Review of Serhii Plokhy’s book “The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union” Reviewed by Joshua Keating, staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs

“No one wishes to see the disintegration of the Soviet Union.”

— George H.W. Bush, January 1991

Aug. 1, 1991 GHW BUSH in Kiev made pivotal foreign policy speech = Advisor said to never say “‘Ukraine’ — (Because) Ukrainian-Americans think…it sounds like a geographic area rather than a country….If the president says ‘the Ukraine,’ the White House will be getting thousands of letters and telegrams in protest next week.”

— Jack Matlock, then ambassador to the Soviet Union — Copies of Bush’s speech in his presidential archive show it penciled out

Click for Source Article on Slate

Serhii Plokhy = 1991 U.S. policymakers started thinking of USSR as 15 different countries after 70+ years of USSR dominated global politics

Serhii Plokhy = Contrary to American triumphalists’ narrative of Cold War victory, the U.S. never anticipated the breakup of the USSR and, in fact, U.S. tried to prevent it to KEEP THE EVIL EMPIRE AS A TOOL TO CONTINUE BUILDING THE MIC EMPIRE.

GHW Bush’s speech on rising Ukrainian nationalism and dismemberment of USSR were openly discussed by Bush staff = National security adviser, Brent Scowcroft + Condoleezza Rice.

GHW Bush = “Freedom is not the same as independence. Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.” = Angered Ukrainian nationalists and American hawks = Dubbed “Chicken Kiev” speech by NYT columnist William Safire.

GHW Bush WH = Split the difference on the fall of the USSR, favoring a transition toward democracy and free-market capitalism, and the independence of the Baltic countries.

Secretary of State James Baker worried the disintegration of USSR could entail the “prospect of violence and bloodshed as well as the possibility of nuclear proliferation.” A “Yugoslavia with nukes” seemed like a very real potential outcome.

GHW Bush WH = Valued its relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, as opposed to Boris Yeltsin. Gorbachev meant perestroika and glasnost = Nuclear disarmament treaty + Co-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Gorbachev and Bush were personally close, as were their families.

“Baker and his State Department advisers did not want to let Gorbachev down after what he had done to improve Soviet-American relations.”

— Plokhy – Bush wrote Gorbachev on Jan. 24, 1991, to assure him that “No one wishes to see the disintegration of the Soviet Union,” and he meant it.

USA = Did NOT anticipate the breakup of the USSR since many participants on the Soviet side didn’t anticipate it either. As late as the Belavezha Accords, the Dec. 7, 1991 meeting of the three largest Slavic Soviet republics—Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine—which effectively dissolved the Soviet Union into the loosely confederated Commonwealth of Independent States, Yeltsin was presenting the case for maintaining a strong union of some sort. But just days after Ukrainian voters had overwhelmingly chosen independence, the newborn country’s de facto head of state, Leonid Kravchuk, was unyielding, according to Plokhy: “The Soviet Union no longer existed, and parliament would not allow him to create new unions of any kind. And Ukraine needed no such unions: the Ukrainians did not want to exchange one yoke for another.”

“Back in 1922 the USSR was created with an eye to accommodating Ukraine. The Union emerged as a state with a powerful center whose goal in the first decade of its history was to keep the Ukrainians in and the Russians (who had dominated) down.”

— Plokhy — Russian view: Without Ukraine, there was no USSR — Russian leadership never liked the idea of Ukraine being a foreign country.

Even after the Dec 1991 summit, the U.S. would not recognize Ukraine’s independence until Dec. 25, the day Gorbachev formally resigned, making the end of the USSR an incontrovertible reality.

GHW Bush WH = Held out for months despite the urging of Ukrainian-American groups and hawks in Congress. “This simultaneous recognition of the USSR’s demise and Ukraine’s existence was classic Realpolitik. Simply put, reality had a new player. The United States simply acquiesced.”

GHW Bush WH = Finally GHW Bush’s speech praised “the historic and revolutionary transformation of a totalitarian dictatorship, the Soviet Union, and the liberation of its peoples” as “a victory for the moral force of our values.” = NEW USA NARRATIVE (LIE) WAS BORN: The breakup of the Soviet Union itself, rather than simply the defeat of its political system, had been the end goal of U.S. policy all along. The gulf of understanding between Washington and Moscow was MAD LARGE.

Plokhy last book, “Yalta: The Price of Peace,” made the case that FDR and Churchill badly underestimated their Soviet counterpart, Joseph Stalin, at the fateful 1945 conference.

Plokhy’s “The Last Empire” shows 1991 was an overwhelming rush of events that key participants in both capitals faced. Plokhy’s recounting of the August coup, and the tense atmosphere inside Gorbachev’s Crimean dacha—where the Soviet leader had good reason to believe he could follow some of his predecessors by dying in office under suspicious circumstances—is a particular highlight.

Today’s events in Ukraine parallel the fears Gorbachev expressed shortly before the coup. —Suddenly in 1991 “Seventy-five million people live outside the bounds of their ‘small fatherlands’… What, then, are they all second-class citizens?” — Plokhy

Today Putin justified protecting ethnic Russians by annexing Crimea, Putin on TV reflected on 1991 events saying to the Russian parliament, “Millions of Russians went to sleep in one country and woke up in a foreign country—part became ethnic minorities in former Soviet republics. One of the most divided people on Earth.”

RECENT Poll = 6 in 10 Russians think parts of neighboring countries ought rightly to be part of Russia. = Borders were arbitrarily drawn.

1991 HISTORY = is also worth revisiting now that Ukraine has reignited an old debate in U.S. foreign policy: whether

USA Policy = Support rights of national minorities to govern themselves VERSUS Support Sovereignty of nations within existing borders (wins out in the name of global security).

GHW Bush’s Ambassador to Ukraine said it’s not so easy “for one superpower to support the dismantlement of another.”

Plokhy = White House aids like Cheney wanted U.S. to actively recognize the independence of the new states and actively push for the dismantlement of the USSR = Cheney + Wolfowitz = LATER BUSH II FAKED INVASION POLICIES

Plokhy = Shows misplaced triumphalism of senior Bush’s staff led to the disastrous hubris of his son’s. = If U.S. aggressive foreign policy could collapse the USSR then it could REMAKE IRAQ into an America.

Plokhy = GHW Bush’s initial fears about the END of USSR weren’t misplaced = Bloody affair, with thousands killed and displaced in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and in the North Caucasus. But it was less massive than many in Washington feared.

Putin and many in Russia view 1991 differently calling the End of the USSR the “major geopolitical disaster of the century.” Today many Russians view Ukraine as a opportunity to redress those wrongs.

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