The Heritage Foundation

Executive Memorandum #307 on Russia

August 21, 1991

August 21, 1991 | Executive Memorandum on Russia

How America Should Respond to Moscow's August Putsch: EightGuidelines

(Archived document, may contain errors)

M1\\91 307 How America Should Respond to Moscow's August Putsch: Eight Guidelines

Nowthat Nlikhail Gorbachev seems to have survived the putsch attempt to topple him, Washington confronts two questions: 1) Did United States policy, in any way, help prompt the putsch? and 2) What now shoul d the U.S. do to help democratic reform inside the Soviet Union? The answers to both questions are linked. Washington, by its near-obsessive, support of Gorbachev and its cold-shouldering of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other democratic leaders, al m ost surely encouraged the putsch plotters to feel that America was not committed to the democratic process in the Soviet Union. What the Bush Administration thus must do now is to avoid its mistakes of the past two years and unequivocally commit itself to Yeltsin and the democratic reformers in all the Soviet republics. The putsch that has threatened Gorbachev hit Washington like a thunderclap; It shook the White House and caught the State Department unprepared. Yet this approaching storm had been on the r a dar screen for at least two years as many experts warned of Gorbachev's mounting troubles and predicted that his famed balancing act ultimately would fail. These warnings were ignored by Washington as the Bush Administration increasingly placed all its be t s on Gorbachev. Although the situation in the Soviet Union for some time will remain very fluid, if not chaotic, the Bush Administration can begin crafting a thoughtful new American response to the events. Such a response should recognize that: 1) Any put s ch ultimately will fall. This is not only because of mounting opposition inside the U.S.S.R. to, hardliners but also because no hardliner will have a credible plan to revive the Soviet economy. has collapsed. Only its replacement by a liberal, market econ o my can end the inefficiencies and chronic shortages that make every ruler's hold on Kremlin power tenuous. 2) The only forces that can transform the Soviet Union into a stable demomcy are headed by Russian President Yeltsin and sindlar leaders in the othe r Soviet republics. 3) The only forces that can create an entity in the Soviet Union with which America can work and which will not threaten America are headed by Yeltsin and the other democratic leaders. Yet until this crisis, the Bush Administration by a n d large shunned Yeltsin and the other democrats, arguing that they were a threat to Gorbachev. 4) America's Immediate aim must be to ensure that Yeltsin and the other democratic leaden survive threats of this and future putsch attempts. S) Bush can help i nsure the safety of the democmtic forces by waming that injury to them individually or that military attacks on their forces will turn putsch leaders into world pariahs. They will be boycotted politically and economically.

6) The White House must stop sp ndiniz ambivalent mes di events In th Soviet Union sages repr.. ing e and other communist gates. The Presidentand his key aides thus must stop giving nunbling, confusing statements.in interviews and press.conferenc6s. Bush Administration statements must b e carefully worded and not.ad libiesponses.. to brters' probing sfi6ns. There have been enou: gh rep que serious consequences of past widely misundei@stood Administration messages, such as Bush's Kiev speechearlier this month and -Secretary of State James B aker's encouragement Juiie: 21 to Belgrade to luso force against Croatian separatists. .(Sim ilarly, American Ambassador Apfil C.'Glaspiels statements last year to jraq's.Saddani Hussein. surely convinced him thai America *as indiffereit to Iraqi actions t oward its neighbors.).1t is..alino.st ceriiin thifthis week's hardline putschists saw Bush's brush-off of democratic forces in the re ub .r6itraint in the'face of violent: attacks p lics, and his 00"Lithuania and other republics, as a sip of U.S. ambivale n ce toward democratic refbim in'the Soviet Union-. This ambivalence may have encouraged the plotters to think @that the West would-, aba ,ndon Yeltsin in the face of a coup. 7) Gorbachev is pard He y responsible for his problems. isolated himself political l y by shifting allegipces back and-forth betweencommunisthaFoliners and democratic reformers. He'should have unan!biguously embraced the democratic reformer's who,'this weA, came to his rescue and perhapsiven saved.his life. He isolated himself 'fr6m the'p u blip. by refusing to push the economic y reforms that have given Soviet cons' hope ihat their .livm*g, standards eventually ..,by now, would umers would climb. 8) The U.S. and otherMestern nations have contributed to Gorbachev's isolation, His enormous ba c king-from Bush,t 'ified w yp . by the hoopla of Bush's visit io MOsco'' only three w6eks ago, surely persuiE& Gorbachev that he could survive challenges to his power'. and. that he need not make common. cause -with Yeltsin and the other democ .ratic.refor mois. U.S. backing for Gorbachev at th6: expenseof Yeltsin did.not. strengthen Gor .bachev against the hardliherg,'as''RUsh hoped and expected. It weakened him.

The putsch: that-has threatened. Gorbachev probably ends Act One'of th6 U' S.S.R.'s anti- mm co unist'' revolution. This -act.unjeashed democratic.forcos. Thatha.rdliners eventuaR@'w'ould.st@ke"b'a'tck'agai'As't" these forces was.to be expected. In no revolution has the ruling elite easily' yield6d, 'pow- te aAa ges.- NQw b ;s...Act.Two. It. som wit h the@reformers ddeating.the pytsch. It even may sei-, Goibichbv' em returningas-akindof titular Soviet leader. Real pow@T, however, will rest 'in ihe increasiigly-solve-refg@ n; a@d indppendont republics, headed. by Yelts'in andother democrats p .ushing f o rthe political and market refbri@s deaded.to ignite economic growth, raise living standards and establish the politicialegitimac% y' 'thit icreiiite; internal stability. ,The script for.Act .Two, of cour will be written inside the Soviet Union. Yet there . is :. mu.ch'thai. @;erica can. do. No'lo'nge'r shouldseW'ashington.ombraice a'sing'lp Sovie't1piader. No longer' should' Washington -shun.the democratic. reformers in.the'U..S.S.R. Insiead,'the.Bush Admimstfotio* unequi v-o-cial y- should.declare its supp or@-.. for the democratic reformer .s and for the rights'of th& republics 'to transfbrni themselves into independent democracies. Burton Yale Pines Senior Vice President a@d Kim R. H6lm6s,,'PhD. Director d Foreign Polidy and Defense St@66s-

}}

About the Author

Related Issues: Russia