There were two Moscow meetings with Gorbachev in December 1989 prompted by the Soviet leader's immediately preceding meeting with President Bush at Malta - one with all Pact leaders and the other private. The Soviet Bloc active measures apparatus disseminated reports depicting Ceauşescu’s exchange with Gorbachev in the more public meeting, in which the former refused to accept any shared culpability for the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, as a renunciation of Romania’s more than twenty-year policy of condemning the Brezhnev Doctrine and the practice of foreign military intervention. Gorbachev, at the time attempting to remove the last vestiges of the Brezhnev Doctrine from Soviet policy and struggling against conservative institutions led by the Soviet military in his attempt to do so, naturally wanted to get out ahead of the popular pressure for the withdrawal of Soviet forces while gaining the USSR as much credit as possible. The Romanian leader’s “reality check” threatened to undermine these efforts.
The brief report on this meeting included in the CIA’s National Intelligence Daily reflected nothing of the Romanian position beyond its negation of Soviet initiatives. According to the CIA, while trying “to secure Pact unanimity on key security issues, particularly opposition to near-term movement on German reunification,” Gorbachev also “held a ‘frank exchange of opinions’ with the Pact’s remaining maverick – Romanian President Ceauşescu – presumably to prod Bucharest to undertake needed reforms.”[i] U.S. intelligence analysts thus interpreted the clash as due to Ceauşescu’s opposition to reform, a plausible explanation given the highly publicized differences between Moscow and Bucharest over that issue. Pact authorities ‘spun’ the obvious disagreement that surfaced at the December meeting as due to the Romanian leader’s new-found sympathy for the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia allegedly demonstrated by his refusal to join the other allies in condemning it, thus reinforcing the earlier allegations of Romanian advocacy of military intervention in Poland and preparations for aggression against Hungary.
The success of those active measures can be judged by the degree to which they were reflected subsequently in the international press. Agence France-Presse (AFP), for example, reported that the USSR, Bulgaria, Poland, the GDR, and Hungary had all “apologized for their action” of invading Czechoslovakia in 1968, whereas “Ceauşescu, whose troops did not take part in the intervention, did not condemn it,” thus implying Romanian acceptance of the invasion of Czechoslovakia as justified.[ii] Media reports tended to underscore the fact that Romania now balked at condemning the earlier invasion, suggesting that this marked a change in policy. Some American analysts outside the intelligence community fell into the same trap. One, for example, believed it ironic that Ceauşescu – the only one to denounce the invasion when it occurred – now “did not agree to the statement about the 1968 Czech action.”[iii] Western European analysts relying on the same sources arrived at very similar, and similarly erroneous, conclusions.[iv]
The Romanian leader was accompanied to the December 1989 meeting in Moscow by his prime minister, Constantin Dascălescu, by the foreign minister, Ion Stoian, and by the former defense minister, General Constantin Olteanu, attending in his new position as the RCP Central Committee Secretary for Foreign Relations.[v] As of this writing the transcript of that meeting had not surfaced in the archives. In keeping with standard Warsaw Pact practice the Hungarian report downplayed the discordant Romanian position, in this case by excluding it altogether.[vi]
It is worth bearing in mind that the CIA had reported the Gorbachev–Ceauşescu debate as one of the main events of the December 4 meeting within a day of its occurrence, even though still unaware of its content.[vii] For that information, the separate recollections of Foreign Minister Stoian and Foreign Relations Secretary Olteanu regarding that meeting, which agree in their fundamental aspects, are worth considering. Particularly so since both accord with Ceauşescu’s comments during the Political Executive Committee of November 27, 1989 that considered Gorbachev's invitation to Moscow for a briefing on the Malta meeting in the first place. As Ceauşescu explained to the PolExCom:
They went into Czechoslovakia in 1968 and forced them to approve the invasion. If they now consider that what they did was a mistake, then why don’t they withdraw their troops from there, but instead of withdrawing them they are reinforcing them. The first measure [to be taken] was precisely that, the withdrawal of the troops, but they are not thinking about that. The Czechs accepted the troops and they continue to maintain troops there. … In fact, they realized an organized coup ďetat.[viii]
|Gorbachev and Bush aboard the Maxim Gorky, Malta|
According to both Stoian and Olteanu, Gorbachev was in the midst of presenting a very general, and generally unsatisfying, account of his meetings at Malta with President George Bush, Sr., when he launched into the problem of “revising and re-evaluating the military occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Treaty troops in 1968.”[ix] Ceauşescu immediately bristled at this, having repeatedly stressed that the Soviet alliance could only undertake operations on the basis of unanimity. Not only had Romania not been consulted, its vociferous condemnation of the invasion clearly signaled its contemporaneous veto. Therefore, the Romanian leader insisted, the occupation had been carried out by troops of the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and East Germany only, and not by the Warsaw Pact, which implied Romanian involvement as a member of that alliance.
We did not enter because we appreciated that it was a serious transgression of the sovereignty and independence of a state, an aggressive act, contrary to the norms and principles of relations between states, which did much damage to socialism, and to the Soviet Union.[x]
The Romanian stance was indeed familiar to the Soviet leadership. It corresponded almost exactly to the position that the Romanian leadership took in August 1968, on the day Soviet, Polish, Hungarian, East German and Bulgarian troops marched into Czechoslovakia.
"The intervention of the troops of the five socialist countries in Czechoslovakia is a great mistake and a serious danger to peace in Europe. It is inconceivable in today’s world, when peoples are rising up to defend their national independence and equal rights, that a socialist state, that socialist states, should violate the independence of another state. There is neither justification nor any possible motive for accepting, even for a moment, the idea of military intervention in the domestic affairs of a fraternal socialist state." l
|Romania Condemns the Invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 21, 1968|
[Fototeca online a comunismului romanesc, cota:175/1968]
Stoian further reports that Hungarian Party leader Resző Nyers “immediately approved” Ceauşescu’s remarks, thus continuing the Hungarian practice of stalking and quickly associating itself with Romania’s dissident positions as well as telegraphing Budapest's intentions to approach the same issue regarding Hungary in the near future. The subsequent discussion of the text of the proposed communiqué then became a largely bilateral one between Gorbachev and Ceauşescu, also a fairly common feature of Warsaw Pact leadership meetings. Finally, Gorbachev announced that everyone could now agree on the text, since even Comrade Ceauşescu now agreed, which prompted the following exchange:
Ceauşescu: Although, formally speaking, this does not concern us – we have long expressed our point of view [against the invasion] – nevertheless, we can agree with this text. I can say that if we had edited the communiqué it would have been much better. For example, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia should also be mentioned in a clear phrase.
Gorbachev: This is a problem that we will resolve, bilaterally, with the Czechoslovak comrades. You know, I believe that is an agreement between us and Czechoslovakia regarding the stationing of Soviet troops there.
Ceauşescu: Yes, I know, there is a bilateral accord concluded after the occupation of Czechoslovakia.
Gorbachev: On this issue we will never reach an understanding with you.
Ceauşescu: Yes, on that we can agree.[xi]
|General Constantin Olteanu|
General Olteanu similarly reports that Gorbachev’s proposal that all “sign the declaration condemning the intervention in Czechoslovakia,” was met by Ceauşescu’s interjection that only “those who intervened should sign,” and that “we have nothing to sign” because Romania had not only refused to intervene, it had condemned the invasion then and there, and continually thereafter.[xii] The “visibly irritated” Gorbachev agreed, sarcastically asking the Romanian leader if he was “happy” now, but did not get much further in his exposition before Ceauşescu interrupted a second time:
Continuing to speak, the Romanian leader recommended that the problem be followed to its logical end in the sense that, if everyone now recognizes and condemns the 1968 act, and in order to repair the mistake, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia should be ordered immediately. There was a slight agitation in the hall as the delegates whispered amongst themselves. Because Mikhail Gorbachev was again surprised and did not have a response prepared for this situation, a pause was proposed for reflection and consultations.[xiii]
After the pause, the Soviet leader stated his intention to discuss the matter separately with the Czechoslovak delegation, which was staying on after the meeting. Apparently, Gorbachev could not resist goading his Romanian counterpart:
Then Mikhail Gorbachev mockingly addressed Nicolae Ceauşescu: “It that okay with you, Comrade Ceauşescu?” Nicolae Ceauşescu responded affirmatively and added that it would be good if the withdrawal of Soviet troops could be implemented in the shortest time possible, not only from Czechoslovakia but from all of the other countries where they were still deployed, which produced a powerful murmuring in the hall. At that point, Egon Krenz, who had been “consulted” during the break, took the floor, arguing that such an action is not opportune, that they would be left defenseless against the imperialists, etc. Members of the other delegations commented from their seats. Understanding the situation in which he now found himself, Mikhail Gorbachev did not reject the Romanian delegation’s proposal, but affirmed that it was a question requiring discussion by the USSR with the respective countries and that it must be addressed in an organized manner, as a problem for the future, on the basis of a plan agreed between the countries, following bilateral discussions.[xiv]
According to General Olteanu, Ceauşescu’s performance inspired awe among the rest of the Romanian delegation – once again taking his Soviet interlocutors by surprise and leaving them bewildered and exasperated. The Romanian leader, Olteanu reports, intentionally leapt into this “extraordinarily dangerous question,” calling for the complete removal of Soviet military forces from Central Europe “alone against everyone.”[xv]
This was indeed heady stuff. The Soviet leader was barely mastering the process of change within the bloc as it was. A couple of weeks earlier, the Romanian leader had explicitly called upon Moscow to vacate the negative consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in Europe, including the stationing of occupation forces on East European territories.[xvi] As Ceauşescu declared to the last RCP Plenum at the end of November 1989:
Never to be forgotten is the lesson of history and the fact that Hitler's Germany received encouragement to initiate the Second World War as a result of a policy of concession to Nazi Germany… Never should we forget that the agreement between Hitler’s Germany and the Soviet Union did not abolish the threat of war…
Next year will be 45 years since the termination of the Second World War. Hence Romania believes that we must take steps for adopting the necessary measures for resolving all of the problems left unresolved.
It appears necessary to adopt a clear and unequivocal position condemning and annulling all agreements concluded with Hitler’s Germany, drawing practical conclusions for annulling all of the consequences of those agreements and diktats. It is abnormal that after 45 years from the conclusion of the war no treaty of peace has been realized between all of the states and no real peace has been installed in Europe. It thus appears necessary to move towards negotiations between the interested states for the conclusion of peace treaties and the complete elimination of the consequences of the Second World War.[xvii]
Within a fortnight of the December 1989 meeting a variety of Polish groups would begin calling publicly for Soviet troops to leave their country.[xviii] Likeiwse, the Hungarian parliament would be admonished by its own senior military officers, including Defense Minister Kárpáti, “to hold talks with the Soviet government on fully withdrawing Soviet troops” since there were “no military or political reasons for the stationing of Soviet troops in Hungary.”[xix] And shortly thereafter, Czechoslovak authorities would announce discussions regarding the continuing presence of Soviet troops in their country, describing the “accord on Soviet presence” reached after the 1968 invasion as “invalid.”[xx]
[i] “Warsaw Pact: Condemning Invasion of Czechoslovakia” in National Intelligence Daily, Tuesday, 5 December 1989, p. 10, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/document_conversions/89801/DOC_0000259069.pdf . See also Walter Mayr, Christian Neef and Jan Puhl, “How Poland and Hungary Led the Way in 1989,” Der Spiegel, 30 October 2009.
[ii] “Ryzhkov – Sending Troops ‘Unacceptable’,” AFP in English, 23 December 1989, 1500 GMT in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Soviet Union (FBIS-SOV-89-246), Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 26 December 1989, p. 13.
[iii] Don Oberdorfer, From the Cold War to the New Era: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1983-1991, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998, p. 386. Gorbachev stated that: “The illegal disruption of the process of democratic renewal in Czechoslovakia had long-term consequences. History showed how important it is, even in the most complex international situations, to use political means for the solution of any problems, and to observe strictly the principles of sovereignty, independence and non-interference in internal affairs, which is in accordance with the tenets of the Warsaw Pact.” The true irony was that virtually all U.S. analysts believed the Romanians had renounced their quarter-century-long policy, and that the hostile Soviet-Romanian relationship was preserved intact only with both assuming diametrically opposite roles.
[iv] According to one analyst, for example, Ceauşescu refused to sign the resolution condemning the invasion and refused to repudiate the Brezhnev Doctrine, suggesting that the Romanian leader now favored the use of military intervention. Ceauşescu’s argument that to do so would have been to accept responsibility for an invasion that Romania had always condemned was considered by the analyst to be a “lame excuse.” Tom Gallagher, Outcast Europe: The Balkans 1789-1989: From the Ottomans to Milosevic, Amsterdam, Harwood Academic Publishers, 2003, pp. 256-257.
[v] Dascălescu had been Prime Minister since 1982. Stoian had been CC Secretary for Foreign Relations from 1984 until the beginning of November 1989, when he was appointed Foreign Minister. Olteanu had been CC Secretary for Press and Propaganda since May 1988 before he became CC Secretary for Foreign Relations at the beginning of November 1989.
[vi] Report of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs [F. Somogyi] for the Council of Ministers about the Meeting of the leaders of the Warsaw Pact on 4 December, December 06, 1989, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Obtained by Béla Révész; translated and edited by Barnabás Vajd, Laura Deal, and Karl P. Benziger. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/121893; Rezső Nyers’s handwritten Notes on Gorbachev’s Briefing on the Malta Summit at the Meeting of the Warsaw Pact Leaders in Moscow on 4 December, December 04, 1989, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/121884.
[vii] “Warsaw Pact: Condemning Invasion of Czechoslovakia” in National Intelligence Daily, Tuesday, 5 December 1989, p. 10, CIA.
[viii] Transcript of the Executive Political Committee Meeting, November 27, 1989, Romanian National Archives (Arhivele Naţionale ale României: ANR), Fond C.C. al P.C.R., Secţia Cancelarie, dosar 66/1989, f. 22. This file contains both Gorbachev’s announcement of the upcoming Malta meeting and the detailed agenda of what he intended to discuss as well as Ceauşescu’s detailed response, which, unless other Pact members gave the same advice, influenced the Soviet leaders presentation to President Bush. See Ibid, f. 19-39.
[ix] The account of former Foreign Minister Ion Stoian is reproduced in the Romanian Ministry of Defense’s collection of documents related to the Romanian Revolution from a 1994 newspaper interview. See Costache Codrescu, coordinator, Armata Română în revoluţia din decembrie 1989: Studiu documentar [The Romanian Army in the Revolution of December 1989: A Documentary Study], revised 2nd edition, Bucharest, Editura Militară, 1998, pp. 41-42. Olteanu’s account is from a June 20, 2005 interview in Alex Mihai Stoenescu, Istoria loviturilor de stat in România: “Revoluţia din decembrie 1989” – o tragedie româneasca [History of the Coup d’Etat in Romania – “The Revolution of December 1989” – A Romanian Tragedy], vol. 4, part II, Bucharest, RAO, 2005, p. 695. As Olteanu later pointed out, Gorbachev did not condemn the act of invasion per se. He merely recognized it as “a mistake” and called upon the other Pact members to admit so as well. Constantin Olteanu, O viaţă de om: Dialog cu jurnalistul Dan Constantin [A Man’s Life: Dialogue with Journalist Dan Constantinescu], Bucharest, Niculescu, 2013, p. 547.
[x] Interview with former Foreign Minister Ion Stoian in Vocea României, no. 202, 1 August 1994 and Codrescu et. al. (1998), pp. 41-42.
[xii] Interview of General Olteanu in Stoenescu (2005), p. 695; Constantin and Olteanu (2013), pp. 547-548.
[xiii] Stoenescu (2005), p. 695; Constantin and Olteanu (2013), p. 547. Gheorghe-Dej had provoked the same response, astonishment followed by a sudden break in the proceedings, when he recommended to Khrushchev that the Soviet Union withdraw all of its troops from Romania in 1955, and again, on several occasions during 1962-1964, when he recommended the withdrawal of Soviet espionage networks from all of the socialist countries. See, for example, Transcript of Conversations Between Delegations of the RWP CC and the CPSU CC, Moscow, July 1964 (Excerpts), Meeting of 7 July 1964, Document 7 in Larry L. Watts, Romanian Security Policy and the Cuban Crisis, Cold War International History Project e-Dossier No. 38, February 2013, http://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/e-dossier-no-38-romania-security-policy-and-the-cuban-missile-crisis; ANR, Fond C.C. al P.C.R., Secţia Relaţii Externe, dosar 35/1964, vol. II, filele 1-237; Document No. 4 in Vasile Buga, O vară fierbinte în relaţiile româno-sovietice: Convorbirile de la Moscova din iulie 1964 [A Hot Summer in Romanian-Soviet Relations: Conversations in Moscow during July 1964], Bucharest, Romanian Academy, National Institute for the Study of Totalitarianism, 2012, pp. 194-197. Ceauşescu managed to provoke this reaction on numerous occasions and his continuing ability to do so, while prompting admiration in the CIA – and warning that to ponder what Romania might do next was “often to consider the far-fetched” – in equal measure prompted exasperation and fury in the Kremlin, since “only the devil” knew what the Romanian leader might do next. Special Memorandum 6-68: The USSR and Eastern Europe (1968), pp. 8-11; Transcript, Meeting of East German leader Erich Honecker and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Crimea, USSR, 25 July 1978, Document 8, “U.S.-Soviet Relations and the Turn Toward Confrontation, 1977-1980 – New Russian & East German Documents,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin, no. 8/9 (Winter 1996), p. 123.
[xiv] Constantin and Olteanu (2013), p. 547. In an earlier interview, General Olteanu recalled Ceauşescu as having proposed the withdrawal of Soviet troops “from all of the Socialist countries.” Stoenescu (2005), p. 694.
[xv] Ibid. Olteanu’s recollections of 2005 differ with those of 2013 in identifying the East German leader acting as Moscow’s cat’s-paw in the discussion. In 2005 he identified Hans Modrow as the speaker, while in 2013 he identified Egon Kreuz. Both were present. Modrow, in particular, was the Gorbachev-designated heir apparent at the time. On the grooming of Modrow by the KGB see Dirk Banse, “KGB Suchte Schon 1987 Nachfolger für Honecker” [The KGB Sought A Replacement For Honecker Since 1987], Berliner Morgenpost, 13 August 2009. Moscow, or at least the KGB, sought to run former Stasi foreign intelligence chief Markus Wolf in tandem with Modrow as the new reformist leadership, but those hopes were dashed when Wolf was overwhelmingly booed by the East German crowd during his first public speaking attempt as a “reform communist.” See e.g. “Soviet Union Wanted To Topple Honecker in 1987,” Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) Intelligence Notes, no. 30-09, 18 August 2009, https://www.afio.com/sections/wins/2009/2009-30.htm#honecker; “Soviet Union Wanted Stasi Chief To Help To Topple Honecker of East Germany In 1987,” Eurasian Secret Services Daily Report, 13 August 2009. See also Frank Sieren and Günther Schabowski, Wir Haben Fast Alles Falsch Gemacht: Die Letzten Tage Der DDR [We Had Almost Everything Wrong: The Last Days Of The GDR], Berlin, Econ Verlag, 2009.
[xvi] See e.g. Yosef Govrin, Israeli-Romanian Relations at the End of the Ceausescu Era, New York, Routledge, 2002, pp. 109, 115.
[xvii] See Ceauşescu’s report to the 14th Party Congress, ANR, Fond C.C. al P.C.R., Sectia Cancelarie, 76/1989, f. 115-116. See also Govrin (2002), pp. 109, 115. The report was also published in Scânteia, 21 November 1989.
[xviii] “‘Soviets Go Home’ Slogans, Rallies Reported,” Zölnierz Wolnosci, 18 December 1989, p. 2 in FBIS-EEU-89-246, 26 December 1989.
[xix] “Kárpáti To Hold Talks on Soviet Troop Withdrawal,” MTI [Hungarian Telegraph Agency] in English, 1855 GMT, 21 December in FBIS-EEU-89-245, 22 December 1989.
[xx] “Calfa Interviewed on Talks With Gorbachev,” Prague Domestic Service, 1900 GMT, 20 December 1989 in FBIS-EEU-89-247, 27 December 1989; “Dienstbier: Accord on Soviet Presence ‘Invalid’,” CTK [Czech News Agency] (Prague) in English, 2042 GMT, 26 December 1989 in FBIS-EEU-89-247, 27 December 1989.