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The End of the USSR, 20 Years Later

Moscow Conference Debates Breakup of the Soviet Union

Documents Show U.S.-Soviet Cooperation on Regional Conflicts in 1991

Gorbachev Decries Lack of Western Aid to Support Perestroika

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 364

Posted - November 22, 2011

For more information contact:
Tom Blanton - 202/994-7068
Svetlana Savranskaya - 202/994-7190
nsarchiv@gwu.edu

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Introduction

Anatoly Chernyaev's Address

Conference Schedule

Participant Biographies

Washington D.C., November 22, 2011 - Marking the 20th anniversary of the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Gorbachev Foundation hosted a two-day conference in Moscow on November 10-11, co-organized by the National Security Archive and the Carnegie Moscow Center, examining the historical experience of 1989-1991 and the echoes today. The conference briefing book, compiled and edited by the Archive and posted on the Web today together with the conference program and speaker biographies, includes previously classified Soviet and American documents ranging from Politburo notes to CIA assessments to transcripts of phone calls between George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in the final months of the Soviet Union.

At the Moscow event, panels of distinguished eyewitnesses, veterans and scholars discussed Gorbachev's political reforms of the 1980s, the crisis in the Soviet economy, the origins and impact of the "new thinking," the role of society and social movements, and the ways the history is used and abused in current political debates. While Gorbachev himself was unable to participate for health reasons, he subsequently met with the conference organizers to give his reactions and retrospective analysis.

The Carnegie Moscow Center followed up the conference with a November 14 discussion, also co-organized by the Archive, using the same format of expert panels to analyze the impact of nationalism and separatism in the events of 1991, the role of the Soviet military, military reform today in the Russian armed forces, and the situation today in the North Caucasus and other ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet space.

At the Gorbachev Foundation conference, the panel on political reform debated the role of leaders as opposed to structural forces in the decline of the USSR, the competition between Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin especially in 1991, the particular Yeltsin factor including his arrangement with the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus in December 1991 to dissolve the USSR, and in the big picture, the declining legitimacy of the Soviet system over the duration of the Cold War.

The panel on economics discussed various options for modernizing the Soviet economy in the 1980s, whether the system was even reformable, the efforts of the Communist apparat to sabotage even modest reforms, the barriers in Western thinking that prevented any significant foreign aid to the Soviet Union in its last years, and the role of international financial institutions.

The panel on "new thinking" analyzed the dramatic changes in Soviet foreign policy under Gorbachev, the ultimately failed efforts at integrating Russia with Europe, the successes in U.S.-Soviet cooperation for settling regional conflicts, and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988-89. This discussion also sparked a debate within the audience about the Gorbachev-Reagan ideas of nuclear abolition and their relevance for today.

The society panel described the extensive social demand for glasnost during the 1980s in stark contrast to today, the disintegration of social structures and public space in Russia since 1991, the importance of the dissident discourse of the 1960s and 1970s to the reformist elite and perestroika in the 1980s, and the unpreparedness of society for the various forms of extreme nationalist discourse that erupted at the end of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev himself sat down with the conference organizers on November 14 after his return from Germany and following the two events at the Gorbachev Foundation and the Carnegie Moscow Center. He discussed the current political situation in Russia, with the "tandem" of Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev trading jobs with only a fašade of elections, and under conditions of growing authoritarianism; but he predicted the "exhaustion" of this program and the eventual introduction of real change, rather than indefinite stagnation.

Gorbachev also commented on the issue of the lack of Western aid for his project of perestroika and glasnost - transforming the Soviet Union into a demilitarized, social democratic state that would work with the U.S. and other countries to resolve regional conflicts and build a "common home" in Europe and cooperative security arrangements globally. Coming back "empty-handed" from the G-7 meeting in the summer of 1991, Gorbachev commented, undermined his reform efforts, helped precipitate the August coup attempt, and undercut any possibility of gradual transition for the USSR. Participating in the discussion with Gorbachev were Pulitzer-Prize winners William Taubman and David Hoffman, Professor Jane Taubman, and National Security Archive representatives Tom Blanton, Malcolm Byrne, and Svetlana Savranskaya.


Photos from the Gorbachev Foundation Conference.

DOCUMENTS

Documents from the conference briefing book.

AMERICAN DOCUMENTS

Document 1
U.S. Embassy Moscow, Cable, Jack Matlock to State Department, "The Soviet Union over the Next Four Years," February 3, 1989

Document 2
U.S. Embassy Moscow, Cable, Jack Matlock to State Department, "The Soviet Union over the Next Four Years," February 13, 1989

Document 3
U.S. Embassy Moscow, Cable, Jack Matlock to State Department, "U.S.-Soviet Relations: Policy Opportunities," February 22, 1989

Document 4
CIA, Intelligence Assessment, "Rising Political Instability under Gorbachev: Understanding the Problem and Prospects for Resolution," April 1989 (Key Judgments only)

Document 5
CIA, Intelligence Assessment, "Gorbachev's Domestic Gambles and Instability in the USSR," September 1989 (Key Judgments only)

Document 6
U.S. Embassy Moscow, Cable, Jack Matlock (drafted by Raymond F. Smith) to State Department, "Looking into the Abyss: The Possible Collapse of the Soviet Union and What We should Be Doing About It," July 13, 1990

Document 7
White House, Memorandum of Conversation, "Meeting with President Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR," Helsinki, September 9, 1990, 2:30 - 5:00 p.m.

Document 8
White House, Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, "Telephone Conversation with President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union," January 18, 1991, 9:23 - 10:34 a.m.

Document 9
White House, Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, "Telcon with President Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR on February 23, 1991," February 23, 1991, 11:15 - 11:43 a.m.

Document 10
CIA, Report, "The Soviet Cauldron," April 25, 1991

Document 11
White House, Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, "Telcon with President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union on May 11, 1991," May 11, 1991, 9:03 - 9:47 a.m.

Document 12
CIA, Report, "Gorbachev's Future," May 23, 1991 (Key Judgments only)

Document 13
White House, Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, "Telephone Conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the Soviet Union," June 21, 1991, 10:00 - 10:38 a.m.

Document 14
White House, Memorandum of Conversation, "Expanded Bilateral Meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR," Moscow, July 30, 1991, 12:55 - 1:22 p.m.

Document 15
White House, Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, "Telcon with President Boris Yeltsin of the Russian Republic, USSR," August 21, 1991, 8:30 - 9:50 a.m.

Document 16
White House, Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, "Telcon with President Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR," August 21, 1991, 12:19 - 12:31 p.m.

Document 17
White House, Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, "Telcon with Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the USSR," September 27, 1991, 9:22 - 9:50 a.m.

Document 18
CIA, Intelligence Assessment, "The Politics of Russian Nationalisms," October 1991 (Key Judgments only)

Document 19
CIA, Analysis, "The Soviet Economy Unravels: 1985-91," circa February 1993

RUSSIAN DOCUMENTS

Document 1
Politburo, "Questions of the upcoming CC Plenum on agrarian policies," January 24, 1989

Document 2
Politburo, "On measures for the financial health of the economy and strengthening monetary circulation," February 16, 1989

Document 3
Politburo, "Outcomes of elections of People's Deputies of the USSR," March 28, 1989

Document 4
Politburo, "On the situation in the Republics of the Soviet Baltic States," August 16, 1989

Document 5
Politburo, "On additional measures in the information sphere," November 18, 1989

Document 6
Politburo, "On the events in Eastern Europe and the USSR's position," January 2, 1990

Document 7
Politburo, "On urgent measures to improve the financial situation and the consumer market," January 29, 1990

Document 8
Politburo, "On our line in relation to the upcoming elections in Nicaragua," February 17, 1990.

Document 9
Politburo, "Outcomes of elections for the RSFSR Congress of People's Deputies," March 22, 1990

Document 10
A.N. Yakovlev, Note to M.S. Gorbachev "On the changing situation in the country," June 2, 1990

Document 11
Politburo, "Gorbachev's meeting with Presidents, Supreme Soviet Chairmen of the Union Republics," October 13, 1990.

Document 12
A.N. Yakovlev's Analytical Note to M.S. Gorbachev, "Perestroika and opposition: areas of common interest and points of conflict," April 2, 1991.

Document 13
A.N. Yakovlev, Note to M.S. Gorbachev, "On the danger of a conservative comeback," April 30, 1991

Document 14
Decree of the CC CPSU Secretariat, "On the approaches to the creation of free economic zones in the USSR," May 15, 1991

Document 15
A.N. Yakovlev, Note to M.S. Gorbachev, "On the Draft CPSU Program," June 25, 1991.

Document 16
A.N. Yakovlev, Open Letter to Communists, August 16, 1991.

Document 17
Emergency Session of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet, August 21, 1991.

Document 18
Letter from M.S. Gorbachev to George Bush, October 18, 1991.

Document 19
Session of the State Council, November 4, 1991.

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