Staunton, April 7 – Despite the Kremlin’s constant claims that the West was behind the destruction of the USSR, Aleksey Portansky says, the facts are that Western countries did not want the USSR to disintegrate and preferred instead that the union republics -- except for the Baltic states -- agree to a renewed union under Mikhail Gorbachev.
The Moscow scholar – Portansky teaches international affairs both at the Higher School of Economics and the Institute of International Economics and World Relations (IMEMO) -- argues that to believe that the West destroyed the USSR ignores the survival of that system in the face of Hitler’s attack.
And in a commentary in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” this week, Portansky says that he is inclined to share the views of those who view Nikita Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin in 1956, an action that ignored that while changes were needed, “the inhumanity and harshness of the regime could be maintained only by a harsh leader” (ng.ru/ideas/2016-04-06/5_krah.html).
At the same time, he continues, the Soviet economy “which had demonstrated such impressive mobilizational capabilities during the war” turned out to be “absolutely unsuited” for competition with the advanced economies of the West, especially given Moscow’s over-commitment to its satellites.
These circumstances taken together “simply could not fail to lead to what occurred at the end of 1991,” Portansky says. And they, along with the detailed analysis provided by Yegor Gaidar, show that “the Soviet Union destroyed itself because its economic model was not capable of functioning over a long period of peace.”
“External factors” including Western efforts to weaken the Soviet Union, he suggests, only “accelerated” the collapse of the USSR. They did not cause it. Indeed, he writes, they were not intended to do so.
“Among Western sovietologists and Kremlinologists, only a handful predicted the collapse of the USSR, and their opinion, as a rule, was not taken into account” by Western leaders. “Therefore, when in 1991, the disintegration of the USSR suddenly appeared as a real scenario, Western leaders were more inclined to feel a certain concern and even fear” given the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal and the potential of its falling into the wrong hands.
That is why, Portansky says, then-US President George H.W. Bush and other Western leaders “being realists and pragmatists tried to support the efforts of Gorbachev to preserve the Soviet Union with the help of a new union treaty” for all the republics except the Baltic states whose inclusion into the USSR the US “never recognized.”
“In his well-known speech in Kyiv on August 1, 1991, Bush extremely clearly spoke on behalf of that idea calling on Ukraine and other Soviet republics to approve Gorbachev’s union treaty and warning about the danger of suicidal nationalism.” Similar concerns about the demise of the Warsaw Pact and the reunification of Germany were being expressed in Europe.
Such reflections, Portansky says, don’t fit into the current propaganda schema favored by Moscow. Indeed, they undermine the latter, because “if one extrapolates the position of the West toward the former USSR and the Warsaw Pact to today, it turns out that the Wests in general did not rip Ukraine away from Russia” but rather acted in an entirely different manner.
These considerations, the Moscow scholar continues, “are not written for the defense of the West but rather to introduce clarity” among Russia’s own citizens” about what was the real cause of the disintegration of the USSR and to dissuade them from blaming those who were in fact not responsible.
Obviously, the debate about 1991 will continue, Portansky says. “That is normal,” and it reflects an important reality, one Deng Xiaoping expressed about the French Revolution. Even after two centuries, the Chinese leader suggested, it is “too soon” to tell exactly why it happened and what it means.