The unification of Germany led to the collapse of the Soviet Union

A correspondent speaks with Vyacheslav Generalov, former deputy chief of the KGB’s Ninth Chief Directorate, ex-head of the security service of the USSR’s first president.

Mr. Generalov, let’s recall the great and mighty Soviet Union. The USSR ceased to exist 15 years ago, but even these days the collapse of such a powerful country seems improbable. In your opinion, what caused the collapse of the USSR?

From my point of view, the collapse of the USSR began in 1985 after Gorbachev came to power. Shortly after he took command, there was a huge cut on the funding of all ministries responsible for defense capability, security and industrial development of the country. No funds had been allocated for any state contracts since 1985, and therefore the armed forces did not get any new arms and equipment. The industries relating to defense did not get any funding either, and therefore all the industrial facilities of key importance for the national economy had been stalled and kept at zero cycle until the Soviet Union became history.

The financing of the Soviet Republics was cut short too. We must bear in mind that two-thirds of the republics were funded from the central budget. The republics were apparently unhappy about the move, and before long some of them began transforming into unruly provinces with their bosses acting like warlords who didn’t want to take any orders from Moscow.

So the actual collapse of the country began as early as 1985. It took shape in 1987 when the funds allocated for the troops of the Interior Ministry and the KGB were next to nothing. As a result, the above ministries were gradually falling to wrack and ruin. You may remember one Vadim Bakatin who headed the Interior Ministry at the time. He did nothing but damage to the ministry, creating chaos from the inside. By and large, his activities were part of the work that led to the destruction of the Soviet Union.

The KGB under Yuri Andropov stood guard over the interests of national security. Contrary to a popular belief, the KGB has never been an independent agency, it wasn’t “a state within a state.” The KGB worked for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. After Gorbachev took the helm, many top-rank KGB executives were baffled by new strange orders they received from the Party leaders. Here’s an example. The KGB obtained intelligence with regard to Alexander Nikolayevich Yakovlev. According to that piece of intelligence, Yakovlev had been recruited by the CIA while studying in Canada along with Kalugin. Yakovlev and Kalugin had been reportedly approached by CIA agents in Canada , and it was likely that the two had been working for the CIA ever since. The report on Yakovlev was forwarded to Gorbachev. He just showed the file to Yakovlev and said: “Take a look at the KGB file on you.” Subsequently, the Central Committee and the Politburo brushed aside that most important piece of intelligence.

It would be quite an exaggeration to assume that Gorbachev hand-picked qualified staff for his team. Let me put it this way: He never took a fancy to very brainy people. They never stayed long with the Central Committee or the Politburo. Gorbachev selected those who would be happy to follow his orders obediently without showing too much enthusiasm of their own, those who wouldn’t act on their own initiative. Take Yegor Ligachev, who rose quickly from obscurity with the help of Gorbachev. But Ligachev fell from grace shortly after he started taking action on his own.

Are you referring to the bribes allegedly taken by Ligachev?

That’s correct. Besides, the media labeled him a principal proponent of prohibitive regulations aimed at curbing drunkenness. In reality, it was Gorbachev who set the ball in motion. In other words, those who stood their ground were held responsible for all sorts of things that went sour.

On the other hand, Gorbachev was easy to manipulate. Take the then foreign minister Edward Shevardnadze, for example. He is quite a character. His unofficial nickname, the sly fox, suits him very well. He never exposed himself to danger, he always had Gorbachev or the Politburo pull his chestnuts out of the fire.

Shevardnadze flanked Gorbachev when the first meeting betweenGorbachev and Reagan took place in Reykjavik. The summit’s agenda focused on the limitation of nuclear arms etc. Had they taken a good piece of advice from the Defense Ministry experts, the Soviet leaders could have tackled many sensitive issues in a different manner. At the same time, Shevardnadze and Gorbachev opted to discuss the reduction of certain missile systems that were clearly out of bounds for the treaty. As a result, the brand-new missiles, which entered service with the Soviet armed forces a while ago, were subject to scrapping. The state suffered a considerable material loss in the end.

It all happened because of Shevardnadze, who talked Gorbachev into accepting the U.S. proposals. Needless to say, the American held their ground. They worked hard and succeeded in putting onto the agenda of the talks the Soviet missiles they were most afraid of. I’m talking about the SS-20’s and SS-18’s, which were virtually unreachable for the enemy missiles. That’s why they were taken care of by the Americans at the talks. In actuality, the treaty hadn’t applied to the above Soviet missiles. Many issues were looked at from an entirely different angle after the meetings between Gorbachev and Reagan.

I’m not saying that Gorbachev was a foreign agent or something of the kind. I’m talking about the so-called ‘agents of influence’ alongside Gorbachev, I mean Yakovlev and Shevardnadze who did their best in persuading Gorbachev to take certain actions which eventually caused the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We need to pay Gorbachev his due, though. In one of his interviews, he said that he had embraced the strategy of breaking down the communist society after taking the post of General Secretary of the Soviet Party Central Committee in 1985. Well, he fulfilled his goal. Take a look at the way he reformed the Communist Party. On all Party congresses and conferences, there was plenty of talk about the need for the Party to grow and improve its methods while adjusting itself to modern conditions. Everybody seemed to agree that the Soviet Union should strengthen its ties with countries of the Soviet bloc. The point is that the Soviet Union was the cornerstone of a bloc of socialist countries united against their principal adversaries i.e. the United States, Britain and other Western states, which were always the archenemy of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet leadership under Gorbachev started calling for greater freedom for the socialist countries. Let them live on their own and stop meddling in their affairs, so to speak. No doubt about, those countries should have marched forward by themselves. But take Poland , for example. The Solidarity movement effectively destroyed the state when it came to power in Poland. Back then we didn’t aid General Wojciech Jaruselski in any way…

Did he actually ask the Soviet Union for help?

Sure thing, he did. He appealed to Gorbachev, he met with him on several occasions. But Jaruselski was told to tackle the problems on his own since they were Poland’s internal affairs, according to Gorbachev and Co.

The collapse of the German Democratic Republic is yet another example. The East German leader Erich Honecker paid a great deal of attention to building of closer ties between the Soviet Union and GDR. He said that someday the two German states would unite but not before East Germany had a standard of living similar to that in West Germany. Uniting Germany now would split the country in two: the poor and the rich, said Honecker. He was right in that point. Subsequently, East and West Germany were very unhappy about each other at the time of unification.

I believe Gorbachev’s approval of the unification of two German states at the time was his biggest mistake. The unification was bound to take place but timing and the pace was wrong.

Mr. Generalov, you’ve just raised a very interesting issue relating to the unification of Germany. Who do you think looked after the actions of certain representatives of the parties, who was directly involved in the unification process? Was it the CIA or State Department, which, as far as we are concerned, was always ready and willing to hand out money to the CIA for the purpose of bringing any country under control?

I don’t think that the expression “to hand out money” is in technical use. They were paid for services rendered, no doubt about it. On the otherhand, the moneywaspaidasa fee for lectures delivered during their trip abroad. According to my information, Gorbachev was paid $40,000 a pop for several lectures he read in the universities. At the same time I’m aware of other payments aside from that money.

For example, Russia received a number of loans from the West. Our leaders didn’t use those loans for improving the national economy. Instead, they didn’t hesitate in spending those funds on the import of foreign food, wheat, meat etc. In other words, they filled the shelves in the stores with the help of those loans. The USSR’s foreign debt went up two times during the Gorbachev rule. All those steps indicate inefficiency in government spending. There was no control over the ways those funds were spent.

Nikolai Ryzhkov, the prime minister of the USSR at the time, strongly objected to the policy of taking loans from the West. He stressed the danger by saying that the loans would place a heavy burden onto the future generations. Yet Gorbachev and his loyal supporters didn’t seem to take note of the warnings.

Could you name those loyal supporters of Gorbachev?

Yakovlev, Shevarnadze, Bakatin were among Gorbachev’s principal supporters. I’d add up Vladimir Medvedev to the list. Medvedev was in charge of ideology in the Politburo at the time.

Medvedev and Yakovlev made several trips to the Baltic States to gauge the situation on site after the disturbances broke out in the region in 1988-1989. On their return to Moscow, those “negotiators” would report that everything was fine, “the normal process is going in the country”, and “we shouldn’t intervene”, and “the Baltic States have no plans of breaking away from the USSR, theysimply intend to launch some market economic reforms” etc.

Gorbachev couldn’t look after anything because the president or the general secretary or any other leader lays down the course of action and uses all the resources of the apparatus of his government to follow the course. Gorbachev had no course of action to set, no ideology. Take a closer look at his books Perestroika, New Thinking and the like. I have my doubts that he had any idea what perestroika was all about. His books mirror his trade-mark verbiage. Anybody who had a chance of talking to him would agree on this description: he talks too much without making himself clear on anything. There were no clear-cut objectives under Gorbachev, no goals that must be met by every state, republic, ministry, and so on. That’s why the people didn’t know which way to go and what work they’re supposed to do.

Acting like he did during that period, Gorbachev was a very suitable man for holding talks with foreign leaders. He enjoyed popularity at the West, and he made numerous trips abroad.

I wouldn’t call the relations between Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan very warm. Reagan was a person of advanced age. Besides, he occasionally displayed the signs of Alzheimer disease. On the contrary, Gorbachev formed excellent relations on a personal level with the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher was a very wise politician, the ‘Iron Lady’ indeed. She could calmly resolve the problems she had to handle. On the one hand, Gorbachev couldn’t put too much of a fight while holding talks with Thatcher because she was a woman. On the other hand, he had less expertise as to foreign affairs. That’s why she would always get the upper hand and he would always lose in the end.

All foreign leaders who met with Gorbachev took advantage of his weaknesses. Why did it happen? Well, I hope you can appreciate that experts carry out an in-depth study of a foreign counterpart’s personal features and characteristics during the preparations for a summit. Not only his character traits but his qualities of a politician get a microscopic analysis. Experts need to locate a foreign leader’s sides to make him weak-kneed. The foreign leaders tried to apply pressure on those weaknesses and cut the deals to advantage.

For example, the activities of the Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry, and the KGB were criticized on a regular basis since 1987.

Vyacheslav Generalov was interviewed by Ilya Tarasov

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov