The Showdown

The Showdown

CIA's assessment of the magnitude of this watershed event-which it described as ``Gorbachev's September Housecleaning''-was disseminated in December 1988 (Appendix A, reference 31). This paper included the judgment that while Gorbachev seemed to have consolidated substantial power to carry out his agenda, he had at the same time intensified opposition in the party elite. He also had put himself in the position where failure to deliver relatively quickly on his promises could produce a major backlash among the populace.

CIA products in the spring of 1989 (Appendix A, references 32-33) described the still dismal state of the Soviet economy and also the rising instability in the USSR resulting from the developments of the preceding few years:

  • The economy yet again was described as having faltered badly since the mid-1970s and resembling that of a developing country, despite the USSR's status as a military superpower.
  • The political situation in the Soviet Union was described as ``less stable than at any time since Stalin's great purges in the 1930's,'' and glasnost was depicted as having opened the doors to nationalist movements that ``if unchecked, could threaten to tear the system apart.''


In the fall of 1989, a CIA assessment (Appendix A, reference 34) concluded that, regardless of whether Gorbachev remained in power, the forces unleashed by the combination of consumer dissatisfaction and his relaxation of political constraints on public dissent would virtually guarantee a period of ``endemic popular unrest'' in the USSR ``for the foreseeable future.'' This assessment referred to the uncertainty that would accompany what promised to be ``some of the most turbulent years in [Soviet] history.'' The prospect that Gorbachev would be able to control the events he had turned loose were described as ``doubtful at best.''

In the following year and a half, the Soviet-dictated alliance in Eastern Europe collapsed, and Germany was reunified. Within the USSR the pressures for autonomy from the republics became more open and more intense.

"It is difficult to comprehend how anyone who has reviewed this material-about one third of which was never classified-could assert that CIA ...was oblivious to the destabilization and crisis" of the Soviet Union.

In April 1991, the CIA disseminated a memo entitled ``The Soviet Cauldron'' (Appendix A, reference 35). This memo-already highlighted in the Harvard case study and the article by Berkowitz and Richelson-argued that there was a high probability of a major political crisis, one form of which could be a coup attempt. Another CIA paper in May (Appendix A, reference 36) said that within the coming year ``a major shift of power to the republics will have occurred unless it has been blocked by a traditionalist coup.'' Three months later, as Gorbachev was preparing to meet with union representatives to sign the All Union Treaty that would have given greater authority to the republics, the coup was attempted.

It is difficult to comprehend how anyone who has reviewed this material-about one-third of which was never classified-could assert that the CIA ``continued to endorse the myth'' of a Soviet Union that was a ``mighty industrial power capable of ever higher levels of economic development,'' or that the CIA was oblivious to the destabilization and crisis that ultimately resulted in the breakup of the Soviet Union.



Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 02:26 PM
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2008 01:09 PM