News / Europe

Gorbachev's Foreign Policy Changed Map of Europe

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev talking before the Congress of People's Deputies during a debate on his proposal to transform the Soviet Union into a confederation of sovereign states in Moscow, September. 4, 1991 (file photo).
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev talking before the Congress of People's Deputies during a debate on his proposal to transform the Soviet Union into a confederation of sovereign states in Moscow, September. 4, 1991 (file photo).

Multimedia

Audio

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was the foreign policy of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, that contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union.

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected Soviet leader on March 11, 1985. At 54, he was the youngest member of the ruling Politburo that voted him into power. For the next six years, he instituted policies that drastically altered the course of history and ultimately brought about the demise of the Soviet Union.

On the domestic front, those policies were known as glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). In foreign affairs, Gorbachev’s reforms were known as "new thinking."

Experts say Gorbachev understood that the Soviet Union could no longer use its military force to increase its influence in the outside world. And in order to create a new foreign policy that could be sustained economically, Gorbachev realized that Moscow would have to - in some areas - retrench.

Archie Brown, Russia expert and Professor Emeritus at the University of Oxford, says one of those areas was Afghanistan, where Soviet troops had been fighting mujahedeen guerrilla forces since December 1979.

"Gorbachev in 1979, when the Soviet intervention took place, he met with [Eduard] Shevardnadze [the Georgian Communist Party leader] - at that time, they were both on the fringes of the top leadership and they were not involved in that decision," said Brown.  "And they both agreed that it was a disastrous mistake. Now they didn’t say so in Moscow at the time at meetings there, because if they had, that would put an immediate stop to their political careers."

Shortly after becoming Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev named Shevardnadze foreign minister. And, says Archie Brown, Gorbachev wanted to get Soviet troops out of Afghanistan.

"He didn’t want to do it in such a way to look like a defeat," added Brown.  "He had the same problems that leaders of other countries have had, when many lives of their own young men have been lost, how do you explain to the mothers or fathers, for that matter, of these boys, that their deaths had been in vain? So he was trying to get a negotiated retreat. Nevertheless, he took a firm decision that all Soviet troops would be out by February 1989, and they were.”

John Parker, Russia expert with the National Defense University, says Gorbachev also embarked on a radical policy regarding the Soviet military.

"He moved to cut the size of the Soviet army," Parker noted.  "That was another thing that people just couldn’t believe he would do. But before long, we saw the numbers start to come down."

Gorbachev’s "new thinking" on foreign policy spread to Eastern Europe, where people were clamoring for an end to communist rule.

In July 1989, the Soviet policy to intervene to prop up communism ("the Brezhnev doctrine") was replaced by what one Gorbachev adviser described as the "Sinatra Doctrine," based on the singer’s popular song, "My Way." In other words, the adviser said East European countries were now able to go their own way - politically and economically - without fear of invasion by Soviet troops.

Archie Brown and others say Gorbachev’s non-interventionist policy ultimately led to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

"Because of the time difference, it happened while Gorbachev and other members of the Politburo were asleep in their beds in Moscow," recalled Brown.  "By the next day, Gorbachev told the East German ambassador they had done the right thing in not trying to stop them and not using force - and he accepted remarkably readily, the fall of the wall and subsequent unification of Germany."

In October 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Fourteen months later, he resigned as Soviet leader, experts say a victim of forces he unleashed, but ultimately could not control.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid