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
TEXT SIZE - +

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

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid