Mikhail Gorbachev 90 years old: How world history was changed

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
At the moment people in Europe are living through a period of deep anxiety, caused by the pandemic and escalating strategic tensions between the US, Russia, China and Europe. In this light one should review the last 30 years of history, in particular the history of Germany’s reunification 1990 and the end of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as a whole. The main architects of the coming into being of the “New World Order” were outstanding personalities like former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who succeeded to open the most fascinating chapter in history since the end of World War II.
The growing political opportunism as well as the obsession of some politicians in Germany who are fixated on “polling” results, namely the differentiation of what is judged with “likes” and “dislikes” in politics nowadays, should be compared with the political leaders who shaped the historical processes of the nineties. Despite his many political shortcomings and errors, Mikhail Gorbachev was key to change European history and is today one of the most respected world leaders still alive.  At the occasion of his 90ieth birthday (02.03.21), a quite moving homage and interview was given by a close friend of Gorbachev, former foreign policy advisor of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Dr. Horst Teltschik. His main emphasis is that it was Gorbachev who gave green light for German reunification and who brought about peace in Europe, by initiating a series of groundbreaking disarmament processes, that helped to ban the specter of nuclear war.
Timed with Gorbachev’s 90th birthday, there was also the publication of a new book by TV documentary film maker Ignaz Lozo: “Gorbachev: The man who changed the World.” The well- researched book is based on several  interviews which the writer conducted with Mikhail Gorbachev during the last 28 years; it also includes material based on  interviews and background discussions with key architects of the German reunification, including  German Foreign Minister Hans- Dietrich Genscher, as well as US Secretary of State, James Baker, aside the foreign policy advisors of Chancellor Kohl (Teltschik) and of Mikhail  Gorbachev (Anatoly Chernyaev) and discussions with the respective Ambassadors (Blech and Terechov),as well as evaluation of essays, speeches and archive material.
Why we should be grateful
In a guest column (02.03.21, in www.t-online.de) Horst Teltschik, who was directly involved in the 1989/90 reunification events as advisor to Chancellor Kohl – and who from 1999-2008 was chairman of the Munich Security Conference – emphasized that especially Germans should remember gratefully the contributions made by Gorbachev. Teltschik recalled -as also Lozo describes in detail in his new book- that before Gorbachev came to power March 1985 as general Secretary of the Soviet CP, his three predecessors Leonid Brezhnev, Juri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko – average age 75- 78 years – had contributed to a significant deterioration of the domestic and economic situation in the SU, which they tried to deter from, by a policy of rearmament (SS 20) and a push for nuclear war.
Teltschik recalled that in the same year, there was the first summit meeting between American President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in November 1985 in Geneva: “This was not only the beginning of an important summit diplomacy between the two world powers …it was also the first signal for resuming disarmament and arms control negotiations between two world powers. This led to the most far reaching disarmament- and arms control agreements in history. 80% of all nuclear weapons got disarmed in a controlled way.” In light of today’s nuclear armament pushed by nuclear powers like China, India, North Korea and Iran (the latter one being on the edge of this) the question should be asked, who today “takes initiatives for a new round of disarmament and arms control negotiations?”
He underlined that Gorbachev was the one, who changed relations with his allied partners in the Warsaw Pact, by announcing to them that in the future they were solely responsible for the development of their nations and that he no more would interfere, as his predecessors had done (for example Brezhnev’s clamp down on the 1968 Prague spring).  When Poland became democratic, the Soviet soldiers stayed in their barracks, Teltschik recalled. This was also the case 1989 when the then Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh opened the borders for tens of thousands of DDR refugees to Austria. His actions were based on secret negotiations that he had conducted before with Gorbachev. When there were mass demonstrations in East Berlin and when the Berlin wall fell, Teltschik noted: “380.000 Soviet soldiers stationed in the DDR remained in their barracks.” He further underlined that we should not forget that at the end – in the frame of four years agreed upon with Gorbachev – “500.000 Russian troops from Central Europe, from Hungary, CSSR, Poland, including 380.000 from the DDR as well as 180.000 family members with the entire military equipment (680.000 tons of ammunition including nuclear weapons) had returned peacefully to the USSR!”
Gorbachev’s policy of “Glasnost” and “Perestroika” was aimed at accelerating economic reforms and at giving more political transparency. He was personally made responsible for the dramatic economic and supply crisis in the 90ies and for the dissolution of the USSR, which according to Teltschik “Gorbachev never had wanted. It was his successor Boris Jelzin who had the full responsibility for this.”(!)  He added that during the German unification process Helmut Kohl did everything on a national and international level to support Gorbachev’s reform policy. “For more than 1 billion DM 1990 food and other supplies were delivered, billions of loans guaranteed as well as accommodations made for the return of the Soviet soldiers.”
Those, who criticize Gorbachev today, should take into account, that “after 70years of communist mismanagement Gorbachev lacked the political and economic “experts” that could define democracy and market economy and push it through operationally.” There were many foreign advisors, especially from the US.  “But they often only contributed to more confusion, since they set different priorities.” According to Teltschik, it was thanks to Gorbachev, that a peaceful unification of both German states was made possible. Not one single shot was fired and Europe got unified!! No wall or fences are separating Europe and the overall East- West conflict was ended.
Gorbachev had the vision of a “Common European House” with the same security guarantee for all inhabitants. This vision was expressed in the Paris- Charta for a new Europe conference that in November 1990 was signed by 34 Heads of State and heads of government of the CSCE Member states. “This Charta defined the principles how a universal European peace order from Vancouver to Vladivostok should be shaped. Institutional agreements were made how to follow up on all this. Review conferences on different levels were agreed upon.”
Teltschik emphasized that “with President Gorbachev we had a very close and even friendly understanding. And when President Vladimir Putin gave a speech at the German Federal Parliament (2001), he got standing ovations. He spoke about Russia as a friendly European country. He tried to build bridges and there was indeed a positive perspective for the German – Russian relationship under Putin.”  Given the growing distance that began to develop between Russia and the West – in the context of NATO’s eastward expansion, the Balkan war against Serbia (not mandated by the UN) as well as Ukraine conflict – it is possible, that “may  be by the creation of a quite realistic free-trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok one could have avoided the conflict with the Ukraine.” Instead today there is too much and too often talk about sanctions. I principally don’t think that sanctions are good.”  Teltschik is convinced that there should have been more discussions about “common initiatives.”  More confidence building measures in direction of disarmament arms control and military cooperation are needed, “since we face a new process of rearmament.”
Looking back at the big changes under Gorbachev
The biography of Ignaz Lozo  (Gorbatschow -Der Weltveränderer, Verlag Wbg Theiss 2021) contains an in depth profile of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, which sheds light on his childhood as well as on his carrier within the party apparatus of the Soviet Union and his actions as General Secretary of the CP. The book tries to give an answer to the paradox how it came, that a loyal Leninist and Communist, who up to the last moment of his presidential term believed in the principles of a “reformable” socialism, changed his political thinking, paving the way for the great historical accomplishments in Germany and the rest of Europe during the 1990ies.  A special insight is given by Lozo who describes lively, what was discussed in Moscow and in the Northern Caucasus (July14-16th  1990) between the Russian and German delegations, that led to the historical breakthrough also called “the miracle of the Caucasus”.
The date of the 14/15/16th of July 1990 will never be forgotten since in those days history was written anew for Germany and the entire world. The two heads of state Gorbachev and Kohl met at a Soviet Dacha in the small Caucasian village Archys, today inhabited by not more than  600 inhabitants. The dacha – in former times serving as a holiday resort for Communist leaders – had been opened by former KGB chairman Andropov in 1978.  In previous meetings, Lozo recalls, Gorbachev and Kohl had again and again exchanged memories about the terror and hardship that both had to live through during the Second World War. When Hitler’s German Army invaded the SU, Gorbachev was ten years old, Kohl just 11. This common childhood experience connected the two personalities very closely. It had been originally Gorbachev who during his visit in Bonn 1989 (June) had invited Kohl to visit Stavropol, where Gorbachev had started his political career after his law studies in Moscow followed by agricultural science studies.
Given the rapidly collapsing economy and imploding society, with stores being empty and a population exploding in rage, as documented by more and more strikes and protests, in July 1990 the aim of Gorbachev was primarily to organize short term help, alleviate misery domestically and win a long- term economic partner. The results of the summer meeting were breathtaking. According to Lozo the “post-war structure, the Cold War, all what was connected with Soviet thinking appeared obsolete, a new period was announced, a time of cooperation and even friendship.” At the NATO summit in London July 5/6 1990 NATO gave the line that the confrontation between the two blocks had ended and announced a new military strategy, as well as “new armed forces plans, which take revolutionary changes in Europe into account.” US President H.W. Bush in London had stated solemnly then: “I am happy to announce that my colleagues and I have begun with a large restructuration of NATO and we consider this a historical turning point. The London declaration shapes the relation towards our former enemy in a new way. Our alliance stretches its hand in friendship at those governments which during Cold War were confronting us.”
On the 14th July 1990 the German airplane from Bonn arrived in Moscow, where next day talks began in the Foreign Ministry. In the two discussions between Gorbachev and Kohl were the two interpreters Andreas Weiß and Ivan Kurpakov, as well as their two respective advisors: Horst Teltschik and Anatoly Chernyaev. Helmut Kohl wrote about this meeting in his memoirs that he had told Gorbachev that we are at the beginning of historically significant years and that when the occasion is there, one should grasp the opportunity and use the chance.  During the almost two hour summit Gorbachev was calm, stating that a reunified Germany could be member of NATO and according to the protocol, he repeated this statement once more. At a later press conference in Moscow he avoided to talk about it and just declared that “all is in motion.”
From Moscow there was then a 1500 km flight to Stavropol in Northern Caucasus. Here in 1955 Gorbachev had started his political carrier at the age of 24 years as an active organizer of the CP and agricultural expert.  In August 1942 and January 1943 Stavropol had been under German occupation and many people had to flee from the invaders.  This visit was symbolically important. At the War Dead Memorial Monument Gorbachev and Kohl were surrounded by hundreds of citizens, among them many veterans and a veteran speaker made an appeal to Gorbachev and Kohl to do everything so that “Germans and Soviets become partner” and don’t bring about suffering.
Meeting at the Dacha in Archys
Having arrived at the tiny village Archys with their respective delegations (not more than 10 people on each side) Gorbachev and Kohl had the opportunity to go for walks in a very relaxed atmosphere, both wearing blue knitted jackets and sweaters, walking through a beautiful landscape, while preparing the negotiation agenda. Chancellor Kohl at that time spoke about a “Great treaty” including long term cooperation between the SU and Federal Republic, especially economic cooperation. The delegations from both sides negotiated for almost 4 hours in the Dacha dining room (Archys), which at the end resulted in the sovereignty of all of Germany, Lozo recounts. Concerning the withdrawal of soviet troops they agreed on a time frame between three to four years. For Gorbachev Archys became “a singular symbol of German Reunification on soviet soil. In this wonderful environment we settled the Germany unity.”
In the City of Mineralnye Vody, before the German delegation left on July 16th , Kohl and Gorbachev addressed the world press.  Gorbachev asked Kohl to start the press conference, who noted with satisfaction eight points which the two sides had agreed upon, including that reunified Germany which includes the Federal Republic, the DDR and Berlin but no more former areas like East Prussia, Silesia and Pomerania. With the finalizing of unity, the rights of the four victorious powers USA, SU, GB and France should end and Germany acquire full sovereign status. “The reunified Germany can freely decide on its sovereignty, whether and which alliance it wants to join. I have declared as concept of the government for a reunified Germany, that a reunified Germany wants to be member of the Atlantic Alliance and I am sure that this also corresponds to the intention of the government of the DDR,” Kohl said at that occasion. Gorbachev from his side emphasized that the Warsaw Pact had made the first step with the change of its military doctrine, underlining that “what happened in London (NATO summit) was the beginning of a new historical development.”  At the farewell Gorbachev told the delegation that the visit was “the most important international event connected with fundamental changes in the European and World Politics.”
Finding a solution to the historical paradox
Two and half months after the fall of the Berlin wall (10th November 1989), Gorbachev gave up the principle of two German states. Lozo reports that on Friday 26th January 1990 in his office in the Central Committee building (with 6 people present) the decision was made in favor of a reunified Germany- that was kept secret for two weeks. At that meeting Akhromeyev (Chief of Staff) stated that “the days of the SED are numbered …We must get used to the fact that Germany gets reunified,” while Ryshkov said that “all state structures of DDR are destroyed. To want to save DDR is unrealistic.” Gorbachov ordered Akhromeyev to work out a withdrawal plan for the Soviet Army from the DDR. They also discussed the concept of a negotiating group consisting of a negotiation group of victory powers and the two German states- later called 2 + four. Gorbachev had hoped that the citizens of DDR would desire a “renewed socialism” but the majority wanted more reunification; according to Gorbachev’s advisor Chernyaev in an interview with Lozo: “This was key for Gorbachev’s change.”
The fall of the Soviet Union
A major mistake by Gorbachev -as Lozo notes in his book several times- was that right after 1985 he promoted Boris Jelzin (from Sverdlovsk) and had him come to Moscow. Jelzin – it turned out later – with his constant attacks against the Nomenklatura and Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika policy for being too slow- did everything to undermine Gorbachev’s authority until Gorbachev’s resignation end of December 1991. Jelzin’s populism provoked actions such as the strange “August Putsch 1991” with tanks rolling in front of the White House. The putsch, declaring a state emergency, had been secretly staged by hardliners and Gorbachev opponents within the government. During this putsch Jelzin stylized himself as the heroic fighter for freedom against the coup plotters, while Gorbachev was kept imprisoned with his family on the Crimea, being cut off from communication with Moscow. The putsch got finally clamped down. In those days Gorbachev was totally on the defensive, being confronted with growing unrest within the SU (Baltic States, Armenia/ Azerbaijan conflict, upheaval in Tiflis, mass protests and strikes).
While it was Gorbachev’s aim was to preserve the Federal State and get a new Union Treaty, Jelzin wanted an alliance of states. On December 7th 1991 Jelzin, Stanislav Shushkevich (White Russia) and Leonid Kravchuk (Ukraine) secretly met in the Villa Viskuli near Brest. Gennadi Burbulis, vice Prime Minister of the Soviet Republic Russia, declared at that occasion that the “three treaty partners declare that the Soviet Union as a subject of international law and as geopolitical reality has ceased to exist.” The three republics gave the order to work out the founding treaty for the Association of Independent states “CIS” (GUS).  On 8th December the three republican leaders signed the historical document, and in the same night they called US President Bush as well as President Gorbachev, who resigned on the 25th of December 1991.Under Jelzin’s presidency an era of chaos and anarchy began, where with the help of a “voucher system,” the backbone of Soviet industry got sold out to the Oligarchs.

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