Remembering Gorbachev

The roots of the current Ukrainian crisis, one that has a good chance to spill over its borders into the rest of Europe and even to the US, can be traced to the late 1980s. That’s when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who recently passed away, extended his hand to America offering everlasting peace and friendship only to be unceremoniously rebuffed.

I am familiar with some details of this offer because in October 1988 I received a totally unexpected invitation from Mr. Gorbachev’s top advisor to play a role in a back channel between the Kremlin and the White House.

After some hesitation, I decided to accept. In Moscow, Aleksandr Yakovlev, who, as many believed, was the real architect of Mr. Gorbachev’s reforms, did not waste time and came right to the point. Our democratic reforms are serious, he said, and we are ready to embrace practically all western values, including a multiparty political system, elimination of censorship, freedom of emigration and travel abroad, etc. However, continued Mr. Yakovlev, it looks like Washington is interested in talking only about arms control and keeps ignoring our signals to broaden the agenda. He honestly admitted that Moscow needs all economic help it could get but it would be a very profitable investment, rather than humanitarian assistance. In addition, it would mean the end of the Cold War and the USSR’s becoming a reliable US ally.

I thanked Mr. Yakovlev for such a great honor but told him that to make it work we would need someone higher up and closer to the White House to succeed. The one person whom I had in mind was Paul Weyrich, a leading figure among American conservatives who had enough political clout to deliver a message of such historic proportions straight to the White House. Mr. Weyrich agreed to become a partner in this back channel exercise and the work has begun.

This included a series of visits from influential Americans to Moscow and Russians to Washington to discuss concrete steps on the roadmap to US-Soviet rapprochement. Some of the ideas Paul and I made public in two Washington Times OP-Eds in June and October 1990 included accepting Russia into NATO and joint US-Russia work on missile defense. Paul also had some other interesting and far-reaching ideas that he preferred not to make public but to tell President George H.W. Bush during their scheduled private meeting.

According to Paul, Mr. Bush listened attentively until his Russian adviser Condoleezza Rice walked into the Oval Office and dismissed these ideas out of hand. Condi was obviously speaking for those in Washington who were not interested in integrating Russia with the West.

Nevertheless, Mr. Bush still used some words from this meeting like “building a new world’s security architecture from Vancouver to Vladivostok” but nothing moved further.

We didn’t give up and continued generating new ideas but after Mr. Bush lost his 1992 reelection bid, Bill Clinton as well as his followers up to now President Joe Biden pursued a foreign policy totally opposite to our vision. They believed that after the collapse of the USSR America became the only superpower in the unipolar world where the interests of Russia and other regional powers can be largely ignored.

Donald Trump made a short-lived attempt to depart from that policy. His ideas that “good US-Russia relations are good for America” earned him the label of “Putin’s agent” and launched endless fake accusations that continue to this day. Everyone who dares to question the validity of America’s position as the world’s leader is immediately labeled as a Kremlin stooge or useful idiot at best.

The distinguished American diplomat George Kennan, warned those of us who believed that US-Russia cooperation based on respect of mutual interests would be beneficial to everyone. Even before the collapse of the USSR Mr. Kennan predicted that “were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”

He was right but after the Soviet Union left the world’s stage the armies of ideologues appeared who believe in America’s destiny to impose their post-modern Woke globalism on all of humanity. This is something that the overwhelming majority of people living on this planet refuse to accept. Some loudly, some quietly but the numbers speak for themselves.
No one knows how it is going to end, but the drums of World War III keep banging.

May Mr. Gorbachev, whose vision, had it succeeded, might have averted what we’re seeing now, rest in peace.

Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow, Professor, Moscow State and National Research Nuclear Universities. Reprinted from the Washington Times with permission from the author.