Where did all the time go? Thirty years ago this week the Berlin Wall fell. Then Soviet chairman Mikhail Gorbachev freed the Baltic states and allowed divided Germany to reunite. It was a geopolitical earthquake of historic proportions – and a major miracle of our times.
The once mighty Soviet Union had become exhausted by its long military/economic/political struggle to keep up with the much wealthier United States and its rich allies. Moscow had 40,000 tanks, but its economic infrastructure, crippled by Marxist ideology, was an empty shell.
A senior KGB general in Moscow told me that, a decade earlier, the renowned Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov had warned the Politburo that failure by Soviet industry to account for deprecation to modernize and replace outdated equipment would provoke a major crisis by 1990. This is exactly what happened.
By 1990, Soviet industry was broken down, outdated or rusted away. The Kremlin could no longer maintain the Soviet welfare state with its free medicine and education, long holidays, vacation spas, early pensions and unaffordable military spending. Arms alone may have accounted for over 40% of Moscow’s budget.
The Soviet Empire came crashing down after a revolt by East Germans, followed by Baltic peoples and central Europeans. Secretary Gorbachev, an idealistic leader of high ethics, refused to use the Red Army to crush the rebellion.
KGB, fed up with decrepit Communist misrule, abandoned the Party and moved to take control. East Germany broke free of Moscow and joyously reunited with West Germany, altering Europe’s balance of power to the displeasure of Britain and France, Germany’s historic rivals.
According to the Russians, Moscow made oral agreements with Washington, London and Paris that, in exchange for allowing Germany to reunite and then join NATO, the Western powers vowed NOT to extend the alliance into the former Communist states. They agreed to a neutral buffer zone across Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
The West lied. Precisely the opposite occurred. NATO, led by its sponsor, the US, moved relentlessly east, using its economic and political clout to dominate Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland (they were delighted), the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania and the wreckage of former Yugoslavia. New NATO bases in Romania and Bulgaria gave the US-run alliance much greater access to the Mideast.
The Georgian government, led by Gorbachev’s foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, a key player in dismantling Communism, was ousted in a CIA-led ‘color revolution.’
Protests by bankrupt Russia over NATO’s intrusion into Eastern Europe were scornfully dismissed by the West with ‘well, you don’t have anything in writing to confirm your claims of a deal.’
True enough, in the confusion of ‘fin de regime’ Moscow and its Russian diplomats failed to get signed treaties. `We trusted the Western powers,’ came their pathetic reply. Meanwhile, US intelligence agencies were looting Moscow of its military technology and bribing the corrupt government. At times, Russia felt like an occupied nation.
The US poured vast sums of money into Russia to shore up its pro-US oligarchs and robber barons, corrupting everyone in their path. A bunch of drunken former Communist Party bigwigs attempted a clownish coup, only to be blocked by the KGB and military. Another serious drunk, Boris Yeltsin, was helped into power on a route paved with US $100 bills by the West. It was Russia’s darkest hour.
KGB finally seized power by outing Yeltsin and installing one of its brightest officers, Vladimir Putin. He quickly began rebuilding Russia and cleaning Moscow’s Augean Stables. Germany achieved another miracle by its successful reunification with former East Germany.
I walked through the deserted main building of East Germany’s Stasi secret police and the abandoned HQ of the quarter million-strong Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. Files were strewn on the floors; sheets of paper marked ‘Top Secret’ blew about. It was spooky and miraculous.
I was reminded of poet Shelley’s great poem Ozymandias:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”