KREMLIN COUPS TURNED DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTIONS​​​

                                                     

Jiri Valenta with Leni Friedman Valenta


December 13, 2019


.EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The revolution that took place in the Czech Republic thirty years ago was not just the work of Vaclav Havel and his Charter 77 followers. The spark was a KGB coup directed by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. A Kremlin coup also helped spur revolutionary change in Germany. The late 1980s saw unprecedented power struggles within the Soviet elite and Politburo under Gorbachev.EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The revolution that took place in the Czech Republic thirty years ago was not just the work of Vaclav Havel and his Charter 77 followers. The spark was a KGB coup directed by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. A Kremlin coup also helped spur revolutionary change in Germany. The late 1980s saw unprecedented power struggles within the Soviet elite and Politburo under Gorbachev.


In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev was under pressure from the fundamentalist communist leaders of East Germany and Czechoslovakia to take action against the reform-minded leaders of Poland and Hungary. But he was also struggling with radical reformers in the USSR who wanted not just reform communism but full democracy — a movement largely led by former physicist and Nobel Prize winner Andrey Sakharov and former Mayor of Moscow Boris Yeltsin.


​In September 1989, as a rising opposition leader, Yeltsin undertook a week-long tour of the . He visited the White House—through a back door—and his presentation to President George H.W. Bush’s NSA, Brent Scowcroft, and head of the Soviet Desk Condoleezza Rice fell on deaf ears. Rice, an admirer of Gorbachev, did not take Yeltsin seriously as a challenger.


​Upon Yeltsin’s return to Moscow, Gorbachev unleashed a public campaign against him, citing his presumed alcoholism and supposedly clownish misbehavior during his visit to America.


​According to Yeltsin in conversation with this author, Gorbachev was no longer relying on the advice of Alexander Yakovlev, the Soviet Kissinger, who advised him on both domestic and foreign affairs. The real thinker behind perestroika, glasnost, and new thinking, Yakovlev’s views often ran parallel to those of the IRGD reformers. Gorbachev was leaning instead toward the

hardliners.


​Gorbachev seemed to be more concerned about Yeltsin, who dared to speak out against him in the Russian parliament before TV cameras, than about the challenges he was facing from conservative regimes in Central-Eastern Europe and their allies in Russia. Yeltsin’s image haunted Gorbachev more than the threat of possible payback from strongmen Eric Honecker in East Germany, Milos Jakes in Prague, and Nikolai Ceausescu in Bucharest.


In November 1989, the Russian people were riveted by the televised proceedings of the Congress of the People’s Deputies. For the first time, they actually saw politicians personally attacking each other. The IRGD’s few hundred members had become a powerful force in the parliament and its five leaders the most popular politicians in the country, with Sakharov at number one.


​It was not just Gorbachev but also Ronald Reagan whose actions prompted the flowering of the democratic revolution. In the 1980s, the Reagan Doctrine forced the Kremlin into strategic concessions and retreats, the most painful of which was withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan. Russia, then facing a horrendous economic crisis, negotiated with America about withdrawing its forces, advisers, and military programs from hot spots in developing countries.


By Jiri Valenta

Published by the BESA for Strategic Studies, Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv, Israel. Perspectives Paper No. 1,371, December 13, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The revolution that took place in the Czech Republic thirty years ago was not just the work of Vaclav Havel and his Charter 77 followers. The spark was a KGB coup directed by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. A Kremlin coup also helped spur revolutionary change in Germany. The late 1980s saw unprecedented power struggles within the Soviet elite and Politburo under Gorbachev.

In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev was under pressure from the fundamentalist communist leaders of East Germany and Czechoslovakia to take action against the reform-minded leaders of Poland and Hungary. But he was also struggling with radical reformers in the USSR who wanted not just reform communism but full democracy — a movement largely led by former physicist and Nobel Prize winner Andrey Sakharov and former Mayor of Moscow Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin was one of five leaders of several hundred radical reformers in Gorbachev’s new Soviet parliament, the Congress of the People’s Deputies. Known as the Inter Regional Group of Deputies or IRGD , they were interested not just in reform communism for Russia a la Gorbachev but in full democracy for both the USSR and Central Europe. They had considerable support in the Russian parliament as well as in several Soviet periodicals.

In September 1989, as a rising opposition leader, Yeltsin undertook a week-long tour of the . He visited the White House—through a back door—and his presentation to President George H.W. Bush’s NSA, Brent Scowcroft, and head of the Soviet Desk Condoleezza Rice fell on deaf ears. Rice, an admirer of Gorbachev, did not take Yeltsin seriously as a challenger.

Upon Yeltsin’s return to Moscow, Gorbachev unleashed a public campaign against him, citing his presumed alcoholism and supposedly clownish misbehavior during his visit to America.

According to Yeltsin in conversation with this author, Gorbachev was no longer relying on the advice of Alexander Yakovlev, the Soviet Kissinger, who advised him on both domestic and foreign affairs. The real thinker behind perestroika, glasnost, and new thinking, Yakovlev’s views often ran parallel to those of the IRGD reformers. Gorbachev was leaning instead toward the hardliners.

Gorbachev seemed to be more concerned about Yeltsin, who dared to speak out against him in the Russian parliament before TV cameras, than about the challenges he was facing from conservative regimes in Central-Eastern Europe and their allies in Russia. Yeltsin’s image haunted Gorbachev more than the threat of possible payback from strongmen Eric Honecker in East Germany, Milos Jakes in Prague, and Nikolai Ceausescu in Bucharest.

In November 1989, the Russian people were riveted by the televised proceedings of the Congress of the People’s Deputies. For the first time, they actually saw politicians personally attacking each other. The IRGD’s few hundred members had become a powerful force in the parliament and its five leaders the most popular politicians in the country, with Sakharov at number one.

It was not just Gorbachev but also Ronald Reagan whose actions prompted the flowering of the democratic revolution. In the 1980s, the Reagan Doctrine forced the Kremlin into strategic concessions and retreats, the most painful of which was withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan. Russia, then facing a horrendous economic crisis, negotiated with America about withdrawing its forces, advisers, and military programs from hot spots in developing countries.

Russian troops were forced to leave Afghanistan during the period from February 1988 to March 1989. Russia was also behind negotiations of several other regional conflicts that began under Reagan, including Angola and Nicaragua.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan had a great impact on Soviet non-Russian republics in the Baltics and Caucasus that were thirsting for freedom. It was during the withdrawal that the first demands for autonomy—and then independence—came from these republics.

The imperial embrace was easing in Poland and Hungary, countries with reform-minded leaders whose deputies had joined the IRGD in the Soviet parliament. Gorbachev was forced to allow pluralistic waves in Poland’s parliament and even a free election within the Hungarian Communist Party.


With Yakovlev protecting glasnost editors from persecution, the fundamentalists in Moscow and communist capitals elsewhere began to ask where the retreat would end. The hardcore young leader in Czechoslovakia, Miroslav Stepan, quoted a Kremlin friend, VP Gennady Yaneav, as saying: “If everything is left to Gorbachev, we’ll have nothing left of the flag but the flagpole. 


​Other factors fed into the revolutions of Central Europe besides the Yeltsin-Gorbachev rift and the far-reaching impact of the Reagan Doctrine. An important catalyst was the massacre of Chinese students and demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989. Whereas the fundamentalist leaders in communist countries saw this as a model to follow in defense of their regimes, reform-minded leaders, including Gorbachev, saw bloodshed as something to be avoided at all costs.


​This became urgent as Gorbachev began seeking a summit at Malta with Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush.  Gorbachev’s advisers, then dealing with Russia’s economic crisis, feared the summit could be called off if another Tiananmen Square-type massacre appeared on the horizon and a new Cold War descended on Europe.


The fundamentalist leaders in Czechoslovakia and East Germany were determined not to allow radical reformers to change their political systems. They secretly designated special units of their armed forces to intervene against crowds of demonstrators as necessary.


To counter them, Gorbachev gave orders to sizable units of Russian forces in East Germany and Czechoslovakia to forgo any support for a coup against the demonstrators. He put Russian security forces on alert in East Germany and helped organize an inter-party coup against the Honecker regime.


​As Honecker fell, so did the Berlin Wall, the symbol of Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe. However, the inter-party coup came too late to ensure the outcome Gorbachev wanted—a communist, reform-minded regime. The radical reformers in Germany prevailed, the system eventually became democratic, and Russian hegemony ended.


​Even after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was no spontaneous mass movement in Czechoslovakia. The country was paralyzed. The Czech leadership, like the earlier one in Germany, was planning to use special forces and militia to put down any attempt to change the regime.


​Things came to a head in Prague on November 17. In the absence of large crowds demanding perestroika, a KGB general, one of the leaders of the Soviet Ministry of the Interior and a section of the Czech secret service, came up with a creative tactic to mobilize the masses: a killing that never was.


​A student named Smid was reported by Radio Free Europe to have been killed by riot police in the center of Prague during the annual international students day. Smid was actually a Lt. Ludvik Zifcak, a member of the Czech secret police, who was taken to a hospital in a Secret Service vehicle and reported to be dead. He later miraculously recovered.


​The incident succeeded in sparking further demonstrations, and the opposition, led by Vaclav Havel, finally organized itself into a civil forum. But the fundamentalist forces didn’t give up. They planned to mobilize special units of the armed forces, and their leaders distributed leaflets against Havel.


But on November 23, when Stepan tried to mobilize workers to assist the police in putting down the demonstrators, they refused to cooperate. They joined the students and other demonstrators in the streets instead. The coup became a national democratic revolution, generating huge crowds. A general strike was called, the conservative leaders resigned, and Vaclav Havel became president. The communist regime in Prague was over.


Conclusion


​A pro-Soviet coup was organized by Gorbachev’s KGB in both Prague and Berlin. What Gorbachev and his supporters did not anticipate was that the Czechoslovak and German people, like people elsewhere in Central Europe, had awakened from their lethargy and would transform the planned reform communist revolution from above into a democratic revolution from below.


There were attempts to reverse the reforms. The final act was played on August 20, 1991, in Moscow with an attempted reactionary coup presided over by Kryuchkov and Yanaev. This was the same Yanaev who correctly forecast that nothing would be left of the Soviet flag but the flagpole.


​​After winning the chairmanship of the empire’s largest Soviet republic, Russia, Yeltsin took it out of the Soviet Union and the rest of it collapsed. The non-Russian republics were free and the flag of the Soviet empire was replaced by the traditional Russian standard.


​This was Russia’s second attempt at democracy. The first was during the Kerensky government, which was undone by the Bolshevik coup in 1917. There is hope yet for Russia, but that’s another story.

Aside from his historical significance, Yakovlev also worked for President Boris Yeltsin and briefly for President Vladimir Putin before his death in 2005. And one of the questions we ask here is how would Yakovlev advise Putin on the Ukraine and ISIS ​ today.


Yakovlev’s Double Life

Pipes does an outstanding job of providing Yakovlev’s impoverished peasant background, his youth and military experience in WWII, and his exceptional education. He discusses how Yakovlev began his reassessment of Leninism, particularly after Khrushchev’s 1956 denunciation of Stalin. Sickly in his youth and born to an illiterate mother, Yakovlev nevertheless rose to be the acting head of the Central Committee’s Department of Agitation and Propaganda.

Yakovlev was sent to Prague just after the Soviet invasion to preside over a group of journalists. Within a few days he realized that putting the Czechoslovak leader Alexander Dubček before a revolutionary tribunal would be a mistake. The decision had to be changed due to the Czech people’s massive passive resistance.

Returning to Moscow after the Czech invasion, he informed Brezhnev that it was “necessary to support Dubček; his program is absolutely normal… He [Brezhnev] understood nothing of the theory of Leninism and I wanted to use his ignorance to say that what Dubček is doing now is absolutely right from the Marxist point of view… At the end of our talk, he said, ‘Thank you very much, Alexander, but I must ask you not to say what you told me to [Prime Minister Alexei] Kosygin.’” Suffice to say Brezhnev confirmed his rivalry with Kosygin, who for a long time questioned the wisdom of intervention.

This exchange should be read with great interest by scholars who have explained the Soviet invasion in terms of Brezhnev Doctrine, like Professor Karen Dawischa and Dr. Mark Kramer, and denied the utility of a modified bureaucratic politics paradigm as a methodological tool in explaining Kremlin decisions.

“I was not a heroic type like Yeltsin,” Yakovlev also confessed to us in September 2000, when we had the unique opportunity to have two hours- long, in-depth discussions with him at his office. Nevertheless, injured as a young man in the WWII defense of Moscow, Yakovlev was a patriotic and courageous man. When we observed him with his large, peasant head and receding hair, visibly limping from one shelf to another looking for the unpublished manuscript he kindly shared with us, it dawned on us that one of the reasons why some of his daring views were tolerated by Brezhnev and company was that his visible leg injury reminded them he was a seriously wounded war veteran.

Politically Incorrect

By 1972, Leninist political correctness ruled. Yakovlev experienced a setback that year. He wrote an article in Literaturnaya gazeta (Literary Gazette), the Party periodical of the literary elite, attacking views which found a voice primarily in two nationalist and reactionary periodicals Molodaia gvardia (Young Guard) and Nash sovremennik (Our Contemporary). The subjects of his venom were a sort of semi-fascist, mixed salad, upholding patriotism and autocracy, at times anti-Semitic, and indicting pro-Western radical reformers for poisoning the Russian soul. They blamed the Jews for Russia’s misfortunes, and overly praised the virtues of village life. The unpardonable mistake Yakovlev made was not to check thoroughly with his superiors, before publishing a criticism of Russian nationalist writers and their Politburo sponsors. Ideology tsar Mikhail Suslov was not too displeased with the article but he was under pressure from nationalist icon Mikhail Sholokhov, author of And Quiet Flows the Don, to punish Yakovlev. So Suslov gently purged Yakovlev. He sent him to Canada as Russia’s ambassador..  For a decade thereafter, Yakovlev would learn about the Canadian political system, and also about Canada’s neighbor—America.

Russian Reformer

In Ottawa, having developed a close relationship with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Yakovlev eventually concluded that reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev, the tsar of Soviet agriculture, had the greatest potential to become the next leader of the USSR. Thus, as Pipes posits, he arranged Gorbachev’s visit to Canada.

The visit organized by Yakovlev opened Gorbachev’s horizons about the backwardness of Russia’s agriculture. But there was more. Yakovlev managed to develop an unusually close relationship with Gorbachev. Undoubtedly he hoped that if Gorbachev did become the future leader, he would become his Mikhail Speransky (adviser to Tsar Alexander I).

An opportunity came when Margaret Thatcher considered inviting to London the probable future leader of Russia. Yakovlev took the risk of advising Trudeau it would be Gorbachev. Thatcher acted on Trudeau’s tip. Thereafter she briefed President Reagan: “We can do business with Mr. Gorbachev.” The rest is history!

With the aid of Gorbachev, Yakovlev returned to Moscow as the new head of the primary Soviet think tank, IMEMO. Here he worked tirelessly to bring Gorbachev to the pinnacle of power. His task was not an easy one. Henry Kissinger has been known to say, “If you want a friend in Washington, get yourself a dog.” As some Soviets joked at that time, “In Moscow perhaps two dogs would do it.” Fortunately, Gorbachev initially surrounded himself with a band of intellectual, reform-minded advisers, including Georgi Arbatov, Anatoly Chernyaev, and Evgeny Primakov, who helped to smooth his path to power.

A Soviet Henry Kissinger and Much More

Yakovlev succeeded in his goal to become Gorbachev’s closest adviser, and Pipes is correct concluding that he, not Mikhail Gorbachev or any of his advisors, became the man who most clearly conceptualized and fought for most of the unique ideas behind Russia´s 1985–89 revolution from above. Dozens of Kremlin insiders we interviewed agreed that while Gorbachev deserves credit for embracing and implementing most of Yakovlev´s ideas, Yakovlev was their true architect. 

Unlike Kissinger, Yakovlev was not just an adviser on foreign policy; he advised on domestic affairs as well. He actually presided over three brain trusts. In foreign policy, his proposals for opening negotiation and arms reduction with Ronald Reagan, were swiftly adopted under the heading of “new thinking.” For the first time, the Soviet Union became willing to embrace genuine détente with America and openly forgo the idea of world revolution. Yakovlev was also influential in Gorbachev’s secretly ordered retreat from Afghanistan. On the domestic front, it was Yakovlev who dusted off and employed Alexander II’s concepts of glasnost (easing of censorship) that had been introduced for a brief period in 1968 Czechoslovakia. He also introduced perestroika (the restructuring of politics and economy).

Naturally, these reforms did not sit well with everybody—and Pipes documents the evolution of a man who, while undergoing a slow transformation from Leninist to reform Communist and then to genuine democrat, had to cope not only with the hardcore Communists in the Politburo, but also with a centrist leader who often straddled the fence. The most difficult and least successful innovation was the economic perestroika . It became a Sisyphean task to change the command system into a market one, and the reason why Gorbachev’s revolution from above finally failed by 1989–90.

Far ahead of his time, Yakovlev also proposed in 1985 dividing the Communist Party into two parties—genuine pluralism. That did not happen. Gorbachev rejected it. However, the cat was out of the bag and the concept would emerge again in 1989 with the introduction of a semi-democratic duma, the Congress of the People’s Deputies.

How Yakovlev Supported the Sovereignty of the Baltic Republics


As in Czechoslovakia two decades earlier, Yakovlev in 1988–91 opposed Kremlin military interventions and hard measures towards the radical reformers in the Baltics. It all began as he directed a third brain trust that made him equivalent to America’s chief librarian. He presided over a group of prominent historians involved in the recovering, evaluating, declassifying, and preserving historical secrets of the Soviet empire.

In particular, this historical commission under Yakovlev dealt with Stalin’s past crimes in foreign affairs, above all the secret protocols of the infamous 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Never published in the USSR, the protocols divided Eastern Europe up between two monsters.

Unearthed by Yakovlev’s office, the secret protocols allowed Soviet historians and popular fronts in the Baltics to address Stalin’s illegal occupation of these states, and thus provide a path to their sovereignty.

While considering the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, it is worthy to remember what key reform-minded Baltic leaders in 1988–1991 explained to us. Their nations would not be independent today, if not for Yakovlev. He actively built alliances with Baltic leaders like Estonia’s Edgar Savisaar and Latvia’s Dainis Ivans, against hardliners like Ligachev and his pro-Kremlin proconsuls in 1988–1990.

Yakovlev subsequently helped to counter the pressures exerted on Gorbachev by the military- industrial-security complex leaders (the future August 1991 putschists) to invade Lithuania. “There’s nothing dangerous going on in the republic,” he told the Politburo. His subsequent comments were unprecedented for any Russian leader:

“Yes, there are complications caused by the fact that the center has dictated much that damaged the development of the republic. Union agencies are overloading Lithuania with industry, which has damaged the ecology. Russians are flooding in, unfortunately not the very best people, and migration to the republic is growing.”

But didn’t any of the fundamentalists have suspicions about Yakovlev besides KGB Chief Vladimir Kriuchkov? Of course they did. Egor Ligachev, who until September 1988 shared with Yakovlev Suslov’s old ideological portfolio, was on to him after he read Yakovlev’s 1972 politically incorrect essay.

Yakovlev’s enemies never forgot his article in Literaturnaya gazeta. OMIT, Like Count Sergei Witte earlier, Yakovlev was accused of being part of a Jewish conspiracy, and in late 1987 the anti-Semitic organization Pamiyat’ warned Gorbachev in a letter, “Stop Yakovlev!”. Finally, the fundamentalists launched what Yakovlev called “a first coup attempt” in early 1988 through the empire-wide publication of a KGB-sponsored letter by a chemistry teacher Nina Andreyeva. Yakovlev managed to convince Gorbachev that the coup was directed against him, and together they defeated it.

Yakovlev and Yeltsin, Helping to Deter Military Intervention in the Baltics


Yakovlev’s ideas, together with those of famed dissident Andrei Sakharov, were eventually adopted by the democratic bulldozer Boris Yeltsin. Hating Gorbachev, who had tossed him out of the Politburo, Yeltsin and his supporters helped to assist the Baltics in deterring a military intervention. Ironically, among Yeltsin-Yakovlev supporters were Leningrad’s new reform-minded leader Anatoly Sobchak and his KGB-turned deputy for economic affairs, Vladimir Putin.

Pipes does not discuss in great depth the Yeltsin-Yakovlev relationship. Yeltsin viewed Yakovlev as the only wise and enlightened figure in Gorbachev’s Politburo. He was disappointed with Yakovlev’s lack of support during his own 1987 purge. (Yakovlev: “I am not a heroic type.”) Yet in 1989, as grassroots revolution emerged in the Russian cities and non-Russian republics, Yakovlev, like other radical reformers, established contact with Yeltsin and his supporters in the non-Russian republics, much to the displeasure of Gorbachev.

KGB Chief Kryuchkov then launched a new campaign to save the Soviet empire. He began to undermine Yakovlev’s relationship with Gorbachev by tendentious intelligence reports about his presumed subversion. This was followed by a breach between Gorbachev and Yakovlev that would never be healed.

Still, Gorbachev asked Yakovlev about the wisdom of a larger intervention in Lithuania in early 1991. Yakovlev replied: “If a single soldier fires a single bullet on the unarmed crowds, Soviet power would be over.” Nevertheless, on January 13, 1991, the Russian military intervened, killing 13 people and injuring hundreds.

After the August 1991 failed coup led by Kryuchkov, Yakovlev, by then expelled from the Communist Party, decisively blamed Gorbachev for the putsch attempt, saying he was guilty of brooking a team of traitors.

Why Henry Kissinger Failed to Sell Yakovlev’s Memoirs

A mystery: why, until Pipes, has there been no full biography of Yakovlev? Pipes has set the record straight, correctly pointing out that Gorbachev, unlike Nixon, kept his Soviet Kissinger in the shadows, taking credit for his ideas. Still, that is not a sufficient explanation. This writer, who read the unpublished memoir Yakovlev kindly lent to us overnight, (Omut Pamiati: Ot Stolypina do Putina [Maelstrom of Memory; From Stolypin to Putin], Vagrius, 2001), recognized it was much more significant than the memoir of any other leader with the exception of Gorbachev.

We subsequently tried to help Yakovlev have his book translated and published in America. At my urging, Henry Kissinger, a remarkably kind man, was interested enough to try to sell the manuscript in 2001 to Simon & Schuster and Norton, but he failed. Why?  Why was Yakovlev forgotten before Pipes’ pioneering effort? With the plethora of biographies of Gorbachev and some of Yeltsin, why, until now, not a single one on Yakovlev? Why do we have a translated memoir of arch conservative Ligachev, with Professor Stephen Cohen’s introduction, but not one of arch reformer Yakovlev?

One answer lies in the ongoing clash with the aging American Russologists, some of whom still idealize the reform Communist Gorbachev. The mere mention of Yeltsin’s name infuriates them. Neither was Gorbachev’s parting with Yakovlev friendly. Gorbachev never forgave Yakovlev that he went to work for his rival, Yeltsin, and our supposition is that neither have America’s aging Russologists. Apologists for Gorbachev still believe it was Yeltsin and Yakovlev who jeopardized Gorbachev’s perestroika. They would have liked the USSR to stay united under a reform Communist. Thus some people like Steve Cohen tried to justify Putin’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine as Gorbachev did.

How Would Yakovlev Advise Putin on the Ukraine and ISIS?

Although Pipes’ book did not deal with these questions, the book provides a framework for answering them.

On April 18, 2014, after the invasion of the Crimea, Gorbachev again tried to justify his actions and hidden support for the 1991 putschists in these words: “In 1991, I was categorically against the break-up of a union state. [...] This time [2014] in Crimea, everything happened by the people’s will and at their request. It’s a good thing they chose the path of a referendum and showed that people really want to return back to Russia, and nobody is forcing people there.” [It came on the heels of the little green men.]

Yakovlev, who tried to save Dubček in 1968, and who disagreed with using force in Lithuania in 1991, would surely disagree with Gorbachev’s comments. Undoubtedly supportive of Ukrainian independence, he would have urged Putin to use non-military means to deal with the crisis, and have advocated rapprochement between the two traditionally friendly Slavic nations. Putin would probably not have listened, yet Yakovlev’s vision may survive Putin’s rule.

Almost certainly, Yakovlev would have coached Putin in the direction of forging an alliance with America against the Islamofascists, like the one he and Pipes experienced in WWII against the Nazis. After all, Yakovlev advised Gorbachev to work with America during the first 1991 Gulf War in response to the bloody former Soviet client Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Pipes’ conclusions written a year ago do not deal with these issues. Nevertheless, his biography of a unique and unheralded character of the 20th century makes it one of the books worth reading in the 21st. It opens a significant portal to many more golden nuggets to be mined in further studies of Soviet and Russian history. Indeed, the figure of Yakovlev ensures a new evaluation of Russia’s last revolution.

      JVLV.NET:  Jiri Valenta's Review of Richard Pipes' book                                                on Alexander Yakovlev,


The Man Whose Ideas Delivered Russia From CommunISM

The doyen of historians of Russia, Richard Pipes provides the first full biography of Alexander Yakovlev—the Russian Henry Kissinger to Gorbachev. Unlike Henry, however, Alexander was kept in the shadows by his boss. Using Yakovlev’s own writing, some available only in Russian, Pipes, Ronald Reagan’s adviser, opens a gold mine from which future historians and analysts will extract other precious nuggets.”


—Jiri Valenta, author of Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968: Anatomy of a Decision and co-author of Gorbachev’s New Thinking and Third World Conflicts

Famed historian  Richard Pipes, a former Harvard professor who also served as member of the State Department under Ronald Reagan, has written the first full biography of Alexander Yakovlev, a major player during Russia's peaceful revolution from 1985-1991.

Photo of the Valentas taken with Yakovlev on September 28, the second day of discussions  with him.  Among other things we went over his then  unpublished manuscript entitled  Maelstrom of Memory, From Stolypin to Putin, which we had borrowed overnight.

                                          

JVLV.NET:  HOW WOULD YAKOVLEV ADVISE PUTIN TODAY ON


UKRAINE AND ISIS?


                                      Jiri and Leni Friedman Valenta

                                                                            Aspen  Review,  January  2016


Richard Pipes, Alexander Yakovlev. The Man Whose Ideas Delivered Russia from Communism. Northern Illinois University Press, 2015



Alexander Yakovlev, the Gorbachev adviser who was the true architect of peristroika, glasnost and new thiking. .

              WHOSE IDEAS DELIVERED RUSSIA FROM COMMUNISM?

           JVLV.NET:  A RESPONSE TO JACK MATLOCK’S REVIEW OF RICHARD PIPES’ BOOK

                                                 By Jiri Valenta with Leni Friedman Valenta

 

                                                          July 10, 2016



Most Americans believe that the man whose ideas helped to deliver Russia from communism was Mikhail Gorbachev.  Some also believe it was Andrey Sakharov.  But they surely forgot someone.  As Richard Pipes shows, much of the honor goes to Alexander Yakovlev, the Russian Henry Kissinger to Gorbachev.  So kudo to former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow (1987-91) Jack Matlock for his review of Pipe’s book, Alexander Yakovlev, the Man Whose Ideas Delivered Russia from Communism and Kudo to the New York Review of Books.

There are two reasons why Yakovlev is unknown to the American public.  First, unlike Henry, he was kept in the shadows by his boss.  Second, many prominent Russologists, admirers of Gorbachev, liked Yakovlev when he was a reform communist under Gorbachev, but abandoned him moved towards the more radical Yeltsin camp in 1989. 

My partner Leni Friedman Valenta and I were fortunate enough in 2000 to have a long interview with Yakovlev in Moscow.  He was also kind enough to lend us overnight the still unpublished copy of his memoir, Omut Pamiati.  As Yakovlev reminded us bitterly, Professor Stephen Cohen put great effort into publishing the memoir of Yakovlev’s chief foe and principle hardliner, Yegor Ligachev, and even wrote the introduction to his book.  By contrast, two memoirs of Alexander Yakovlev are not so far published in English.   All this in spite of the kind efforts of Henry Kissinger, whose help I sought in this regard in 2002.  New York publishers weren’t interested. Nor were they interested in Pipes’ just published biography of Yakovlev despite the author’s fame.  Kudo to the Northern Illinois University Press which finally took a chance. Someone should now grab, translate and publish both of Yakovlev’s memoirs in Russian.  They are indispensable reading, to restore Yakovlev’s place in history. 


Meanwhile, I have a couple of issues with Matlock’s review of Pipes’ book based on my own research.  Let me begin, however, with something where we agree.  Not well known is that like historian Pipes, Jack served on Ronald Reagans NSC in charge of Soviet and East European affairs during Ronald Reagan’s administration.  Both men thus helped to shape the Gipper’s views on Russia. Together with Gorbachev, Reagan, of course, helped to create the political environment for Yakovlev’s ideas to blossom from 1985-89.   Nevertheless, we fully agree with Matlock’s principle conclusion: “No other unfounded myth has caused as much damage to US foreign policy over the last quarter-century as the idea that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented the victory of the West in the cold war.”

Sorry folks, but the Russians mainly vanquished communism themselves.   As Leni and I show in our forthcoming volume on Russia’s democratic revolution, what happened in Russia was a two stage revolution, beginning with Gorbachev’s Revolution from Above.    Matlock demonstrated this in his own Autopsy of an Empire, 2005.  But the second stage, researched by us, was a revolution from below that came in the large Russian cities and non-Russian Soviet Republics, primarily in the Baltics and Georgia.  This process, an attempted march towards true Russian democracy, has not been fully understood and needs to be as Matlock has indicated.


As a fellow Kremlinologist I know Matlock quiet and believe him to be among the two greatest ambassadors to Russia of all time –the other being George Kennan, But I disagree with him for not buying Pipes’ argument “that perestroika was exclusively Yakovlev’s doing, not Gorbachev’s.”  Yes, Gorbachev had to agree to Yakovlev’s moves, but, having interviewed a few dozens of the prominent members of three brain trusts Yakovlev put together for Gorbachev in 1984-86, I believe Pipes is basically correct. 

As in the case of Kissinger, who presided over the NSC and benefitted from the ideas of many of his aides, he was the principle synthesizer and player, particularly after he became a member of the Politburo in 1986.  Then he was able to develop and help Gorbachev present ideas to the Russian leadership.   These included not just perestroika, but also Soviet “new thinking” and glasnost.  New thinking was a move towards genuine détente that meant Russia’s abandoning the goal of a world communist revolution.  Matlock himself recognized the importance of Yakovlev in preparing the Geneva summit between Gorbachev and Reagan. 

As Abel Aganbegyan, Gorbachev’s principle economic adviser, explained to me, even in the field of economics, which Yakovlev did not know too well, the economic reforms of perestroika could not have been introduced in the Politburo without Yakovlev’s strong support.  Finally, the late historian, Yury Afanasyev, explained to me that the secret protocols of the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact with Hitler, discovered by Yakovlev’s office, would never have been published in the USSR without Yakovlev’s efforts in the Politburo.   The leaders of the peaceful revolution in Estonia and Latvia, have confirmed that Yakovlev’s support for their movements were essential in fighting the empire’s proconsuls on the road to full independence, 

As for glasnost, Yakovlev shared the Politburo portfolio governing the press with arch conservative Yegor Ligachev until 1988.  In this role he worked closely with and protected the democratic-minded editors of various publications, even becoming a member of the editorial board of Moscow News.

Meanwhile, what many of the Gorbachev fans do not understand is that he was not a champion of democracy.  Rather, he was a centrist who adjudicated between the conservatives and reformers in his government and often vacillated over what to do. Above all, he was worried about powerful Ligachev’s reaction to his policies and the latter’s harassment of the glasnost-minded editors.  

I was nevertheless surprised that Matlock repeats Gorbachev’s myth that he did not move rapidly to take Yakovlev’s advice on various issues because he had only three votes in the Politburo in 1989. As we show in our own book, this excuse of Gorbachev cannot be taken seriously. In 1989, when I saw Jack in Moscow, he did not buy that thesis either-- but somehow he has changed his mind. 

Perhaps he forgot that there was another person of great influence in the various Soviet think tanks – Gorbachev’s late wife, Raisa, who was sitting with Yakovlev as one of the principles in all of three brain trusts.  According to Yakovlev, Georgi Arbatov and others, she had a profound influence on Gorbachev’s thinking, advocating that he also considers the arguments of the nationalistic and reactionary opposition.  Gorbachev was, thus unhappily faced with the impossible task of trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

I’m sure Jack recalls that for Gorbachev the main enemy in 1989-91 was Boris Yeltsin.  Some biographers idealized him then and still do.  Surely he performed poorly as president of Russia yet that Yeltsin, inspired by the ideas of Yakovlev and Sakharov, served as the main bulldozer for the revolution, cannot be disputed.  Moreover, as Gorbachev tilted towards the reactionaries during the last phase of the revolution from 1989-91, Yakovlev, slowly became Yeltsin’s ally.  Jack knows all this.  In his brilliant, 1905, Autopsy of an Empire, he gives credit to the fact that Yeltsin was in part inspired by Yakovlev.  He also knows that Gorbachev ultimately tilted towards the putschists, hoping to use the latter against his rival and enemy, Yeltsin.   Matlock had it right, then. 

Sadly, Gorbachev never moved beyond reform communism.  In spite of, or perhaps because of it, he has remained a hero in the last score of years, to leading Russologists and recipient of major funding for his foundation. By and large, however, it was not the balance of power or votes in the Politburo that held back greater reforms, but Gorbachev’s centrist orientation.  And above all, it was his struggles with both Yeltsin’s reformers and the neo-Bolsheviks, that led him to lose power in 1999. 

Matlock also wrote, “I cannot agree with Pipes that that his [Yakovlev’s] attitude was anti-American.  Yakovlev had written much propaganda attacking American policy, but in 1986 it stopped.”  Pipes was right again describing that Yakovlev went through his own evolution.  But I also have another theory based on our 2000 interview with Yakovlev.  He may have started out as a reform communist, but he wound up leading an incredible double life.  As he explained to us, he resolved to destroy the evil Stalinist system, but “the dissident movement was too easy to penetrate.”  Thus, “not being a heroic type like Yeltsin,” he found a way to do it from within the system. 

 In 1983-85, when Andropov was still General Secretary, Yakovlev he wanted to make sure that he would able to eventually enter the Politburo under rising Gorbachev – not easy to do considering that he was exiled to Canada for his too liberal literary style. Thus, he hit upon writing anti-American pamphlets, some under an assumed name, which clearly succeeded in fooling conservative colleagues like Ligachev, that he had “reformed.”  Ligachev was surely one of the people that would have vetted his publications before letting him return to Russia and become Gorbachev’s adviser.  He also must have liked what he read.  Yakovlev must still be smiling in Heaven. 

DEMOCRATIC RUSSIA.

Alexander Yakovlev. The Man Whose Ideas Delivered Russia from Communism is the apt title of Richard Pipes’ study of a man who was to Mikhail Gorbachev what Henry Kissinger was to Richard Nixon. Yet the scope of Yakovlev’s work and achievements were in fact far greater than Kissinger’s, and his role in Russia’s last revolution is to this day wholly unappreciated.


Pipes was able to have access to unique documents kept by Yakovlev’s son, Anatoly, as well as Yakovlev’s writings.  What emerges is a portrait of a brilliant and remarkable man, who underwent a slow transformation from enlightened apparatchik to reform Communist to genuine democrat.