Andrei Kortunov (political expert, USA/Canada Inst), 1994

Kortunov, Andrei Interview at USA/Canada Institute, Moscow Mar 1994
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

[ ] Indicates difficult or impossible to translate passages

KORTUNOV: … different articles and papers said that we wrote on the issue of reasonable sufficiency, but the first piece was basically on the reassessment of the Western threat to the Soviet Union and I think it was the groundbreakers of this because it appeared in 1987 or 1988 in Communist magazine, which was the official theoretical magazine of the Communist Party. That is why it was interpreted as the semi-official statement that had to be taken into account by many, including the military. But for me, as far as I remember, the initial idea to write something like that came into debate on this issue was my experience as a lecturer. It was in the early 80s after the — educational programs that our institute had in different parts of the former Soviet Union. We toured the country and gave lectures about the current international situation and the Soviet-American relations and things like that. And this experience gave me some kind of sociological data about what people are interested in, what they believe, what they do not believe. And one of the most peculiar issues that I was confronted with was this issue about “Do we really need to fear the West?” Is the West still planning war against Soviet Union. If ‘yes’, what are the reasons and rationale behind such plans? And if ‘no,’ then what are we do as for our own national security?

METTA: That would’ve been before ’87 though.

KORTUNOV: Well, of course. That started as early as maybe 1980. On the one hand, really people were scared… especially, I remember 1983, propaganda, and a rather tense situation with the Soviet-American relations, especially close to a very serious crisis in their relationship. But at the same time, this fear — that probably was the years 50s and 60s — to a large extent eroded by the 80s and people started to ask question about how to explain, and logically, you had to explain the relations that would lead you to some justification of some critical reassessment of the military budget, and specific problems. Do we really need aircraft carriers, for example. Do we need to keep close to a million troops in Central Europe? Do we need to keep Germany separated? I started to think along these lines. Basically, my conclusions were, my various conclusions are right now or you might say [ ] let it be… At that point it seemed as big a problem as our relations. Well of course, you should also take into account that the Reagan administration distorted the picture, that they made crazy statements about how nuclear war could be fought and won. But nevertheless, basically, my knowledge of the United States … suggested that of course, there were no real threats of war against the Soviet Union, especially surprise war, that the Western policy was mostly containment, part of rollback policy and… There was some profound discrepancy between the political declared or the political strategy of the Soviet Unions and the operations and the threat that the Soviet’s military community perceived as less visible. We consumed more of the time and efforts and resources.

So I wanted to write an article where I could throw it to the table and my first try was a Liberal weekly, Oganyok. It was ’86, the very beginning of the Gorbachev period, but they failed to publish it because they were scared.So it took me another two years and two coauthors to put this paper through. Ultimately, we got published in Kommunist but we had to balance this recognition of the new situation with the idea that what the West is trying to use to exhaust the Soviet Union economically. That the main course of the arms race was just trying to bleed the Soviets white and that it was a purposeful strategy and that it would be stupid for us to go into this plight. So we have to balance these ideas with a more conservative assessment of the Western strategy.

METTA: Well, it’s been almost a year since I was here last. I’ve done about a hundred and seventy interviews, but not all of them here. Anyway, I interviewed Mr. Blagovolin, who talked of having been charged with the duty of calculating… the numbers.

KORTUNOV: [Phone] Excuse me.

METTA: He was asked to give a reappraisal of the numbers, (I don’t know where he got his from), he said he used American data because he couldn’t see the Soviet data. Now, that as I recall was about the same time that you were writing your thing for Ogonyok and not being able to publish it. He said he was asked to do this and he was actually locked in. I think Primakov locked him in the room and guarded the door while he and somebody were writing this report which they carried to Yakovlev in his car. So, it seems to me that you are reporting something like the same thing but what I am wondering is whether or not you were acting on the basis of some other kind of experience or whether you were also sort of independently and on your own initiative reviewing numbers as well. Or in other words, where did you get your data? And what made you think this was so at that point?

KORTUNOV: Well, you know of course, we didn’t have access to the official Soviet statistics and a lot of the data that we used we just borrowed from Western sources, like SIPRI or London, for example, or even sometimes we just used Soviet military power, yearbooks. So of course, they were criticized here as biased and false, but for the lack of the Soviet data, I would say that we used most of the Western data. But even in the Soviet data that was released, there were a number of mostly propaganda-oriented materials published by the Minister of Defence in the early 80s, and even in this data, you could find some major discrepancies and contradictions. They simply could not make both ends meet if you just read all of the materials that were published by the Defence Minister. So you started to question the accuracy of the official Soviet statistics, and if you wanted to verify it, really you went after Western sources. I would also say that in terms of the basic shifts in the thinking and in the assessment of the validity of Soviet doctrines was the INF treaty, because for many years, the Soviet position was that under no circumstances the Soviet Union can accept the zero option. Just ruin the parity — it would have real grave political and military implications. So we can not just do that. But then all of a sudden [snap], you know Gorbachev signs the treaty. Nothing happens. And the military maintain that it was a period and basically, that the parity didn’t suffer, so there should have been some fishy about this.


KORTUNOV: There are a couple of steps like that, like partial withdrawal from Central Europe, declared in 1988, and some other things, should… if you were a moderately intelligent person you should think about how that happened.

METTA: But your article was published before 1988.

KORTUNOV: Yes. That was before ’88, but you know, the idea… I think one of the first logical lines in the article and one of the lines that led us later today deal with reasonable sufficiency was an attempt to compare the situation of the let’s say mid-80s with the situation just before the Second World War because we understood pretty well that our generals. Let me remind you that in the early 80s, even in the mid-80s we had many generals who started their careers during the Second World War. And for them of course, the real danger was something similar to the German offensive back in 1941, and we just tried to compare the situation of 1941 with the situation of 1985. And the conclusion was of course, very evident, that politically, economically, strategically, psychologically, technologically, the situation had shifted immensely in the favor of the Soviet Union. And basically, we can no longer justify such a defence posture that was supposed to confront a possible offensive from the West of the 1941 type.

METTA: How did you get permission to publish that? I would assume that you… Well, it’s more than permission. You had to have been authorized to have even written that in a way, right? Tell me the dynamics. You go to Oganyok and they say, ‘No. We’re scared to publish it.’ If you had been running around giving lectures would you have said these things in public?

KORTUNOV: Well, yes, to some extent, yes, of course, you know, back in 1985, the exact wording was very important. But what we did was, especially after Gorbachev came to power. And why all the notion of reasonable sufficiency emerged or new thinking, and things like that. People like myself just picked some of the slogans out of Gorbachev’s statements and since the statements were very vague, you could interpret them in very different ways. Okay? And we, of course, didn’t pretend that we were criticizing Gorbachev, but we were trying just to develop the ideas, to comment. It’s just like Christianity. If you want to give a new reading of the Bible, you just pretend to be more consistent in your interpretations than those who did it before you. And we just tried to find something in Gorbachev’s statements or in Brezhnev’s statements, for that matter, because the idea of reasonable sufficiency appeared before Gorbachev.

METTA: Well, the term has been around since the beginning of time but what we did with it was sort of different.

KORTUNOV: Yes, but I think that even Brezhnev, his notorious Tula speech somewhere in the very early 80s, he mentioned something like that. Basically, what you had to do is just to find something that would justify your reflections on this or that issue. Of course, it would just be perfect to find a quote. You could just put a footnote, saying, “As Comrade Brezhnev stated back in 1975, we can avoid a nuclear war with imperialists.” And then you can just try to develop this idea into something useful. You could just say, if you can avoid the war with Imperialists means that Imperialism is not as militant as it used to be. If it is not as militant as it used to be, it means that probably they do not have immediate war plans. And if they don’t have committed war plans, it means that we can just limit our defence expenditures; if we can limit our defence expenditures, probably we can change the role of the military and so forth. And of course if you could find, if you could quote from Lenin, it was even better, especially after Gorbachev came to power because you know, the whole notion of…

METTA: He was playing the same game with Lenin.

KORTUNOV: Yes. Probably he was sincere. We were not. We realized that it was the rule of the games, and I studied Lenin very carefully. I remembered a number of very good quotes that could have been interpreted as Lenin had… forecasted or foreseen the reasonable sufficiency. So it was the name of the game, and everybody understood that, especially people who read Communist. After all, Gaidar wrote likethis.

METTA: Yes. Who was in charge? Say you run down to that journal with your article, and what hoops does it have to jump through before it gets approved? Who was there running the show, and how did know you that you could get it through?

KORTUNOV: Well there were basically three stages. The first stage is the section, the department, or just a single person who was working in this field in the magazine.

METTA: Who was that?

KORTUNOV: Well for example, in Communist, it was mostly… I think there was two people: Yuri Mulchanov and Victor Nickarosov. (sp?) I remember that. They were nice guys. And they were people who dealt with the materials directly. If you excuse me for a second…

METTA: Yes, sure.

KORTUNOV: …in the Communist magazine. For example, in Oganyok I dealt with Borovik Jr. It was the first level. And I think Grushin was the deputy director. It was a long time ago. Anyway, the second level, if you were able to cross the first obstacle, the second level was of course was the editor in chief.

METTA: Who was that in Kommunist?

KORTUNOV: In Kommunist I think it was Buchanev. I think this article was already out, but I think it was Buchanev. Actually, the editor in chief had to take responsibility. So, he could delegate this responsibility but if an article was a serious one, he had to make the decision. And the final, third level was the editorial board. If the editor in chief didn’t want to take responsibility himself, and he wanted to solicit some opinion from usually dignified persons who were serving on the board, then this article was to be discussed with them. But for us, of course, the blessing, to take this particular case, was that we had Zhurkin now on our team, and Zhurkin was not only Deputy Director of Institute of US and Canada Studies, which was at that time a very prominent position. Not only he was known for his rather cautious and [] reviews, which was also something that helped us, but he was a person who worked for many years in Pravda. He was a well known in journalist circles. And he knew how to frame the idea without irritating some of the hardliners, so I think he helped us a lot. It was very cheap of the expense of radicals.

METTA: Where do you think it went from there? In other words, well, obviously it had some success, but could you say anything about the sequence of events after that that made it so successful?

KORTUNOV: Well, first of all, since it was Communist, it had to be studied to know the political forces. High education, within the military, political committees, within different groups of Marxist-Leninists, so if something is published in Communist, it is something you should read and you should accept this, especially because this article was not published in a kind of controversial…

METTA: You were civilian?


METTA: And so, what happened in terms of the relationship with the military? Where did they enter the picture in adopting these notions?

KORTUNOV: Well, you know, I again, I was told a couple of times that many generals were irritated.

METTA: I would think so.

KORTUNOV: They didn’t like it, but it terms of actual evidence I think that there was only one, I remember, General Gromov. He was making a speech at a party conference in mid-‘88, or something like that, and he said that there are some notorious comrades who even claim that there is no threat to the Soviet Union any longer; they are wrong. And basically, you know, the threat is real, there are imperialists, there is a circle of bases around the Soviet Union, and so on and so forth. But you know, I found out with the military, to engage them in discussion, you really have to be very tough and very blunt, because I think it was in 1989, or something like that, maybe ’88, I wrote another article about minimum deterrence, and really it was pretty provocative, and I wrote together with another Deputy Director of our institute, Professor [Bogdanov?] who was a KGB general and basically, the case that I made there was that we might just disarm unilaterally, leaving just 500 warheads in Europe.

METTA: I haven’t read that article. Where was it?

KORTUNOV: It was published into a… A shorter version was published in “Moscow News”, and a longer one in “International Affairs”.

METTA: That would be in English then.

KORTUNOV: Yes, they printed it in English.

METTA: What year? I’ll look it up.

KORTUNOV: I think it was 1989. And then, of course, the military went after us because it was too blunt and it was too provocative. And on some other occasions, I remember that they were especially irritated when you touched upon some particular system.

METTA: Like their weapons?

KORTUNOV: Yes, for example, we wrote an article, with Igor Maloshenkov in New Times on aircraft carriers.

METTA: Isn’t that Arbatov’s bete noir? That’s what Arbatov spent most of his energy on, wasn’t it?

KORTUNOV: Yes, but I think we wrote a little bit more of a sophisticated piece, trying just to act as devil’s advocates, trying to find some rationale to justify, and finally the conclusion was that there was no such rationale. So we tried to be a little bit, to go to their field, so to say. And that’s why they told me later that they got some calls from the general staff. They tried to prevent the subject from being published. There was some militant censorship involved. It was tough, a tough field.

METTA: Okay. At the same time you were doing this stuff, there were other people who (now let me think) were doing stuff on non-provocative defence. There seems to be some symmetry between your reasoning and that. Was there any real logical connection? Was there any, in your mind, was there any connection between the two?

KORTUNOV: Well of course. Clearly enough, you know, I remember we tried… I think it became one of our articles published early in 1988. It was in our magazine.

METTA: This institute’s?

KORTUNOV: Yes. We tried to just keep a laundry list of the principles of reasonable sufficiency, including transparency, as the natural course of response combining unilateral and multilateral agreements in arms control, and one of the items of the list was non-provocativity, so we tried just to incorporate it into this general concept of reasonable sufficiency as one key element.

METTA: I talked to people in the Generals for Peace movement, and I understand that all the people who participated in that were all retired. They claimed not to have any influence since they retired. Did they have any influence?

KORTUNOV: Well, it’s hard to tell. Institutionally, of course, their influence was very limited, since they were retired. Basically, like in the United States when generals retire, especially admirals, they grow more liberal than when they were in active service. But there’s more than just institutional influence. If you have some close connections with the proper people, if they are interviewed, it might have some interest to them if they are intelligent. But as far as the military is concerned, probably the position of their colleagues was more important to them than our position because when we tried to engage them in military discussion, their regular answer was that you civilians don’t understand anything. You have no information. You have no data to go with. There’s no point in talking to you because you are amateurs, we are professionals. Since they don’t want to discuss anything with us, we couldn’t get any information from them and it was a vicious circle. We were really amateurish and we couldn’t use the data from the Western sources because they would say, no, all this is rubbish but they wouldn’t give their data to us, so it was tough, and the military themselves started to have discussions among themselves in a different way.

METTA: Did you take any comfort from the example of people like Milshtein and all of the other Generals for Peace who were participating in []. I think in Britain, I interviewed Harbottle who had something called “Just Defense.” Did it help, knowing that there were military or ex-military people?

KORTUNOV: Of course, it was a confident feeling knowing that somebody who really knows something about that stuff is not outraged with your ideas and the sheer sum of them. However, if you take our military, to some extent, we consider them to be our friends and colleagues because the Institute of US- Canada Studies did not tolerate conservative military. They were usually out a couple of years from getting into the institute. So it was a rather a special case, a special blend of the military. These were intelligent people that spoke languages and participated in some kind of international conferences, and probably they were not that typical. We didn’t have too many contacts with the General Staff. With some exceptions, of course, if you take Kokoshin for example. He worked with the military very closely.

METTA: I’ve got to go but I want to ask you one other question, and that is about the INF. How do you think that happened? Actually, there are two other questions that I want to ask you. Maybe I should back up a little bit and ask you about your own contact with… Can you tell me anything about the involvement of any foreigners in any of these discussions. I’m thinking, for example, I understand Egon Bahr, and Karsten Voight, but mostly Egon Bahr I guess, had a lot of friends here, came often, and probably had some influence. Is that reasonable to say and will you… You worked in the U.S. for a while, didn’t you?

KORTUNOV: Well I spent some time at the embassy but it was sort of needed help actually, because the embassy was isolated. You know, the U.S., of course, the peace movement — all this, we even started — it was an interesting enterprise, more important even than our articles. In early 80s we started to publish a series of books that translated American articles on nuclear issues, security issues, mostly liberals.

METTA: Who translated it and who published it?

KORTUNOV: Well, we did.

METTA: You mean, you personally, or this institute?

KORTUNOV: Yes, well I personally with a group of friends of mine, we had just made it four or five people.

METTA: And you could publish it openly here?

KORTUNOV: Well, of course, we had to cut out sometimes, some appropriate in the view of the publisher, but I think we published all together seven or eight books.

METTA: Did you?

KORTUNOV: Yes. It was [small publishing house]

METTA: It’s not part of that series of white books that are numbered?


METTA: This is from…

KORTUNOV: No, no. That was exactly the idea. I don’t think that I have any of them here right now but it would have actually two larger and smaller books.

METTA: So what were some of them that were published.

KORTUNOV: Well, for example, we published a compilation of materials of different views about the anti-war movement in the United States, and they were very different people — senators and scholars and I think it influenced thinking here. I would also say that such bodies as the Palme Commission, of which Arbatov was a member. They were also able to publish their findings in Russian, and I think it might also have had some impact.

METTA: So it might have had direct impact on public opinion in general?

KORTUNOV: Yes, but also experts or diplomats and students of course, on scholars for sure, because many of them couldn’t even get access to the original materials published in the states.

METTA: Good. Well, that’s good to know. I wish I knew a little more about that.

KORTUNOV: Well, you could just — Progress Publishing house. The first one was published back in 1981, and it was called Americans about the US Foreign policy. Then we published another book on the anti-nuclear movements. And then we started a series on different issues. It was called, the title of the series was called, “America in the 80’s.

METTA: All right. I will track it down. Now, the last question about the INF treaty. It is a big one. In thirty seconds or less, how was that decision made?

KORTUNOV:Well, I think that first of all, they screwed the whole thing under Chernenko, when Courtneyienken and Domienken had the upper hand, missed the chance that they had. And later on I think that Gorbachev simply needed some kind of solution, and after all this was discussion and two years of deliberation, he said “Do it, I don’t care.”

METTA: He must have talked with a lot of people before he did that, no? Do you know who?

KORTUNOV:Well, on the military side, of course, these were people like Marshal Akhromeyev. On the political side, I think it was Shevardnadze. But that was a decision taken by Gorbachev, which I also think that he was almost convinced by a number of Western Europeans.

METTA: Can you drop a hint?

KORTUNOV:Well, I am not sure, but I think that of course, the first group came from France in late 1985, and the French reaction was kind of surprise, and then a German. But there was different infleunces and Gorbachev, in the very last moments [ ]

METTA: So, in France and Germany, where there conversations or what made you think that there were people there, West Europeans who influenced…

KORTUNOV:Well because, you could just analyze the speeches on these issues and you could see that there are changes in their effect. And it was significant is that Gorbachev sometimes deviated from the text that was written for him that suggested that something must have [influenced? his mentality].

METTA: Okay. That’s really very helpful.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books