The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union

The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union

Serhii Plokhy

Language: English

Pages: 544

ISBN: 0465046711

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


On Christmas Day, 1991, President George H. W. Bush addressed the nation to declare an American victory in the Cold War: earlier that day Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned as the first and last Soviet president. The enshrining of that narrative, one in which the end of the Cold War was linked to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the triumph of democratic values over communism, took center stage in American public discourse immediately after Bush’s speech and has persisted for decades—with disastrous consequences for American standing in the world.

As prize-winning historian Serhii Plokhy reveals in The Last Empire, the collapse of the Soviet Union was anything but the handiwork of the United States. On the contrary, American leaders dreaded the possibility that the Soviet Union—weakened by infighting and economic turmoil—might suddenly crumble, throwing all of Eurasia into chaos. Bush was firmly committed to supporting his ally and personal friend Gorbachev, and remained wary of nationalist or radical leaders such as recently elected Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Fearing what might happen to the large Soviet nuclear arsenal in the event of the union’s collapse, Bush stood by Gorbachev as he resisted the growing independence movements in Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasus. Plokhy’s detailed, authoritative account shows that it was only after the movement for independence of the republics had gained undeniable momentum on the eve of the Ukrainian vote for independence that fall that Bush finally abandoned Gorbachev to his fate.

Drawing on recently declassified documents and original interviews with key participants, Plokhy presents a bold new interpretation of the Soviet Union’s final months and argues that the key to the Soviet collapse was the inability of the two largest Soviet republics, Russia and Ukraine, to agree on the continuing existence of a unified state. By attributing the Soviet collapse to the impact of American actions, US policy makers overrated their own capacities in toppling and rebuilding foreign regimes. Not only was the key American role in the demise of the Soviet Union a myth, but this misplaced belief has guided—and haunted—American foreign policy ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carlos. There the Soviet leader got all the emotional support he was longing for. In his memoirs, Gorbachev called the dinner and the four-hour conversation “truly unique” and “amazingly candid.” He and Raisa, who later departed with the queen, leaving the four men alone, recalled their ordeal in the Crimea. Juan Carlos, himself a survivor of a military coup and head of a country with its own nationality problems, represented most vividly by Basque separatism, could not have been more supportive.

radar. Brent Scowcroft, experienced and no less cautious than Bush, later recalled his feelings after the summit: “It had been a satisfactory set of talks. We finally had put START I to bed, a large step on the road to rationalizing strategic nuclear forces in a new era.”29 In his memoirs, recalling the Novo-Ogarevo conversations, Bush made no mention of any Soviet overtures concerning a joint Soviet-American policy. The Soviets knew that he was listening, but did he hear them? An episode at the

treatment by Yeltsin, Gorbachev showed readiness to work with the republican leaders. A note prepared by Anatolii Cherniaev for his meeting with Baker said that the creation of the Commonwealth had produced a new situation. “I want myself and my longtime colleagues,” said Gorbachev, referring to Aleksandr Yakovlev and Eduard Shevardnadze, who were present at the meeting, “to help establish the future of the Commonwealth and continuity of succession.” He also told Baker that he had agreed with

days earlier Moscow newspapers had been full of articles claiming that Russia, and not the Union center, should be the 1 in the formula 9 + 1 or 10 + 1, but few Congress deputies were open to that idea. Nazarbayev’s statement brought the center back into the equation and put Gorbachev back in the game. That was the Soviet president’s main achievement. The statement itself was the product of a compromise that reduced the actual importance of the center in all-Union affairs to a degree

ire of some of the speakers, and the proposal for the council of heads of states went through without a hitch.” The Congress thus approved the Nazarbayev memorandum and dissolved itself, but not before getting a concession of sorts: while the superparliament would be gone, the Supreme Soviet, or regular USSR parliament, which had no right to amend the constitution, would stay in place. Gorbachev later expressed satisfaction with that decision. After all, it left him with one more Union

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