Paul H


John F.




INT: There was a real legacy, though, in the Soviet Union from the Second World War, if you like, and that seems to me a good part of their fears about reunifying Germany. Was there not a fear in the United States about uniting a very strong Germany?

CR: The United States really had no fear of a united and very strong Germany. In fact, I think the United States was more worried that if you left Germany with a lot of constraints and fetters after it was unified, that it couldn't play an active role in Europe. So in fact, it was just the opposite from the European fear in France and Britain and the smaller states in Europe, and indeed the Soviet Union, of a strong Germany, and that had to be balanced. The fact that we never suffered under German occupation - we had to understand that these were real fears in the rest of Europe. But it also helped that when we talked about unifying Germany within NATO, people realized that the democratic Germany that had grown up into the FRG, had largely grown up because of its integration into NATO and indeed into Europe. It was also very helpful that the Germans were so anxious to have Germany viewed as a part of a unified Europe, to have German unification and European unification move simultaneously, and I think that helped to diminish some of the fears - but clearly the fears were there.

INT: A major problem for the Soviet Union was clearly having a united Germany within NATO, which you told me about. Can you tell me the story of the Washington summit, about how you gave the Soviet delegation the copy of Bush's final speech?

CR: The biggest problem with the Soviet Union and German unification - for the United States, in any case - was the issue of unifying Germany in NATO. After all, this meant that East Germany, which had been the fulcrum of Soviet power, was going to be a part of the Western alliance. Not surprising that they were unhappy at the prospect. So, during the first session at the Washington summit, President Bush had just introduced the notion that after all, countries under the Helsinki Accord had the right to choose their alliances, and Gorbachev said, "That's right." And there was stirring, and Bob Blackwell wrote a note to President Bush and said, "Could you get him to say that again?" And Gorbachev said, "Yeah, that's right: countries should choose their own alliances." President Bush tried a third time - he said, "Does that mean that if we supported Germany... if Germany wanted to be in NATO and we supported Germany in NATO, but you didn't, that it wouldn't matter?" He said, "Countries have a right to choose their own alliances." So now the trick became to try to get that in writing somehow, to try to get that on the record. And so after that meeting, we drafted a press statement that President Bush would make at the press conference on that Saturday, that would say: "And President Gorbachev and I are in agreement that countries have a right to choose their alliances, and if Germany chooses NATO, that's that." So we drafted the language, and I gave it to the Foreign Minister of Russia, and... Bessmertnik... and the... sorry, to Shevardnadze, and also to Bessmertnik, to look at it, and I said, "Let us know if you have any problems with this." And then we went up to Camp David, we had a lovely dinner. I didn't sleep at all that night, wondering when was I going to hear from them that they'd finally figured out what we were trying to do. I never heard from them. The next day, Bob Blackwell said one more time: "Did you read the statement?" They said, "Yes." The President made the statement, Gorbachev nodded, and we felt at that point that we'd broken the issue of German unification in NATO.

INT: Wonderful. I'm going to return to the Washington summit very briefly, but did you anticipate the Kohl-Gorbachev announcement the 16th of July 1990, that a united Germany would be in Europe? Had you expected it would come so fast?

CR: We did not expect the Kohl announcement in July... in February of 1990 until we were at Camp David. And the thing to understand about the Kohl announcement is that it was really an agreement between Bush and Kohl that came out of the meeting. I don't think that the Germans came to Camp David in February 1990 expecting to say a unified Germany would be in NATO. What happened was that during the discussion, President Bush said to President... to Chancellor Kohl, "We have to have an affirmation of German intentions to be a part of NATO." And President Bush was someone who could be incredibly persuasive one on one. He himself often said he wasn't the best speech-maker in a large audience, but he had no parallel, and probably has no parallel, in one-to-one negotiations with another head of state, and he convinced Helmut Kohl that this had to be done. And at the press conference, Helmut Kohl, in answer to a question, said: yes, Germany would be unified in NATO, fully into its military institutions. And he was challenged on that by a member of the German press, and he stuck to his guns. And that was another, very important turning point for us in German unification.

INT: Just to carry on, did you anticipate, if you like, the announcement between Kohl and Gorbachev in July 1990, when they were in the Caucasus, I think, that a united Germany would be in Europe, and Gorbachev finally sort of acceded to this? And what was the significance?

CR: In July of 1990, I think that for us the turning point in German unification was the... we believed was the London summit. We believed that we had done enough at NATO to change the character of NATO, so that the Soviets could save face in effect and agree to the unification of Germany in NATO. When, on the heels of that, President Gorbachev and Chancellor Kohl met in the Caucasus, Stavropol, and Gorbachev apparently acceded to those terms, I think it didn't come as a surprise that those were the terms. The timing, though, came as something of a surprise. We knew that the meeting was going on - the Germans had told us that the meeting was going on - but Chancellor Kohl himself believed that this was a deal, as he put it, that Gorbachev would want to deliver to the American President, not to the German President, and so we were somewhat surprised at when it happened, but delighted. There was, to be quite truthful, a little bit of pique that we had not been told by the Germans, and that we'd sort of read it in the press, but things were moving pretty fast and everybody got over that really pretty quickly. But, yes, given how tight and close our relations had been with the Germans, people were a little unhappy.

INT: And VE Day 2?

CR: We called the agreement between Gorbachev and Kohl "VE Day 2" because it really was... that was the end of the Cold War. I think to have the German Chancellor receive the news directly from the Soviet President, that Germany was going to be unified from his point of view, that the Soviet Union was not just going to accede to it, but indeed was going to have a ceremony in Moscow, had to be quite a moment. And I've read and talked... read and then talked with (unclear) abhis remembrances of that moment, and it must have been an extraordinary time to be a German.

INT: Wonderful - thank you. So you said that was the end of the Cold War, but in fact what Gorbachev was now facing was that, if you like, the Eastern satellites had disappeared and now the crumbling was moving in, if you like, towards the center. When he was at that Washington summit, was there a sense in which he was out of control, he was preoccupied, he really wasn't able to deal with the full sort of amount of power with some of the issues he'd like to have?

CR: The remarkable thabout Gorbachev is, he never seemed out of control - not during this entire difficult time. He was a person of tremendous confidence, and if anything struck you it was that he believed that he could make this work, he could reform the Soviet Union. He once said, "I can do what Alexander II did not do: I can reform Russia without blood." He was that confident. And he was like an athlete who wanted the ball at the end of the game, you know; he was just somebody who believed that he could get it done. So at the Washington summit he was not showing any particular signs of strain, although in some of his conversations with President Bush about the financial and economic conditions in the Soviet Union, you could begin to see that he was really, truly worried. I think if signs of strain finally started to show with Gorbachev, it was in November of 1990, and I really count November of 1990 as the beginning of the end for Gorbachev and the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. After a career in the time between 1985 and 1990, of always choosing to do the more liberal thing whenever challenged, Gorbachev suddenly tried to react and tried to bring around him people who wanted to turn the clock back, people who ultimately betrayed him, like Pugo; and he did this in a way that frightened us all: Yakolev leaving the government suddenly; then, in December of 1990, Shevardnadze resigning, and with dark talk about coups in Moscow. Indeed, I will never forget the morning of December 21st, because I was awakened at about 4 o'clock in the morning by the situation room, and I was supposed to be leaving that day for my Christmas vacation here in California, and the situation room said, "Let me give you a moment to clear your head," and they never said that if it was good news. And so they said that Shevardnadze had resigned, and there were these dark forebodings of coups and so forth. And I remember getting to work, and for the first time being really frightened that the end was coming in the Soviet Union, and we waited for several days to see what was going to happen. But I'm now convinced that Gorbachev's decision to isolate himself from those who had helped him to bring about perestroika is perhaps the one most important, most fateful decision that he made, and one that did not serve him well.

INT: Were there fears about a revival of the Cold War?

CR: The fears for the Soviet Union in November and December 1990 were less about the international context, about the Cold War. After all, Germany was now unified, Eastern Europe was liberated, the Soviet Union was going home. I don't think that there was anyone who really believed that they could, in immediate terms in any way, re-establish their power in Europe. But the question was: was the Soviet Union going to now break up in a way that was not peaceful, in which stability in Europe would really be threatened? And there were great fears at that moment about that. In September of 1990, we had begun doing a kind of contingency planning for what might happen if the Soviet Union broke up. We looked at all kinds of contingencies. The one we never looked at was a peaceful break-up of the Soviet Union, because nobody ever believed it possible. And so, by the fall of 1990, we were very, very nervous about what was going to happen there. There were other points at which we were frightened as well. Really going to German unification, the day after the Wall fell, the Soviets sent a letter in which they were clearly very, very nervous about what had happened there, almost panicked about what had happened. So it wasn't as if this was all smooth. But I think from November 1990, it was mostly downhill, and we really did believe by that time that the Soviet Union might break up, and break up violently.

INT: Did the United States support Baltic nationalism?

CR: The United States certainly supported Baltic independence. It had been American policy for almost 50 years to not recognize the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union; and indeed, we acted that way, having no representation in the Baltic states, for instance, not permitting our people to go to the Baltic states on official missions. But the Baltic states have an unfortunate geography: they're right next door to a power that will always be bigger and always be more powerful; and the concern was not to incite the Baltic states to do something that the United States could then not help them with. I think that President Bush in particular was very influenced by what had happened in 1956, when John Foster Dulles's hot rhetoric had led to an uprising in Hungary, and the United States could only stand by and watch as Hungarians were slaughtered by Soviet tanks. The fact was, the United States was not going to be able to intervene on behalf of the Baltic states, and to incite them to do something that might then lead the Soviet Union to crack down, seemed incredibly foolhardy. But it was a very hard policy to manage, because there were people who believed that that meant that we were backing away from Baltic independence.

INT: And indeed at the Washington summit, President Bush almost dared not, because of the charged atmosphere, the sort of economic embargo, mention the war of words with Gorbachev.

CR: The very delicate problem was to support the Baltic states in a way that would not incite the Soviets to crack down, and that also allowed us to continue to carry out the very important agenda that we were carrying out with the Soviets: the unification of Germany and so forth. At the June summit, this was particularly hard, in 1990, because there was an economic embargo, an energy embargo, that had been imposed in March. The Baltics were beginning to lobby for independence openly, the Soviets were getting more and more nervous, and the issue was: what could you say legitimately and helpfully about Baltic independence, about lifting the embargo, and what could you actually back legitimately? And that was the difficult thing at the June summit. We did refuse to fully agree to terms of a trade agreement and "most favorite nation" status, and that was very much wrapped up with the Baltic issues.

INT: And in fact you used the wonderful metaphor before: "He dared not light a match in a gas-filled room." Could you say that for me?

CR: Yes. At one point, I wrote a memo to President Bush, in which I said: "The problem is that the Baltic question is like a gas-filled room, and the United States has to be careful not to light the match."

INT: Wonderful - thank you. Can you just tell me your assessment of Yeltsin, if you like, and his support, or why he was on this bandwagon, if you like, of supporting independence for the republics?

CR: In retrospect, Boris Yeltsin emerges as one of the most important figures in this entire period. Without Boris Yeltsin's challenge to the Soviet Union from a Russian nationalist base - something that I think none of us ever thought possible - I think it would not have had the smooth transition to a semi-democratic country out of the collapse of the Soviet Union. I think Boris Yeltsin has turned out to be extremely important. I have to admit that my first encounter with Boris Yeltsin was not a good one. He came in September of 1989; he wanted to see the President. We had decided that since the President had not yet met with Gorbachev, it was inappropriate for him to meet the President. So we did what we often do: we were going to have a presidential dropby; Yeltsin would meet with Brent Scowcroft and the President would drop by. Yeltsin arrived that day 30 minutes late. He got out of the car; he said, "This isn't the door that you go in to see the President," because he wasn't going in the diplomatic entrance, he was going in the west basement entrance. And I said, "You aren't going to see the President, you're going to see General Scowcroft." And he carried on and carried on about, was Scowcroft important enough to see him? He threatened to go back to his hotel. And finally I said, "I think you're... I'm going to tell General Scowcroft you're not coming, and you can go back to your hotel." And he decided then he would go, and lon the President stopped by, and everything was just fine. But later on, I met Yeltsin again in Moscow, and he remembered that time, and he mentioned that it had not been a happy meeting. And I think we can let bygones be bygones; he's done pretty good things for Russia, and I think I have to admit that, even though the first encounter with him was really pretty horrible.

INT: But for Gorbachev he was a terribly destabilizing influence. I mean, he was massively popular, something that Gorbachev had wanted to be, and had been to a great extent, and then of course this support of Russian nationalism, if you like...

CR: History...

INT: ... he undermined... Sorry.

CR: History sometimes puts the right people at the right place, and then it passes them by. Gorbachev was the right man to bring about enough change in the Soviet Union to begin its unraveling. Gorbachev was a utopian in many ways; he believed fundamentally that if you could remove coercion, remove the myths, de-Stalinize the country and go back to a kind of Leninist Soviet Union, that you could stabilize it and then it could be a worthy country for incorporation in Europe. Because he believed that, he unraveled many of the instruments of state power, and they were therefore not available to him later, when one might have expected him to crack down. Boris Yeltsin, coming along just behind him, was creating the basis on which the new Russia would be born. He was tapping into Russian nationalism. I think it's less important that he was a challenge to Gorbachev, or that he was more popular than Gorbachev, than that he found this little opening to tap into Russian nationalism against the Soviet Union, and therefore to create a basis for a new Russia. These were men who were extremely important to history, in different ways, at different times. This cannot have turned out peacefully without either of them.