The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War

By Raymond L. Garthoff | Go to book overview

11 The Collapse of Communist Rule and of the Soviet Union, 1991

NO ONE, in Moscow or Washington or anyplace else, could have foreseen at the beginning of 1991 that the year would witness not only the end of communist rule in the Soviet Union but the disintegration of the state itself. The year promised to be a new departure even without such cataclysmic developments. It was the first year of the post-Cold War era, if one marked the end of the old era of confrontation not from the fall of communist rule and Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe in late 1989, but from the formal end to the division of Germany and of Europe in 1990. Yet it would also turn out to be the last year of the Soviet state, and hence the last year of Soviet relations with the United States (and with all states).

As the year opened, Presidents Bush and Gorbachev exchanged now routine annual New Year's greetings to the people of the other country. Gorbachev's greeting noted explicitly that the Cold War was no more, and the two leaders expressed confidence in their future relations.1 There were, to be sure, concerns and doubts in both countries about the course and even the fate of Gorbachev's perestroika in the Soviet Union. And the internal events in that country were the main focus of attention and of influence on Soviet-American relations, together with the one large item of unfinished business, the restoration of an agreed-on global strategic arms balance at lower levels of forces to complement and buttress the dismantlement of military confrontation in Europe agreed upon in 1990.

President Bush also telephoned Gorbachev on New Year's Day, and they discussed the strategic arms talks and the situation in the Persian Gulf

____________________
1
"New Year's Greetings," January 1, 1991, U.S. Department of State Dispatch, vol. 2 ( January 7, 1991), p. 7, provides the texts of both President Bush's and President Gorbachev's videotaped messages. (Hereafter State Dispatch.) President Bush's message is also found in Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, vol. 27 ( January 7, 1991), pp. 2-3. (Hereafter Presidential Documents.)

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