The Gorbachev Files: Secret Papers Reveal Truth Behind Soviet Collapse

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Kohl: I've thought about it: What would happen if Gorbachev would suddenly leave and Yeltsin would take his place? I have to say that the mere thought of it horrified me. Of course the country cannot be left to such a man.

Gorbachev: We certainly agree on that point.

Kohl: What will you do, Mikhail, when the Baltic states finally leave the union?

Gorbachev: They can do that, of course. It's difficult to change their ideas about sovereignty. They refuse to engage in any reasonable argumentation. If they truly want to withdraw, there is only one way to do it -- the constitutional approach. But they are terrified of taking the normal constitutional path.

Kohl: You really won't keep them in the union by force. On the other hand, it must be clear to the Baltic states that there is no option other than the one prescribed by the constitution. And the West's verbal support for them changes nothing in this regard.

Neither the German nor the Russian would later publicize this conversation, because Kohl's view of Yeltsin was as devastating as Gorbachev's. What the chancellor also preferred not to see in print was the fact that he drew a clear distinction between his public support for the principle of self-determination and his actual position. Kohl did not truly support the Baltic Soviet republics withdrawing from the union, and he demanded that such decisions be approved by the parliament in Moscow -- which, by then, was already wishful thinking.

Kohl: Only a donkey can assume that the destruction of the union benefits anyone. The collapse of the Soviet Union would be a catastrophe for everyone. Anyone who supports this is jeopardizing peace. Not everyone understands me on this issue. But you can assume that I will not change my opinion in this regard… Gorbachev's reform course must be consistently supported. If Yeltsin comes to us, I will tell him the same thing. I will tell him that he doesn't stand a chance if he doesn't cooperate with you. The Americans have told him the same thing.

Gorbachev: No, they are practically encouraging him. In their eyes, he is a reformer.

Kohl: If Yeltsin comes to Germany , it will be a working visit. My most important goal is that you don't attack each other.

Gorbachev: Perhaps it would be a good idea not to invite him on behalf of the chancellor? Someone else should invite him, and the chancellor could then join the meeting as if by accident.

Kohl: Good.

Gorbachev's goal of spoiling Yeltsin's chances of further advancement and getting Kohl on board, if possible, is understandable from a human standpoint. Politically, however, it was absurd.

It seems even more absurd that Gorbachev still wanted to be perceived as the leader of a world power, even as he was forced to beg for assistance behind the scenes.

Part 4: 'We Need Money for Current Expenses'

Two weeks later, he traveled to London to attend, for the first time, a summit of the seven leading industrialized nations, and to request that his country be admitted to this club of economic heavyweights. Kohl had paved the way to London for Gorbachev, over the objections of the Americans and Japanese. In reality, however, he traveled to London to beg for at least $30 billion to rescue the ailing Soviet Union and its president.

Many of the reports written in those weeks -- none of which Gorbachev would later publish -- indicate that he must have perceived the situation as demeaning.

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