soviet soldiers were deserting without the slightest hope of surviving, let alone reaching the West. I had little doubt of it myself, understanding how unpopular this war fought for communist interests must be among young Russians (not to mention those from other republics). Several dozen of them were already held prisoner by the Afghans, which greatly hampered the mobility of their partisan units. Moreover, if the Soviet high command learned that deserters were hiding in a certain village they would subject it to merciless bombardment to deter the Afghans from such acts of hospitality.

Something had to be done about the problem, in any case. The simplest part was reaching agreement with the mujahedeen. They understood the value of the project perfectly. General Zia-al Huq, the president of Pakistan, also understood and gladly closed his eyes to the transport of these deserters across his country. Only the Western governments refused to grasp the purpose of the enterprise, insisting on the humanitarian nature of the operation and, therefore, its very limited scope. Facing extraordinary difficulties the various unofficial groups who took on this task managed to help 15 individuals escape from Afghanistan. No more. There could be no question of hundreds or thousands of deserters. No Western country was prepared to receive them.

That is merely one example, but it illustrates the main reason for our disagreements: despite all our efforts, the most conservative circles in the West did not wish to understand that tens and hundreds of millions behind the Iron Curtain were their natural and most powerful ally, not a “humanitarian problem”. To truly defeat communism would only be possible through an alliance with them.

6.10   I did all I could

The early 1980s were still a happy period when the existence of a common foe made us in some sense, at least, allies and ensured the support if not of governments then of certain forces within society. The unthinking euphoria of glasnost and perestroika deprived us of this support and of our last allies. The temptation of a victory without struggle, of winning without effort, proved too great for them. This came just when it would have been possible to organise opposition structures legally in the USSR, without the fear of serious repression – but the funds and sympathies of the West were now on the other side.

At a moment when political prisoners in the Soviet Union were being subjected to the most insidious pressure to ensure their ideological neutralisation, the West was applauding Gorbachev. When the spetsnaz forces were killing Georgian demonstrators in Tbilisi, crushing the Popular Front with tanks in Azerbaijan, and storming government buildings in Vilnius and Riga, the West had only one concern: that this would “not harm Gorbachev”. The financial aid to the Kremlin reformers reached astronomical sums. Over the seven years of the Party’s perestroika the external debt of the Soviet Union rose by 45 billion dollars! That is the price the West paid so that no genuine democracy or market economy emerged in the former Soviet Union. And they would have paid still greater sums if the August 1991 putsch had been more successful: a new “Marshall Plan” was already being seriously discussed at meetings of the G7.

The very mention of the Marshall Plan, which saved Europe from Communism, should have made them think twice. No one would have considered offering such aid 50 years earlier to a still undefeated Germany! Could it have been offered to Vichy France, Fascist Italy or Norway under Quisling? Our fathers, at least, had the common sense to crush the enemy, force him to an unconditional surrender and then carry out denazification before there was any talk of economic aid. Had they acted differently, Europe would not have known democracy but lived for many more decades in a “post-totalitarian” absurdity, like that of the former Soviet Union. Of course, we fought to resist this madness to the last. We tried as best we could to support independent forces and publications within the USSR. The Centre for Democracy that we set up for this purpose in New York began to translate these independent newspapers and publish them in the USA so as to capture the attention of the public before we ran out of funds (//Chapter Three, p. 122). In order to make more rational use of our meagre resources, we attempted to bring everyone together in one organisation uniting democrats from all the republics under a common slogan “Democracy and Independence”. The Daily Telegraph found us too right-wing [33]:

“Many dissidents consider that the West is being fed disinformation that depicts Gorbachev as a genuine democrat who is threatened by his conservative opponents. … Yet the more often such solitary voices disparage glasnost, the more indelible becomes the suspicion that these people are standing still and changing the criteria for defining reform instead of assuring us that their former achievements were not in vain. … They see conspiracies everywhere.”

And why not, when Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan … Only a handful of journalists (Abe Rosenthal of the New York Times, the leader-writers at the Wall Street Journal) had the courage to support us at that time. Fortunately, the rapidly growing crisis in the country prompted a sharp radicalisation in society and by 1990 the Moscow intelligentsia had begun to understand the nature of the problem. New opportunities arose and new forces escaped the control of the authorities, having shaken off the delusions of perestroika. In the summer of 1990 we made a last serious attempt to unite the opposition. A conference was called in Prague to which the old dissidents, new opposition activists from all the republics of the USSR, and those of the conservative circles who still understood our efforts were invited.

Prague was ideal for this purpose, not only because it was close to the USSR and travel rules had been relaxed but above all thanks to the evident symbolism that Vaclav Havel did not fail to mention in his welcoming address. The only leader in the world who had come to power as the result of an anti-communist revolution, Havel was not afraid to display his solidarity with our position. He did not betray his past but spoke about our shared principle, that freedom and justice are indivisible [34]: “If they are under threat somewhere, then they are under threat everywhere.” Alas, Havel indeed proved to be alone. To become an effective centre for the opposition we needed considerable funds, printing equipment, computers, the means of communication – everything that a mass organisation requires to function normally. Despite our desperate search we found no one who would supply us with these things: neither foundations, nor governments, nor wealthy well-wishers. The future of the world, it seemed, interested no one. Some openly said, “If you’re right and the USSR will soon collapse, then why should we spend money on this?” Such a collapse could occur in a variety of ways, but they were not willing to consider that.

It was astonishing. The regime was not yet dead and might take hundreds of thousands of people with it to the grave. In 1990, moreover, it was becoming evident that Gorbachev and his accomplices were up to something. This did not worry anyone, however. With the tiny sums at our disposal we urgently set up a training and coordination centre in Poland, the other country which had just been liberated, helped by our Polish friends who had been active in the underground “Fighting Solidarity” movement, and rapidly began to prepare groups of activists from various parts of the USSR for work under conditions of martial law. At our request, the Poles restored their underground workshop for radio transmitters and tried to provide them to each group returning to the USSR. We knew very well that under martial law reliable and timely information would be invaluable. The lives of thousands would depend on it.

Fulfilling our predictions, the regime began 1991 by attacking the Baltic republics, raising prices and instituting a general clamp-down. No doubts remained: martial law could be expected in a matter of weeks. If something held their hand it was the growing resistance of the population, which threatened to spill over into a general strike. By spring a confrontation seemed inevitable and, in my view, desirable. It was a unique moment in our history, one of those rare moments that determines the life of a country for generations to come. For the first time in 70 years the pitilessly oppressed people openly challenged the regime. Such an impulse united all ethnic and social groups in a striving to stand up for their dignity and freedom and was in itself beyond value. It meant that the preconditions for true democracy were maturing in that seemingly mortally oppressed nation. The preconditions were insufficient in themselves.

Weak and inexperienced, the opposition forces needed to be tempered in the fight against the old regime, so as to grow into a real political structure that would be able to sweep aside the nomenklatura at all levels of the State’s administration. Only such a contest could lead to the emergence of real leaders, popular organisers in every district and every enterprise, and create a genuine political alternative. Without such a struggle, changes in the system could not take place and the new order, coming into being, would lack the essential structures to support them.


The country was on the verge of revolution. The most stupid thing to do in such a situation was let the Soviet leadership retain the initiative and choose the most convenient moment to attack. The regime needed to be confronted when it was least prepared and least wanted it. It was impossible, however, to influence the mood in an enormous country from abroad, without our own organisation or nationwide means of communication. And we had been able to create nothing of the kind, having been abandoned by the world, without support or resources. The last chance was to try and go there myself.

With great difficulty, I reached Moscow in April 1991 with a visa for only five days, and threw myself into the maelstrom of rallies, interviews and meetings. The hope that something could still be put right and saved gave me strength, although I was perfectly aware that I could offer people nothing but advice – I brought no funds, equipment or organised structures, nor the sympathy of the Western world from which I came. It was a desperate attempt to persuade others, in the hopes that in that white-hot atmosphere within the country one loudly stated word would be enough. After all, had we not fought with words against this regime for thirty years? Were we not accustomed in a far less hopeful period to do everything in our power?

“Confrontation is inevitable,” I said at a press conference as soon as I arrived [35]. “The only consideration is how to avoid bloodshed. Therefore, I am ready to repeat a thousand times that a general strike is needed. That is the only way to avoid bloodshed and famine. … You don’t realise that by winter there will be starvation in the country. Gorbachev will not go of his own free will. The KGB will not go willingly. That means they will start shooting.”

“I believe that today we cannot be passive. For if our country does not stand as one and say to the Communist regime, ‘Go!’, the alternative will be famine on an Ethiopian scale and civil war like that in Lebanon.” [36]

“I don’t understand how people can give moral support to the striking workers but still go to work themselves,” I challenged people in subsequent interviews [37].

“The miners are striking not for themselves but for the common good, yet you keep going to work … I was in the camps. If one zek goes on hunger strike, then the whole camp strikes. The country should strike. […] If this regime stays in power your children will fight in Poland or Moldavia. They will suppress an uprising by the Azerbaijan is. Do you want that?

“Democratic structures must be urgently created. Your deputies are sitting in their Russian parliament and losing time. Do they not understand that they represent nothing and have no power? Take away their microphone and that’s the end of them. You must unite. Call it a forum, a party, whatever you like … The country will collapse and nobody is doing a thing.” [38]

That was the whole problem. The country was ready to throw off the regime, but the new elite, those new “democrats” who had grown up in the perestroika years, was not prepared to do so. They had advanced through pseudo-elections when any new face seemed better than the old ones, but they were much closer to the regime than to the people. They did not want radical change, which could push them aside and deprive them of their accidentally acquired position as “leaders”.

When I attended a session of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet I was amazed by their inadequacy. They spent half a day in fruitless disputes about which microphone which group of deputies should speak from. After these stormy debates on such an important subject they voted and, entranced by their own democratic behaviour, declared a break. This was at a time when the country so longed for a change of regime, and the atmosphere was so intense, that in a few days’ time the communist trade unions were obliged, as I have already said to call a one-day strike, to somehow retain their influence. More than 50 million people stopped working, despite an official prohibition [39].

Making use of the break, I ascended the rostrum and tried to bring the deputies back to reality. It was hopeless. Like other Russian “leaders” they were dreaming of consensus, round-table negotiations with the communist regime. No matter how much I explained that in Poland (where the leaders of Solidarity, with millions of members behind them, had also endured martial law) the round table was a mistake and had only delayed the movement of Polish society towards democracy, Russia’s “democrats” did not want to understand that in their conditions the round table simply would not work. In the conflict between the people and the regime they instinctively took the side of the regime that had given them birth. Yeltsin, their indubitable leader at that moment, betrayed the striking miners, abandoning them in order to reach a temporary truce with Gorbachev. Of all the groups then existing he chose as his allies the liberal communists (his future deadly foes), making Alexander Rutskoi his vice president and Ruslan Khasbulatov, the chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet. Only four months would pass before this choice proved fatal for the entire subsequent development of events and the country, making the dismantling of the old system impossible. In August 1991 the regime would fall like a ripe fruit but all the structures of the new regime were blocked by the old nomenklatura and paralysed by the egotism of the new elite drawn from the liberal communists so liked by Yeltsin. Having failed to create any mass structures to support it, the new democracy hung suspended in the air while power was seized by the greedy and soulless bureaucracy.

Yet why should we blame only Yeltsin, the constantly drunk Party functionary? It was difficult to expect any other choice from him. Russia’s intellectual elite, however, proved no better and at the critical moment feared its own people more than KGB reprisals. “God forbid that the people start rioting”, they moaned, “There’ll be tanks under our windows.”


“In Cambridge, it may seem that when all the factories stop working the heavens will rain food,” wrote a cultured lady late in July 1991 [40]. Having seen nothing worse in her life than a Party reprimand, she shamelessly instructed me:

“We can see perfectly well that this would not be a leap into the kingdom of freedom, but a step towards destruction and chaos, plague and hunger. A general strike will not prevent a civil war but speed it up. […] a great many sober minds have long ago understood that if we should fear anyone it is the passionate revolutionary who shows no fear when faced by tanks.”

Several weeks later there were tanks under the windows of Moscow, and some had to “show no fear” and face them. It was already too late to save the country from destruction and chaos.

That blazing April, when everything was so simple, black and white, and within reach, would be remembered by more than one generation of impoverished, deprived people, hiding at home from the bands of looters. Just as thirty years earlier, we had nothing to tell them, except “I did all I could”.



[1] 15 February 1991* (No 01499), p. 7.

[2] A phrase coined by Yury Afanasyev, Dean of the Historical Archives Institute. With Sakharov and others, he became a leader of the opposition within the Congress, the Inter-Regional Group made up of deputies from Russia and other Soviet republics.

[3] 15 February 1991* (No 01499), p. 2.

[4] 15 February 1991* (No 01499), p. 2.

[5] 15 February 1991* (No 01499), p. 5.

[6] 15 February 1991* (No 01499), p. 3.

[7] 15 February 1991* (No 01499), p. 12.

[8] 15 February 1991* (No 01499), p. 8.

[9] Kak “delalas” politika perestroiki, 1989 (SA) – p. 324.

[10] Gorbachev, 1989 (SA) – p. 115.

[11] Kak “delalas” politika perestroiki, 1991 (SA) – p. 21-22.

[12] 20 October 1990, p. 1.

[13] //See note 46.

[14] TV interview, 17 December 1984, quoted in Jonathan Haslam, Russia’s Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall, Yale University Press: New Haven & London, 2011, pp 348‑349.

[15] BBC World Service, tape No 90R41-AO85G (archived 3 June 1990).

[16] Time, 18 December 1989.

[17] James Baker, US Secretary of State, “Address to the Berlin Press Club: 12 December 1989”, Berlin Speeches, p 2.

[18] James Baker, Berlin Speeches, p 12.

[19] James Baker, Berlin Speeches, p 14.

[20] Official State Department clarification, International Herald Tribune, 14 December 1990.

[21] “Aspen Institute Address: 18 June 1990”, Berlin Speeches, p 15.

[22] Official State Department statement, International Herald Tribune, 2 January 1990.

[24] Editorial, Wall Street Journal, 7 December 1987.

[25] See 20 November 1984*, for Scargill request to Soviet ambassador in London for funds for the National Union of Mineworkers.

[26] Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years, Harper Collins: London, 1993, p 369, footnote.

[27] Richard Nixon, The Real War (1980), p 49.

[28] James Baker, Berlin Speeches, p 16.

[29] Claire Massud, “Bones of a Conspiracy”, The Observer, London (magazine), 31 July 1994.

[30] Survey, Spring 1985, Vol. 29, No 1, pp 81-82.

[31] Interview with Anatoly Kovalev, head of Soviet delegation at Helsinki negotiations in 1975. Quoted in “The Centre”, part 4 of the documentary Messengers from Moscow, Barraclough Carey productions, Los Angeles (and see 6.4 — The German question”).

[32] Wall Street Journal, 11 June 1984; Washington Times, 8 June 1984.

[33] John Kampfner, “Gulag survivors bitter as appeals go unheard”, The Daily Telegraph, 13 May 1989.

[34] Robert L. Bartley, “An Independence Day for Europe”, Wall Street Journal, 6‑7 July 1990.

[35] Ogonyok, April 1991, No 18, pp 26-27.

[36] Rossiiskaya gazeta, 20 April 1991.

[37] Vechernyaya Moskva, 16 April 1991.

[38] Ogonyok, April 1991, No 18, pp 26-27.

[39] “Fifty million Russians strike for an hour in defiance of ban” (Reuters) International Herald Tribune, 27-28 April 1991.

[40] Alla Latynina, “When the Iron Curtain rises”, Literaturnaya gazeta, No 29, 24 July 1991.