A Sound U.S. Policy toward Russia; Communism Collapsed 25 Years Ago, but Partnership Remains Elusive

Article excerpt


What is a sound U.S. policy toward Russia? I started to think about this 25 years ago when, in October 1988, I received an invitation from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's science adviser, Yuri Ossipyan, to visit Moscow. This was quite unexpected, as only a few months earlier the official government newspaper denounced me and a few other exiled dissidents for trying to undermine Mr. Gorbachev's initiatives by presenting them as part of a sinister KGB ruse to fool the naive West.

During our first nearly secret meeting at the Oktyabrskaya, now the President Hotel, Mr. Ossipyan introduced me to Alexander Yakovlev, at the time Mr. Gorbachev's right-hand man. Mr. Yakovlev went straight to the point by asking what in my opinion could be done to make Americans believe that perestroika and glasnost were not a Potemkin show, but a very serious process aiming to transform the USSR into a free and democratic society.

I said that I did not buy their story any more than Americans would, since no one in their right mind would believe that Communist Party would voluntarily give up its absolute power and lead Soviet society from dictatorship to freedom.

Still, I told him that I was willing to try, should I be allowed to bring over to Moscow a group of American experts to participate in free and open discussions with Soviet counterparts. To my great surprise, Mr. Yakovlev agreed and many U.S. delegations, including members of Congress, foreign-policy experts, businessmen, university presidents and students indeed had the opportunity for absolutely open and frank discussions with both officials in high places, ordinary folks and the media. One of the high points came in April 1989 when Mr. Yakovlev told our group that any Warsaw Pact country that wanted to leave this bloc was free to do just that.

Most of us were convinced that whether or not Mr. Gorbachev was actually behind this policy, communism would very soon go straight to the dustbin of history, just as Ronald Reagan had predicted, as it was simply impossible to have all those freedoms in a communist society. A prominent Washington insider, Paul Weyrich, who became a frequent participant in these exchanges had direct access to President Bush, and after one of these trips in 1990 he went to the White House to hand the president the report on the imminent collapse of the USSR, urging the president to develop a plan for Russia's integration with the West.

According to Mr. Weyrich, Mr. Bush listened attentively until Condoleezza Rice had walked into the room and practically dismissed this report. According to the information she had, supposedly more reliable than our own, we were all wrong. What happened afterwards is only too well known.

On Aug. 1, 1991, Mr. Bush went to Ukraine and made his famous Chicken Kiev speech, saying that we will maintain the strongest possible relationship with the Soviet government of President Gorbachev. …