‘I knew the [USSR] would collapse’

Admirers and rivals alike called Eduard Shevardnadze the White Fox. With impeccable instinct and timing, the Georgian ascended the political ladder of the Soviet Union, becoming Foreign Minister in 1985.

Twenty years after the reunification of Germany, do you consider it a success?

Germany’s reunification is one of the most important events of the 20th century, and one whose rami–fica–tions we’re still not able to judge.

Was the collapse of the Soviet Union inevitable?

Yes. I knew that the Soviet Union would fall apart, but I was mistaken as to the order in which the events would happen. I expected the collapse to happen after 10 or 12 years of perestroika, but it began already after four years. But of course all empires in history disappear, and the Soviet Union was an empire, too.

Did you try to prevent the collapse?

There was no stopping this process. I just helped making it as painless as possible.

How exactly did you do this?

Mikhail Gorbachev, I and other members of the Politburo made sure that the Soviet Army didn’t get involved in the changes, including Germany’s reunification. Otherwise it would have been very dangerous. You’ll recall that almost half a million Soviet soldiers were stationed near Berlin.

Did Gorbachev make the right decision by introducing perestroika?

There was no other solution. Of course the Soviet Union could have found a completely different way, but the ideology that Gorbachev represented was socialism with a human face. I shared this idea.

Should the Soviet Union have intervened to prevent the collapse of communist
governments?

There were such attempts in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and that’s something
the Soviet Union had to regret. The members of the Warsaw Pact were independent countries. If the Soviet Union intervened to prevent the collapse of their communist governments, it would have meant colonizing these countries.

Did you try to create a smaller communist alliance after the collapse of the
Warsaw Pact?

It wasn’t necessary. The Soviet Union was a large empire and a superpower. I thought the collapse of the Warsaw Pact was a correct development.

What did the Americans tell you about what they thought of the Communist collapse?

The Americans obviously saw the Soviet Union as their main enemy and supported the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. But the Soviet Union would have collapsed without the Americans, too. As I said, I myself assumed that the Soviet Union would fall apart after 10-12 years of perestroika. But you weren’t allowed to mention such thoughts to anyone.

How did you react to the coup against Gorbachev?

I had already warned him about the risk of a coup. I had spoken publicly about this risk as well and explained that we were facing a very real, counterrevolutionary threat. What we didn’t know was who those forces were and what would happen to perestroika. Gorbachev contradicted me at the time, but he must have been aware of the dangers.

Did the Cold War have any positive aspects?

Without the Cold War ending, there would have been no German reunification. And another positive aspect was that the end of Cold War forced the Soviet Union and the United States to agree to reduce their nuclear arsenals.


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