The Gorbachev Files: Secret Papers Reveal Truth Behind Soviet Collapse

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Kohler: The chancellor has authorized me to inform you that we have approved the first request, namely to provide a billion deutschmarks. As far as the request for the second billion is concerned, we have no choice but to involve our partners in the European Union and the G-7. The search for options is complicated by the rather steep financial expectations on your side.

Gorbachev: Couldn't you find a way to provide loans at more favorable terms? Perhaps even interest-free loans?

Kohler: That's very difficult. I will try to convince my partners (in the G-7) that your country is still creditworthy. To that end, however, I need details on your foreign debt and the possibilities of selling your gold reserves.

Gorbachev: The harvest figures are not good. I spoke with (Kazakh President Nursultan) Nazarbayev just before your arrival. He told me that the harvest in the area of newly reclaimed land is worse than even the most modest estimates had predicted.

Kohler: According to American agencies, the harvest in your country will amount to 190 million tons of grain this year, compared with 230 million last year. A massive difference.

Gorbachev: It would be nice if we could bring in 180 million tons… During the Gulf War (following Saddam's invasion of Kuwait ), everyone got together and collected huge sums of money to support the effort, close to $100 billion. But when it comes to supporting this historic process in a huge country, one that everything in the world depends on, we start to haggle.

Kohler: The Americans won that war without investing a single dollar of their own.

Gorbachev: And what about all the things the Soviet Union has done for the world? Who is tallying up those figures? How much have our perestroika and our new way of thinking saved? Hundreds of billions of dollars for the rest of the world!

Kohler: There is no time to lose. It's a matter of weeks, even days. One of the miscalculations in your perestroika was to underestimate the economic side of this issue.

But the plan to pump billions into Moscow with German help, and save Gorbachev that way, did not succeed. When the Ukrainians affirmed their declaration of independence with a referendum on Dec. 1, 1991 and elected their own president, the die had been cast. Seven days later, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus formed the Commonwealth of Independent States, which eight non-Slavic republics then joined.

The Soviet Union was being liquidated. Germany was celebrating Christmas when Gorbachev resigned as president on Dec. 25 and the Soviet Union came to a peaceful end. He sent a letter to Bonn on the same day:

Dear Helmut!

Although the events did not go the way I felt would have been correct and the most advantageous, I have not lost hope that the effort I began six years ago will eventually be concluded successfully, and that Russia and the other countries that are now part of a new community will transform themselves into modern and democratic countries.

With all our hearts, Raisa and I wish Hannelore (Kohl) and your entire family health, prosperity and happiness.

Your Mikhail

In this letter, Gorbachev is fully the statesman once again. That explains why the letter was among the few papers from the fateful year of 1991 that the failed reformer would later publish.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.

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