Gorbachev Reveals How USSR Could Have Been Saved

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Saturday marked the 30th anniversary of Mikhail Gorbachev’s resignation as president of the Soviet Union, and the handing over of the nuclear launch codes to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin and the leaders of the Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet republics met at state dacha two weeks earlier to sign the USSR out of existence.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev believes the USSR could have been saved if it had been transformed into the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics which he proposed in 1990, and which was scheduled to be signed in August 1991 before being interrupted by communist hardliners’ last ditch attempt to stop the treaty.
“At first we underestimated the scale and depth of the problems in interethnic relations, relations between the center and the republics. We did not immediately come to the conclusion that the Union needed to be renewed,” Gorbachev said in an interview with Russian media on Saturday.
According to the former Soviet leader, his vision for a new union treaty aimed to create “a real federation with real sovereignty of the republics, which would delegate some powers to the center.”
The center, he said, would be responsible for security and defence, a unified transport network, a single currency, and “ensuring human rights”.
“I am confident that this was a viable option; most of the republics would have supported it, but the GKChP thwarted this opportunity,” Gorbachev said, referring to the Russian acronym for the ‘State Committee for the State of Emergency’, established in August 1991 in a desperate attempt to reign back Gorbachev’s domestic reforms and put an end to his ‘capitulationist’ foreign policy.
Tanks in the Red Square during the coup attempt on August 19, 1991 - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.08.2021
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“Even after the putsch, when the republics declared independence, and the positions of the president of the USSR were seriously weakened, I believed that the Union could be preserved. And I proposed an agreement on the Union of Sovereign States,” Gorbachev said.
The Union of Sovereign States idea proposed turning the country into a confederation, with even more broad powers delegated to the republics than the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics concept.
“Specifically, they would become members of the UN, while the Union would retain a seat on the Security Council. The armed forces would have remained united [by the center], as would control over nuclear weapons. I am confident that this would have been much better than what took place after the country’s collapse,” Gorbachev said.
Gorbachev proposed the idea for a new union treaty in July 1990, one month after Russian Soviet Republic president Boris Yeltsin declared the republic’s sovereignty within the USSR. The treaty was negotiated by Moscow and republican leaders throughout the first half of 1991, and meant to be signed on 20 August 1991 before being dashed by the GKChP. The latter’s members believed that the treaty proposed dangerous levels of autonomy, not only to the republics, but to autonomous regions within republics, which would have been granted near-republic level powers, threatening the country with disintegration into dozens of statelets, instead of the 15 which emerged historically.
The GKChP collapsed after three days. Afterwards, the plotters were arrested, the Communist Party was banned, and Gorbachev returned to Moscow, his powers significantly weakened.
On 8 December, Yeltsin, Ukrainian Soviet Republic President Leonid Kravchuk and Belarusian Soviet Republic chairman Stanislav Shushkevich met in a state dacha hidden away in the forests of western Belarus to sign the Belovezh Accords, formally dissolving the USSR and establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States. Immediately after signing the treaty, Yeltsin telephoned then-US President George W. Bush to inform him the USSR was no more.
© Sputnik / Юрий ИвановLeaders of the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet republics meet to dissolve the USSR, 8 December 1991.
Leaders of the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet republics meet to dissolve the USSR, 8 December 1991. - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.12.2021
Leaders of the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet republics meet to dissolve the USSR, 8 December 1991.
‘Black Days’
Gorbachev, whose authority was confined largely to the Kremlin after the Belovezh Accords were signed, called them unconstitutional.
In his Saturday interview, he called his final days in office “dark days for the Union and for Russia,” and for him personally. “I signed a decree resigning from the presidency of the USSR, and think I had no right to act differently,” he said, referring to his 25 December decision, which was followed by a farewell televised address and the lowering of the Soviet flag over the Kremlin.
Gorbachev insisted that he could not have acted any other way, claiming that any other option, including the use of force, might have provoked a civil war.
Western ‘Arrogance’
In separate interviews with Russian media on Friday, Gorbachev complained that even before the USSR collapsed, there were always forces in the highest echelons of power in Western countries who “rubbed their hands while watching our difficulties,” including an entire faction within the Bush administration led by Dick Cheney who did not “hide their joy” after the country’s dissolution.
In an interview with Sputnik, Gorbachev blamed Western “arrogance” for NATO’s expansionism in Eastern Europe.
“How can one count on an equitable relationship with the US and the West? That is the first question. Second, and no less important, is the triumphalist attitude of the West, especially in the US. They were struck in the head by arrogance and self-confidence. They declared victory in the Cold War. We pulled the world out of confrontation, out of the nuclear arms race, together. But no, the ‘winners’ decided to build a new empire. And out of this came the idea to expand NATO,” Gorbachev said.
In a meeting with Gorbachev in 1990, then-US secretary of State James Baker famously pledged that NATO would not expand beyond the borders of a reunified Germany. Since then, the alliance has incorporated every member of the former Soviet-led Warsaw Pact alliance, and seven republics of the former USSR and Yugoslavia.
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