KOMMERSANT Vlast, APRIL 20, 2005
"Reagan Provoked Us to Slam the Door"
"Vlast" magazine continues to publish interviews with people who
shaped the Soviet Union's foreign policy in the years of
'perestroika'. Valentin Falin who at that time headed the
international department of the CC CPSU, told the "Vlast"
correspondent Marina Kalashnikova about the emergence of the "new
"Americans carried out the operation to deprive the USSR of currency"
How did you get to Gorbachev's team?
In December 1985 he invited me, through Shevardnadze, to join his
team. At first I refused. I said I was quite happy with my present
work and was not going to change it. In January Yakovlev phoned me and
asked whether I wasn't tired of my holiday-making. He had in mind my
research work at the Institute of US and Canada Studies and journalist
work in the "Izvestia". He invited me to come to his country house. I
agreed. It turned out that Yakovlev set up a group of authors of the
foreign-policy section of Gorbachev's report to the 27th CPSU
congress. He said to me that I was completely free to write anything I
think fit to change our foreign-policy doctrine and course in all
directions. I insisted that a passage on China be included. Another
point of mine was to mention Reagan who provoked us to slam the door,
but, as I said, "we will not please him with this act." Instead we
will work out a doctrine of defence sufficiency. Yakovlev looked
through my text and added something. That was how the new political
thinking came into being.
How was the main task of perestroika' in foreign policy formulated?
The task was to build a wall between the period of Gromyko and the new
period. Shevardnadze was appointed Foreign Minister, although he
didn't know the history of the problem, what was to follow what, and
in general, didn't want to know. He was not a professional diplomat.
Just remember the Decembrist Lunin who would say: "Politics is the
same profession as, say, medicine." Especially foreign policy.
And what was the international department like, where you landed in
the heat of perestroika'?
I was appointed there in November 1988. Work was built on the
principle of partnership, as it were. We had about 200 partners, most
of them the so-called Marxist communist parties and parties of
socialist orientation. The rest were bourgeois-democratic,
social-democratic and liberal parties. For some reason or other,
representatives of Judaism were favourably disposed toward me and
asked me either to help the Moscow synagogue, or build synagogues on
the territory of Ukraine and Byelorussia, or do something somewhere. I
was given an assignment to reduce the number of jobs at three
departments: international, on connections with the socialst countries
and on the personnel working abroad, and merge them in one department.
Now we should have a new questionnaire for people going abroad for
work or on a visit on just one page. The only reason for refusal was
access to classified information with a limitation period from three
to five years.
It's intertesting to note that the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of
Japan, Abe, didn't want to deal with our Foreign Ministry, but wished
to get in touch with me personally. He talked on the subject of the
northern territories, and there emerged an interesting model of
solving the problem. I suggested that Gorbachev use it during his
visit to Japan in April 1991. But he didn't, the favourable moment was
missed and everything crumbled.
My first proposal as the head of the international department (and one
of the first clashes with Shevardnadze) was one on the establishment
of trade relations with South Korea. The Foreign Ministry objected,
fearing a conflict with North Korea. With Yakovlev's help we managed
to persuade Shevardnadze to agree and he, with Gorbachev's consent,
assured the leadership of North Korea that our relations would not be
spoilt. My model was simple: to recognize the status quo of the two
Korean states, just as we did with regard of the status quo of the two
German states. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to talk of the
normalization of the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
And what did you suggest for foreign policy toward Europe?
I had an argument with the Minister of Defence, Dmitry Yazov. "What's
the purpose of having 60,00 tanks. If there's going to be a war in
Europe, it'll be nuclear." And he answered: "Honestly, I don't know
the reason myself. Recently I arrived to a tank corps at night
unawares and ordered ready for action'. One-third of the tanks
couldn't start their engines." The inertia of thinking is a bad thing.
When we had no nuclear weapons or very few of them, tanks were the
most effective means for crossing atomic fields after explosion. The
United States built a mine belt along the eastern border of the
Federal Republic of Germany, and our tanks were supposed to cross it.
Our industry manufactured 3,000 tanks annually, and they were the
world's best. Thus euphoria came into being: we shall go in the
direction where we're ahead of the entire planet.
In 1984 plans were publi shed of the occupation of West Berlin by the
Warsaw Treaty countries. What can you say on the subject?
That was in case NATO started a war. The US biggest intelligence
centre was there, directing the entire intelligence and subversive
infrastructure created by the Americans in the German Democratic
Republic, the Warsaw Treaty countries and partially in western regions
of the USSR. They should have been neutralized in case of war.
Then why did the plan envisage special internment places for hostile
elements and the organization of life after the war?
Don't compare it: as if we had, and they didn't have.
But Nato had a defence strategy in Europe.
Don't talk rubbish. The NATO strategy was initially offensive, never
defensive. The United States was not going to wait passively until we
strike. There were reliable documents on the score obtained by our
East German friends.
It appears that in 1985 when we were in Europe we knew everything
about our enemy and were strong as never before. And only two years
later we rapidly flee from there. What was the reason?
We fled due to another reason. The agony of the USSR began in the
latter half of the 1970s. President Carter initiated 12 new military
programmes in the United States and we answered it with something,
too. But we had bad agricultural years and economic shortages. Then
the United States carried out a strategic operation aimed at depriving
the Soviet Union of currency, by making oil prices drop to $5-6 per
barrel. Our cost was $11-14. The situation that emerged at the time
called for the appearance of Gorbachev. But he came without any
programme or concrete idea. Thanks to his rule the country faced the
situation when there were no means to buy food. He squandered all gold
reserves. In short, as far as the external reasons for the crisis were
concerned, everything was made intentionally. As for the domestic
reasons, it was due to the lack of elementary knowledge. As a result,
there was nothing to finance perestroika'.
"The Real Plan Was to Split the Communist party"
Was the slogan of acceleration removed due to s drop in the price of oil?
Yes, partly. Because we were simply unable to compete with the West.
Gorbachev put the question of changes in the military industry, for
which it was necessary to revise the foreign-policy doctrine. Thus,
the "new political thinking" appeared.
But the Soviet people could get along with food shortages endlessly,
whereas their leaders had enough of everything.
All this empty talk about the nomenklatura has nothing to do with
reality. Perhaps, there were cases of embezzlement and abuse of power,
but they concern a group of several hundred persons for the entire
Soviet Union. I worked at the Foreign Ministry at the time and had no
normal holiday for years on end. When I left work there I learnt that
the ministry had a forest retreat for hunting, and some high officials
visited it, but I had never been there.
What prompted Gorbachev to take extreme decisions?
Gorbachev believed that the main quality of a politician was his
ability to improvize, that it was not necessary to have a system, a
programme when coming to power. For instance, he heeded the advice of
Ligachev or somebody else concerning, say, the anti-alcohol campaign,
and we lost not only the incomes from oil export, but also tax incomes
from selling vodka and wine. Moreover, we destroyed our vineyards and
closed down distilleries and encouraged boot-legging. We didn't take
into acount the American experience, and our own, when Nicholas II
introduced prohibition in 1914.
As to international affairs, Gorbachev was ready to give "My kingdom
for a horse." This was why he asked Chancellor Helmut Kohl for a
credit of 4.5 billion marks, otherwise there would be nothing to feed
people with. "If you give me this credit, you'll get whatever you
wish." This explains the capitulation in Arkhyz at a meeting with Kohl
in 1990, behind the back of our Warsaw Treaty partners.
He was annoyed when his actions were underestimated by the West. Once
he invited Yazov, Kryuchkov, Shevardnadze and the head of the General
Staff and said: "We reduce the number of our divisions, the numerical
strength of our grouping in the German Democratic Republic, and carry
out other measures, yet the western press and statesmen call us
expansionists, potential aggressors, and what not. It's nonsense. But
if the Americans do anything, this is always in the interests of peace
and in accordance with the defence concept of NATO."
Who did you have to deal with in Gorbachev's entourage on questions of
His aides Shahnazarov and Cherniayev were quite intelligent men. But
they had a strange concept, to say the least: to surrender everything
in exchange for even a minimal compensation. At a meeting of the
Crisis Headquarters formed after the downfall of the Berlin Wall
Shahnazarov once said: "At the present military-technical level
military blocs have lost their former significance. This is why it's
not important whether the GDR is in NATO or outside it." And I
continued his thesis: "Then let the FRG leave NATO, if this is
unimportant." Shahnazarov was also the main theorist in the field of
creating political organizations. But the quintessence of his ideas
was as follows: the price of freedom is the disintegration of the
Did you try to argue with him?
Shahnazarov, Cherniayev and Yakovlev, aware of my position, did not
acquaint me with the details of their plans, especially one to split
the communist party and set up a social-democratic party. Once I drew
Yakovlev's attention to the fact that certain theses in Gorbachev's
speech had actually much in common with what we could find in
Trotsky's works. Yakovlev said that he was neither surprised nor
shocked by this.
It is said that at first Gorbachev wanted to use the social-democratic
idea in order to strengthen our positions in Europe not by military,
but political means.
As to the social-democratic idea, he hesitated whether to become a
left Christian democrat or social-democrat. I explained it by saying
that he simply looked for someone to betray next. By 1990 he became
absolutely indifferent to social democracy.
The military assert that political decisions were worked out and
adopted at the Central Committee exclusively, but they implemented the
will of the communist party.
The ideas and proposals of the military were discussed in a very
narrow circle, we at the international relations department were not
advised about them. The top brass had direct access to the general
secretary. Sometimes Gorbachev invited me to such discussions. There
was also Zaikov's commission which examined how the directives of the
CC and the Security Council were fulfilled at the negotiations on arms
control with the Americans. At the commission's meetings heated
arguments were going on between the head of the General Staff Moiseyev
and Shevardnadze. Great efforts were made to coordinate their
absolutely different positions and report the proceedings to
Gorbachev. Once a complaint was made to Gorbachev that Shevardnadze
had deviated from the agreed-on directives and promised the American
side more than it was in our interests. Gorbachev's reaction to this
was surprisingly soft.
How would you explain this softness
When Marshal Akhromeyev and I were about to leave for holidays in July
1991, he said to me: "Previously I thought that Gorbachev acted that
way in the questions of disarmament because he was not well-versed in
the problem. But now I am convinced of his conscious intention to
destroy our defence potential."
It is said that Margaret Thatcher sympathized with Gorbachev and he
agreed with her views on many matters. Did it influence his course in
He highly respected Mrs. Thatcher, but agreed with her only until the
end of 1989. She believed that Gorbachev made a grave mistake by
following Kohl's line in the German question, which violated Britain's
interests. She suggested, just like Mitterand, that Gorbachev
coordinate his course with Britain and France, so that the model of
Germany's reunification correspond to the interests of the three
powers. That is, there should be a confederation which would make it
possible to leave the FRG in NATO and the GDR in the Warsaw Pact. From
1990 onwards Gorbachev began to receive everybody, from American
schoolchildren and teachers to American clergymen. But he didn't
receive Willi Brandt or Neil Kinnock, the head of the Socialist
International, because the latter opposed his too close contacts with
Kohl. Gorbachev heeded the advice of Ambassador Kvitsinsky and made a
one-sided choice. In general, his thinking knew no alternatives. He
centered his attention on Kohl whom he regarded the most reliable and
intelligent political figure, although the latter compared him with
Goebbels at one time. And no arguments could influence Gorbachev.
There Was No Coup. It Was a Feint
Whose view did Gorbachev heed?
He thought that there should be only one architect of perestroika',
this was why he didn't heed the opinion even of Premier Ryzhkov. The
latter often objected Gorbachev at politburo meetings, particularly on
financial matters, but he insisted on his views and decisions. As a
result, many blunders were made in the economy, which adversely
influenced the population's living standards.
What was the reason for staging the coup in 1991 and who needed it?
There was no coup, it was a feint. Before leaving for holidays
Gorbachev gave instructions for preparing extraordinary measures and
working out models. These questions were discussed for a very long
time. In December 1990 I spoke at a politburo meeting of the need to
adopt extraordinary measures to cope with the grave economic situation
in the country. It was necessary to introduce price control and
If it was a feint, what aims did it pursue?
It was planned to have a demonstration of force in February 1991. At
that time tanks had no shells and soldiers had no cartriges for
tommy-guns. This should have been a warning to those who intended to
dismember the Soviet Union. Yeltsin wanted to turn the USSR into a
confederation. The supreme authorities with Gorbachev at the head
would have only representative functions, while all power would be
concentrated in Yeltsin's hands in Moscow. And the regions would be
ruled by the local heads. Yeltsin's main argument was as follows:
Russia will cease to be the "milch cow" for all others, and will now
look after itself properly.
In other words, it was intended to scare the West and our own
separatists with the help of GKChP.
In a way, yes. But as a result, they have gone too far. There were
plans to isolate all those who opposed the suggested measures.
What part did the Central Committee play in the preparation of that
There was only Shenin from the CC. Nobody from the politburo members
knew about these plans. Only one head of a CC department was informed.
I didn't know either. When I came to the CC from a country house where
I spent Saturdays and Sundays and met Shenin, I asked him about all
this. He didn't give me an elaborate answer, but said that it was a
pity that they hadn't included me in their team. And he is still cross
with me for my refusal to support GKChP.
When did Gorbachev feel that it was necessary to distance himself from
When Gorbachev was contacted on August 17 and 18 and a report was
presented to him that everything was ready, he said: "Well, boys, you
do whatever you think fit. I won't play your games any longer." In
other words, he simply became frightened. Or he realized that their
team was somewhat strange, to say the least, with two heavy drinkers,
Yanayev and Pavlov.
Valentin Falin. Born April 3, 1926, in Leningrad. After graduating
from the Moscow Institute of International Relations in 1950 he worked
at the Soviet Control Commission in Berlin. In 1951 - 1958 he worked
at the USSR Foreign Ministry, in 1958 - 59 at the CC CPSU and in 1959
- 1978 at the Foreign Ministry again. In 1971 - 78 he was the
Ambassador of the USSR to the German Federal Republic. In 1978 - 1982
he worked at the CC CPSU as the deputy head of the foreign policy
department. In 1982 - 86 he was a political observer in the newspaper
"Izvestia". In 1986 - 1988 he was the head of the NOVOSTI Press
Agency. In 1988 - 91 he was the head of the international department
of the CC CPSU and one of its secretaries. From 1992 until 1999 he
worked at the Institute on problems of security and disarmament in
Germany, at Hamburg University and at Hamburg Higher School of
economics and politics. At present he is a professor at the Academy of
State Service under the presidential administration of the Russian
Interview with Alexander Yakovlev see in No. 8, with Oleg Grinevsky in
No. 9, with Georgy Korniyenko in No. 10, with Dmitry Yazov in No. 11,
with Matvei Burlakov in No 12, with Oleg Lobov in No. 13.
Russian Article as of Apr. 11, 200
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