As the world watched the Soviet Union breaking apart in the late 1980s – early 1990s, there was much fear that things could go badly wrong and even escalate to nuclear war.
Mikhail Gorbachev, who had become the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, had introduced reforms that he believed would reinvigorate the Soviet economy. But movements in the satellites, like Solidarity in Poland, wanted independence. There were similar movements in the Soviet republics. Those movements used Gorbachev’s reforms for their own interests.
This month is the 30th anniversary of Gorbachev’s releasing the satellites – Poland, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia), Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and East Germany – from Soviet rule. Two years later, the 15 Soviet republics became independent countries.
Hard-liners in Moscow would have used force to prevent those outcomes. There were some clashes with the Soviet internal police, OMON, and military forces were ordered into some of the republics as demonstrations took place. But Gorbachev decided against major force and allowed the Soviet Union to dissolve, even though it was not the outcome he wanted.
The United States has become too accustomed to using force to solve problems. Russia has become an international spoiler, looking for ways to create chaos. With 14,000 nuclear weapons between them, this is unsustainable.
Gorbachev is speaking out.
He will always be a hero to me for handling the Soviet Union’s breakup peacefully. Not so much in Russia, where that breakup led to misery for many.
What he’s saying isn’t outstandingly new, but it’s always worth hearing, especially from someone who stared war in the face and walked away.