The Gorbachev Files Secret Papers Reveal Truth Behind Soviet Collapse
Part 4: 'We Need Money for Current Expenses'
Two weeks later, he traveled to London to attend, for the first time, a summit of the seven leading industrialized nations, and to request that his country be admitted to this club of economic heavyweights. Kohl had paved the way to London for Gorbachev, over the objections of the Americans and Japanese. In reality, however, he traveled to London to beg for at least $30 billion to rescue the ailing Soviet Union and its president.
Many of the reports written in those weeks -- none of which Gorbachev would later publish -- indicate that he must have perceived the situation as demeaning.
At the meeting in Kiev, he berated a man in Kohl's entourage who would become one of his key contacts in the coming weeks: Horst Köhler, the later German president, who was then a state secretary at the German Finance Ministry and Kohl's "sherpa" (personal representative) at the G-7 summit.
When Köhler called upon the Soviets to submit to the rules of the International Monetary Fund, the Kremlin leader snapped: "The USSR isn't Costa Rica. The direction that history now takes will depend on how you configure your relations to us."
As for the idea of a Marshall Plan for the Soviet Union, Gorbachev described it as a "return to the old arrogance, according to which the Soviet economic train cannot be pulled up the mountain without the capitalist locomotive."
In reality, this locomotive was the Soviets' only remaining option. Their confidence in Kohl during those weeks was unlimited. In fact, they were practically euphoric, believing that things would improve for the Soviets in the slipstream of the powerful chancellor. In Kiev, Gorbachev adviser Chernyaev noted:
The new friendship with the Germans has been given yet another large scoop of cement. If all goes well with the Soviet-German factor, it will determine the fate of both Europe and global politics.
On the flight back to Moscow, Gorbachev said:
Kohl ... will do everything to help us rise up again and become a modern superpower. Well, he is very anxious about Ukraine (Kohl also met with the Ukrainian leadership in Kiev ). But for him it's no longer Hitler's Lebensraum.
By early September, about three weeks after the August coup, the financial situation in the USSR was so precarious that Gorbachev took then German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher aside while Genscher was visiting Moscow and, abandoning any sense of pride, said:
Gorbachev: We need money for current expenses, so that we can continue to live and maintain imports while the negotiations on the restructuring of our short-term debts are underway. I plan to discuss this with Kohl on the phone today.
Genscher: I don't know if you should address such a delicate matter on the telephone. I can send the chancellor an encrypted telegram right away, so that only he can read it.
Gorbachev: We need two billion dollars. Perhaps you advance half a billion from the payments we are to receive from you in October, and we'll take another half out of our reserves. We hope to obtain the second billion in the Middle East . I have sent (the deputy head of the KGB) Primakov there with this mission.
Genscher: I don't have the authority to respond to that. But I will convey everything to the chancellor right away.
Kohl sent Köhler to Moscow. Gorbachev, who was already predicting horrific scenarios in light of the hesitant support from the West, met with Köhler on Sept. 12.
Gorbachev: What is happening with the assistance for the USSR ? We are negotiating, weighing the options and doing the calculations. This is simply inexcusable. It's reminiscent of the Weimar Republic in Germany . While the democrats argued with each other, Hitler came to power without any particular effort. Foreign countries owe us about $86 billion, which is roughly the sum we need now. I hope you will draw the necessary conclusions from what I have said.
Köhler: The chancellor has authorized me to inform you that we have approved the first request, namely to provide a billion deutschmarks. As far as the request for the second billion is concerned, we have no choice but to involve our partners in the European Union and the G-7. The search for options is complicated by the rather steep financial expectations on your side.
Gorbachev: Couldn't you find a way to provide loans at more favorable terms? Perhaps even interest-free loans?
Köhler: That's very difficult. I will try to convince my partners (in the G-7) that your country is still creditworthy. To that end, however, I need details on your foreign debt and the possibilities of selling your gold reserves.
Gorbachev: The harvest figures are not good. I spoke with (Kazakh President Nursultan) Nazarbayev just before your arrival. He told me that the harvest in the area of newly reclaimed land is worse than even the most modest estimates had predicted.
Köhler: According to American agencies, the harvest in your country will amount to 190 million tons of grain this year, compared with 230 million last year. A massive difference.
Gorbachev: It would be nice if we could bring in 180 million tons During the Gulf War (following Saddam's invasion of Kuwait ), everyone got together and collected huge sums of money to support the effort, close to $100 billion. But when it comes to supporting this historic process in a huge country, one that everything in the world depends on, we start to haggle.
Köhler: The Americans won that war without investing a single dollar of their own.
Gorbachev: And what about all the things the Soviet Union has done for the world? Who is tallying up those figures? How much have our perestroika and our new way of thinking saved? Hundreds of billions of dollars for the rest of the world!
Köhler: There is no time to lose. It's a matter of weeks, even days. One of the miscalculations in your perestroika was to underestimate the economic side of this issue.
But the plan to pump billions into Moscow with German help, and save Gorbachev that way, did not succeed. When the Ukrainians affirmed their declaration of independence with a referendum on Dec. 1, 1991 and elected their own president, the die had been cast. Seven days later, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus formed the Commonwealth of Independent States, which eight non-Slavic republics then joined.
The Soviet Union was being liquidated. Germany was celebrating Christmas when Gorbachev resigned as president on Dec. 25 and the Soviet Union came to a peaceful end. He sent a letter to Bonn on the same day:
Although the events did not go the way I felt would have been correct and the most advantageous, I have not lost hope that the effort I began six years ago will eventually be concluded successfully, and that Russia and the other countries that are now part of a new community will transform themselves into modern and democratic countries.
With all our hearts, Raisa and I wish Hannelore (Kohl) and your entire family health, prosperity and happiness.
In this letter, Gorbachev is fully the statesman once again. That explains why the letter was among the few papers from the fateful year of 1991 that the failed reformer would later publish.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Secret Papers Reveal Truth Behind Soviet Collapse
- Part 2: Did Gorbachev Know about Violent Crackdowns?
- Part 3: Breaking the Ice with 'Helmut'
- Part 4: 'We Need Money for Current Expenses'