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but the actual shifts in power within the Warsaw Pact. These included the beginning of the “roundtable" discussions in Poland in January-February 1989, which ultimately produced free elections in the summer (swept by Solidarity), and the March 1989 multicandidate elections in the Soviet Union, which put reformers and dissidents, including Andrei Sakharov, into the Congress of People's Deputies. By May 1989, these extraordinary developments led former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to tell the Washington Post's Don Oberdorfer: “We are quite literally in the early phases of what might be called the postcommunist era."9
The most public finale of the Cold War, of course, came with the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989. In the words of then-deputy national security adviser and future CIA director Robert Gates: “No one who watched on television will ever forget the images of crowds of East and West Germans dancing on top of the Wall, hacking away bits of it for souvenirs, and finally dismantling whole sections with construction machinery. If there ever was a symbolic moment when most of the world thought the Cold War ended, it was that night in Berlin."
One of Gates' staff at the time, Robert Hutchings of the NSC, puts the date of his “epiphany" a little earlier. “Most of us dealing with these issues in the United States or in Europe had our epiphanies, our moments of realization that the end of Europe's division might actually be at hand—not just as an aspiration for the 1990s but as an imminent reality," Mr. Hutchings writes. “For many it came with the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9; others may have had premonitions already in early 1989 (although surely not as many as later claimed such prescience). Mine came with the election of Tadeusz Mazowiecki and the early steps taken by his government. The United States was working hard to persuade the Soviet Union that self-determination in Eastern Europe could be achieved in a manner consistent with legitimate Soviet security interests; now, in Poland, the Mazowiecki government was living proof of that contention, offering an early glimmer of what post-Cold War Europe might look like. (To be sure, even the most optimistic scenario for this transition was still being measured in years, not months.)"11
But all of these memorable moments represented initiatives by Gorbachev or by the East Europeans themselves forcing change. Where was the evidence of new thinking" by the United States?
For the Russian historian Vladislav Zubok, that evidence appeared at Malta, at the Bush-Gorbachev summit in early December 1989. President Bush's restraint, his unwillingness to "dance on the Wall," so to speak, his reassurance to Gorbachev as superpower-peer, their joint press conference (the first in the history of superpower summitry)—all adds up to the end of the Cold War. 12 More support for this view comes from Gorbachev's own statement, which appeared in Pravda on 5 December that “The world is leaving one epoch, the
Cold War,' and entering a new one."13 Gennadii Gerasimov told reporters after Malta: “We buried the Cold War at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea."14
But, again, these are the Soviet announcements of the end of the Cold War. For the American announcement, we must turn to Christmas Eve, Sunday, 24 December 1989. Secretary of State James Baker, appearing on NBC Television's "Meet The Press” show, said the United States would not object if the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies used military force to assist the Romanian revolutionaries who had just deposed the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.15 Raymond Garthoff describes this statement as “an extraordinary illustration of how rapidly and far the changing situation in Eastern Europe had affected American thinking and U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union.... It would have been hard to find a more striking example reflecting American recognition of the end of the Cold War."16
For Robert Hutchings, however, Baker's statement was “an unfortunate comment, but one that was not quite as egregious as it seemed."17 According to Hutchings, “The context was this. The day before Baker made his remark, officials of the provisional (Romanian) government appealed to Moscow and the West for help, claiming they were running out of ammunition and feared being overwhelmed by the well-armed Ceausescu loyalists. Responding to this appeal, French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas offered to send a brigade of volunteers and said he would welcome Soviet assistance as well, without specifying whether he meant sending fresh supplies of ammunition or rendering more direct ‘assistance.' It was in response to a question about Dumas's position that Baker made his statement. The desire not to offend his French counterpart may be part of the explanation, but Baker evidently was swayed by the argument that Soviet intervention on the side of pro-democracy forces, in response to their specific appeal for help, would be preferable to seeing the revolution fail and the Ceausescus returned to power.” Hutchings says this was by no means the dominant view" among U.S. policymakers, and the next day a White House “clarification” of Baker's remarks expressly opposed any Soviet intervention in Romania. 18
But Baker had already sent instructions to Moscow, tasking Ambassador Jack F. Matlock, Jr., to feel out Soviet intentions on Romania. And so, on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1989, with Moscow some eight hours ahead of Washington, Ambassador Matlock went to the Soviet Foreign Ministry and met with Deputy Foreign Minister I. P. Aboimov. According to the Soviet documents attached to this article, Matlock's message—while veiled in diplomatic indirection—was as striking as anything Baker said on TV, amounting to an invitation for the Soviets to intervene in Romania. In 1994, the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation declassified and published these selected documents, for the obvious reason that the Soviets come off quite well in the exchange with the Americans. 19 The complete record of Soviet actions and conversations
remains to be seen.
The key document for this discussion is the final one in the series published by the Foreign Ministry, a 25 December memorandum of conversation written by Deputy Foreign Minister Aboimov of his meeting the day before with Matlock. Since 24 December was a Sunday, presumably Foreign Minister Shevardnadze as well as Secretary General Gorbachev were not to be found at the office, but in their dachas.
Interestingly, Ambassador Matlock's 1995 book on the fall of the Soviet Union does not mention the discussion detailed here in the Soviet notes of the conversation. Only a very indirect hint emerges from the Matlock passage that reads as follows: "After Germany, the most traumatic event in the onetime Soviet bloc for the Communist Party and the KGB was the bloody revolution that took place in Romania at the end of the year. The violence directed at Ceausescu and his family, and members of the hated Securitate secret police, was covered in great detail by the Soviet press, and television did not spare its viewers the scenes of violence. But when the anti-Ceausescu forces invited Soviet intervention to support them, Moscow refused, signaling that the days of military intervention in Eastern Europe-even under conditions the West might have found tolerable—were over.'
Compare the language Matlock uses here—"even under conditions the West might have found tolerable"with the language his Soviet counterpart uses to describe the U.S. approach: “Then Matlock touched on the issue that, apparently, he wanted to raise from the very beginning of the conversation. The Administration, he said, is very interested in knowing if the possibility of military assistance by the Soviet Union to the Romanian National Salvation Front is totally out of question. Matlock suggested (probrosil) the following option: what would the Soviet Union do if an appropriate appeal came from the Front? Simultaneously, the Ambassador hinted at the idea, apparently on instructions from Washington. He let us know that under the present circumstances the military involvement of the Soviet Union in Romanian affairs might not be regarded in the context (podpadat' pod) of “the Brezhnev doctrine.""
The Soviet diplomat Aboimov quickly refused Matlock's implied invitation: "To this sounding out (zondazh) by the American [Ambassador) I answered completely clearly and unequivocally, presenting our principled position. I declared that we did not visualize, even theoretically, such a scenario. We stand against any interference in the domestic affairs of other states and we intend to pursue this line firmly and without deviations. Thus, the American side may consider that 'the Brezhnev doctrine’ is now theirs as our gift.”
This last phrase clearly refers to the American invasion of Panama which had just occurred on 20 December 1989. Some 13,000 U.S. troops had moved overnight into that Central American country to remove its dictator, Manuel Noriega, a long-time U.S. intelligence
asset. The Soviet language here indicates that they believed the U.S. invitation to be at best “stupid,” as Foreign Minister Shevardnadze later told American writers Michael Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, and at worst a provocation intended to put the Soviet Union in a position parallel to that of the U.S. in Panama 21
The Beschloss and Talbott account, clearly based on their interviews with Shevardnadze, leaves the impression that the Soviet Foreign Minister made his remonstrances directly to Matlock. At least according to the documents at hand (as well as Ambassador Matlock's own memory), this was not the case. Similarly, Aboimov's pointed comment—"Thus, the American side may consider that the Brezhnev doctrine'is now theirs as our gift"—differs somewhat from the version provided by Beschloss and Talbott, who have Aboimov saying "with unconcealed bitterness, 'It seems that we've turned the Brezhnev Doctrine over to you!""22
At the heart of Matlock's case to the Soviets was the notion of an “appropriate appeal” from the Romanians for military assistance. According to the Soviet memcon, his question on 24 December couched this in the conditional-what if such an appeal came?—suggesting that no such appeal had yet been made. However, Matlock's memoirs turn the conditional into a past tense: “the antiCeausescu forces invited” and “Moscow refused.”:23 Likewise, Hutchings' account cites a Romanian appeal on “the day before Baker made his remark,"24 which would have been the day before Matlock's meeting. In contrast, a contemporary account, by Don Oberdorfer in The Washington Post on 25 December quotes "Washington officials” as saying "the only [Romanian] requests as of yesterday (24 December, the day of Matlock's meeting and Baker's TV appearance) were part of a general appeal for medical supplies and other emergency aid.”25
The Aboimov memorandum of his meeting with Matlock certainly ranks as the headline document of this small batch, but the other five released by the Russian Foreign Ministry also reward close attention. They include some highly suggestive details on the Romanian situation in December 1989, in two additional categories: First, on the issue of possible Soviet involvement in plotting the fall of Ceausescu; and second, on the actual events in Timisoara and elsewhere in Romania, as expressed in Soviet discussions with the Romanian, Hungarian, and Yugoslav ambassadors to Moscow.
Did the Soviets plot the fall of the dictator Ceausescu? The second document here, of a conversation of Aboimov with the Romanian ambassador I. Bukur (on 21 December) describes specific allegations from Ceausescu, directed to the Soviet charge d'affaires in Bucharest, that the Timisoara protests arose because “the Soviet Union and other states, members of the Warsaw Treaty” were involved in “coordinated activities allegedly aimed at the SRR.”
However, the first Russian document published here suggests, but does not prove, that the answer is no, at least for the highest levels of the Soviet Union. Here we have the Foreign Minister saying to Secretary General Gorbachev, both of them leaders of the Politburo, that the Soviets were having to rely on Western telegraph services for their news of Romania as of 20 December—the day the army ceased its attack on the Timisoara demonstrations and the protesters proclaimed Timisoara a liberated city, five days after the first protests sought to protect pastor Lazslo Tokes, and three days after the army-Securitate crackdown.26 This Shevardnadze-to-Gorbachev message does not mean that the lower levels of the Soviet apparat, for example the KGB resident in Bucharest, were not plotting; indeed, based on a Ceausescu-mocking editorial in Izvestiia on 17 November 1989, R. Craig Nation concludes that "the involvement of Soviet security forces in the plot to topple the dictator is a distinct possibility:"27 But this evidence does suggest strongly that the KGB was not providing much good information to the top. If the Soviet experience in East Germany one month earlier is any parallel, the KGB could well have become hostage in an informational sense to the very secret police forces it had nurtured and the outside world assumed to be so powerful. In that case, the Stasi completely underestimated the power of the public protests and the likelihood of the fall of the Wall.
Why should we believe this document? I think there is a relatively simple answer: If evidence existed in the Soviet files of Gorbachev plotting with the KGB to overthrow Ceausescu, against all of Gorbachev's public speeches about non-intervention, President Yeltsin would probably have released such documents, as he did so many others derogatory of Gorbachev, during the consolidation of power after 1991 and certainly in time for the Presidential campaign in 1996, in which Gorbachev won about 1% of the vote.28 The Politburo files continue to be under Yeltsin's direct control, with access strictly limited to favored researchers.29 Likewise, these Foreign Ministry files are declassified today clearly because they make the Foreign Ministry look good. We have not seen the same kinds of files on other revolutions in Eastern Europe, nor the complete record groups of any of these files, and until we do, we cannot draw complete conclusions about Soviet behavior in 1989.
But for Romanians and for historians of that epochal year 1989, these documents, limited as they are, provide some fascinating detail on Warsaw Pact diplomatic conversations at the very end of the Cold War. Almost quaint, were they not so dripping with venom, are the representations of Ceausescu's ambassador to Moscow, I. Bukur. In this view, the heroic pastor Tokes simply serves as an agent of "outside" (read revanchist Hungarian) interests and possibly Western intelligence services as well.
The conversations with the Hungarian and Yugoslav ambassadors also give us a wealth of detail about the events in Romania from the perspective of three very concerned (and still Communist) governments. Hungary's
Birnbauer visits the Soviet Foreign Ministry on December 22 only hours after Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu had boarded a helicopter on the roof of the Communist Party headquarters in downtown Bucharest to flee from massive street demonstrations and chaotic violence in the form of Securitate-versus-army shootout. Referring to an atmosphere of concern and mourning in Budapest, Birnbauer says, “No doubt that the events of the past few hours will drastically alter this mood.” For his part, the Yugoslav ambassador clearly has the best information from the ground in Romania, probably because the Yugoslav consulate staff in Timisoara served as eyewitnesses to the events there.
The day after Ambassador Matlock received the Brezhnev Doctrine as a Christmas gift, a Romanian firing squad shot Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu after a farcical trial. Over the next month, the Romanian revolution turned out to be a coup d'état in effect, stage-managed by nomenklatura of the Ceausescu regime who did not hesitate to bring in the traditional Party enforcers, the truncheon-wielding miners, to crush dissent (as in the University of Bucharest student protests of April-June 1990).30 This murky history exemplifies precisely the lack of finality that Ambassador Hutchings refers to in his history of the end of the Cold War. For many Romanians, the internal Cold War did not really end until November 1996, when voters replaced Ceausescu's former aide, President Ion Iliescu, with the rector (Emil Constantinescu) of the University of Bucharest, which to this day carries the sign: “Neo-Communist Free Zone."
Thomas S. Blanton is director of the National Security
and Vladislav Zubok for superb translation.
Robert L. Hutchings, American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War: An Insider's Account of U.S. Policy in Europe, 19891992 (Washington, D.C. and Baltimore: The Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 343. 2
See, for example, Charles Krauthammer, “Build a Cold War Memorial,” The Washington Post, 28 March 1997, p. A29: “We know its exact dates. On March 12, 1947, the United States entered the fight (late, as usual: Stalin had been at it at least since V-E Day). And it ended at the stroke of midnight, Dec. 31 (sic), 1991, when the Soviet Union didn't just surrender, it vanished from the map." 3
Alessandra Stanley, “More Worldly Than Wise,” Time, 15 August 1988, p. 18, quoted in Don Oberdorfer, The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era (New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 329.
4 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “The CIA's Credibility,” The National Interest (Winter 1995/96), p. 111. For the full text of Gorbachev's speech, see FBIS-SOV-99-236, 8 December 1988,
Quoted in Don Oberdorfer, The Turn, p. 319. 6 R. Craig Nation, Black Earth, Red Star: A History of Soviet Security Policy, 1917-1991 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), p. 308. 7 R. Craig Nation, Black Earth, Red Star, p. 308: “A more straightforward repudiation of the Brezhnev Doctrine could scarcely be imagined.... " 8 Michael R. Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War (Boston: Little Brown, 1994), p. 134. 9 Quoted in Don Oberdorfer, The Turn, p.
Robert M. Gates, From The Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 468. 11
Hutchings, American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War,
26 For a detailed hour-by-hour chronology of the Timisoara events, based on eyewitness reports and contemporary documents, see Florin Medelet and Mihai Ziman, O Cronica a Revolutiei Din Timisoara 16-22 Decembrie 1989 (Timisoara: Muzeul Banatului Timisoara, April 1990, 31 pp.). 27 R. Craig Nation, Black Earth, Red Star, p. 309. 28 Ed. note: Most of these documents were gathered in the Storage Center for Contemporary Documentation (TsKhSD) as fond 89. It is also available on microfilm from ChadwickHealey. 29 For an incisive review of the Soviet archival situation, see Raymond Garthoff, “Some Observations on Using the Soviet Archives,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Spring 1997), pp. 243-257. 30 For the best review in English of these events, see Vladi Tismaneanu, Reinventing Politics: Eastern Europe from Stalin to Havel (New York: The Free Press, 1993 pb.), pp. 223-236. See also Martyn Rady, Romania in Turmoil (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1992), pp. 91-144; and for a literary view, Andrei Codrescu, “Romania Today: A Bad Novel,” in The Muse Is Always HalfDressed In New Orleans and other essays (New York: Picador USA, 1995).
To Comrade GORBACHEV M.S.
12 Personal communication, March 14, 1997; see also Beschloss and Talbott, At the Highest Levels, p. 135. 13
Quoted in Raymond Garthoff, The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War (Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1994), p. 408. 14 Beschloss and Talbott, At the Highest Levels, p. 165. 15
Don Oberdorfer, “Baker Implies U.S. Would Back East-Bloc Military Aid to Rebels; French, Dutch Would Support Soviet Role in Romania,” The Washington Post, 25 December 1989, pp. A37, A40. 16 Garthoff, The Great Transition, p. 408. 17
Hutchings, American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War, p. 86. Ambassador Jack F. Matlock, Jr. does not agree that Mr. Baker's comment was “unfortunate”; rather, “under the circumstances we would not have minded some limited Soviet assistance to the NSF (National Salvation Front) and it did not hurt to let the Soviets know.” Matlock letter to the author, 21 May 1997. 18 Statement by the press secretary, White House, 25 December 1989, cited in Hutchings, American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War, p. 381. 19 The Russian versions, in transcript rather than facsimile, are to be found in Diplomaticheskii vestnik, No. 21/22, November 1994, pp. 74-80. The present writer has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the State Department for Secretary Baker's instructions and Ambassador Matlock's response, neither of which has yet been declassified. Ambassador Matlock notes that the memcon accords with his own memory of the conversation. Matlock letter to the author, 21 May 1997. 20 Jack F. Matlock, Jr., Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador's Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union, (New York: Random House, 1995), pp. 261-262. 21 Beschloss and Talbott, At the Highest Levels, pp. 170-171. 22 Matlock letter to the author, 21 May 1997; Beschloss and Talbott, At the Highest Levels, p. 171. 23 Matlock, Autopsy on an Empire, p. 262. Ambassador Matlock "was told that there had been Romanian appeals for Soviet assistance - thus the instruction to me—but I have no direct knowledge of such appeals.” Matlock letter to the author, 21 May 1997. 24
Hutchings, American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War,
On the events in Romania in the last few days we can still only judge on the basis of information that comes from news agencies, primarily Western ones. This information is often contradictory and does not allow one to construct a true picture.
Our attempts to obtain the official version via Bucharest produced no results. Today, 20 December the Romanian ambassador will be invited to the MFA USSR [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics] in order to obtain from him information on this issue.
Until we have complete and objective information, we should not, in our opinion, be in haste to make a statement of the USSR Congress of People's Deputies, at best we could go not further than instructing the Commission on Foreign Affairs (of the Congress' Supreme Soviet) to prepare a draft proposal on our possible reaction with all circumstances in mind.
20 December 1989
(Source: Diplomaticheskii vestnik, no. 21/22, November 1994, pp. 74-79. Translated by Vladislav Zubok.]
25 Oberdorfer, “Baker Implies U.S. Would Back East-Bloc Military Aid to Rebels,” p. A40.
From the diary of ABOIMOV I.P.
From the diary of I.P. ABOIMOV
23 December 1989
21 December 1989
Memorandum of conversation with the Ambassador of the SRR (Socialist Republic of
Romania in the USSR
Record of conversation with the Ambassador of the SFRY (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia]
in the USSR, MILAN VERES
22 December 1989
I received I. Bukur, fulfilling his request.
The Ambassador recounted the address of N. Ceausescu on Romanian radio and television on 20 December and handed over its complete text.
When I asked if the events in Timisoara involved human casualties and what the present situation was in that region, the Ambassador responded that he possesses no information on this issue. He referred to the fact that the address of N. Ceausescu also says nothing on this score.
I told the Ambassador that during the meeting of N. Ceausescu with the Soviet charge d'affaires in the SRR on 20 December (the former expressed surprise that Soviet representatives made declarations on the events in Timisoara. Besides, during the meeting it was asserted (by Ceausescu) that the Romanian side possesses information that the action in Timisoara was allegedly prepared and organized with the consent of countries (that are] members of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Moreover, the actions against Romania were allegedly plotted within the framework of the Warsaw Treaty Organization.
According to our information, officials in Bucharest in conversation with ambassadors of allied socialist states expressed an idea about some kind of action of interference into the internal affairs of the SRR allegedly under preparation in the Soviet Union.
I must declare on behalf of our side that such assertions can only puzzle us, have no foundation and do not correspond with reality (until this part Aboimov probably read the instructions. ]
Answering the Ambassador's question as to whether my words reflected the official viewpoint of the Soviet government, I told him that so far I have no instruction to make any declarations on behalf of the Soviet government, but my words certainly reflect our official position which postulates that the Soviet Union builds its relations with allied socialist states on the basis of equality, mutual respect and strict non-interference into domestic affairs. Considering the grave character of the statements of Romanian officials I cannot help expressing in preliminary order our attitude to these statements....
I received M. Veres on his request.
He referred to the instruction of the Union Secretariat on Foreign Affairs of the SFRY and shared the available information on the events in Romania, corroborated by the General Consulate of the SFRY in Timisoara and by numerous Yugoslav citizens who returned from the SRR. He also reported on the Yugoslav evaluations of the developments in Romania.
The beginning of the dramatic development could be traced to the events of 15-16 December in Timisoara where a large group of people protested against the action of the authorities with regard to the priest L. Tokes. This process grew into a huge demonstration of the population of the city against the existing order. According to the estimates of officials of the General Consulate of the SFRY, there were up to 100,000 people, including workers, university and school students, who participated in the demonstration. Protest actions took place also in Arad, Brasov and Cluj. Large contingents of militia and military were used against demonstrators in Timisoara. According to the Yugoslavs, during those clashes several hundred people died, and according to some unchecked data the number of casualties exceeded 2,000. In the downtown area shops, restaurants, cafes were destroyed, many streetcars and automobiles were also burnt down. Timisoara is surrounded by troops, but protest actions continue in the city. Workers seized factories and are threatening to blow them up if the authorities do not satisfy the people's demands. Officials of the General Consulate of the SFRY, the Ambassador remarked, noticed that a number of soldiers and militiamen expressed their sympathies with demonstrators. There were also slogans “The Army will not shoot at students and school children.”
The Yugoslav-Romanian border is practically sealed; its defenses are fortified by troops along its whole length, including check-points. So far the Romanian side authorized only the passing of people with diplomatic and other service passports. The Ambassador informed us that the Yugoslavs had evacuated members of the families of officials of their General Consulate. He disavowed reports of a number of Western news agencies that participants of the demonstration (in Timisoara) found refuge on the territory of the Yugoslav compound, whose premises allegedly were penetrated by Romanian militia.
According to Yugoslav estimates, stressed M. Veres, the main reason for disorders in Timisoara and their spread subsequently around a number of other cities, including the capital of the SRR, is rooted in profound popular dissatisfaction with the economic situation in the country
(Source: Diplomaticheskii vestnik, no. 21/22, November 1994, pp. 74-79. Translated by Vladislav Zubok.]