Various interviewees speaking anonymously in whole or in part.
Re: Debates in the Gov’t about the Gulf War
The Gulf War was not a major point of contradiction between him [Shevardnadze] and Gorbachev. It was more a contradiction between him and Primakov, who at that time was a member of the presidential advisory council. And there was a quarrel between these two guys because Shevardnadze was foreign minister and Primakov wanted in his heart to become it. Everybody knows this but I don’t want it published as authored by me.
I will explain the real situation to you. Gorbachev’s position in the Gulf War was much more progressive than Shevardnadze’s. All this is personal, because I was involved in this process of formulating the position of the Russian government —not government but president [?]. Because Shevardnadze, if you take his official statements, immediately after the aggression of Saddam Hussein, Shevardnadze’s statement, not personal, but ______ by him, was 50-50. Oh it’s a mistake! Our dear friend, Saddam Hussein, we have such friendly relations, it’s a pity that he made such a mistake! It was that kind of stuff. But Gorbachev’s advisers, closest advisers like Chernayev and some other people, called our scientists. I was there and one scientist working with me in my centre [ ___name of institute omitted for confidentiality reasons] and there were 4 or 5 other people. Our position was (me and ______ who was working with me) our position was that Saddam was an aggressor, it’s a fascist regime, and no compromises. That kind of stuff. And there were much more moderate proposals from our institutions,but finally Gorbachev went to Helsinki and made his speech and said that Saddam is aggressor and, without hesitation, we must rebuff this — and that kind of stuff. So, it was not Foreign Office that had these kinds of ideas, but it was scientists, together with Gorbachev.
MS: Tell me about Primakov’s role in it.
(Informant 1): He thinks that because he is a specialist in the middle east (he spent a lot of years there as a correspondent of Pravda newspaper there. He knows personally many people there.) he thought that maybe he could solve this problem and maybe as a personality he thought that if he could achieve some success there, then logically he must be elevated to the position of Foreign Minister. Maybe he thought so. And I think that maybe it was quite so. But then it was no good. You know the reality.
MS: Well, he came back with something. Okay, tell me about it because it was not reacted to much one way or the other in the press. The statement was that he came back with an offer and there was no discussion of it to speak of.
Informant 1: Anybody who knows Saddam knows that he is not the kind of guy with whom some normal, rational and reasonable agreement can be reached. You can see how he has been behaving during the crisis, during war, and afterward. He is a terrible guy. That kind of guy, you cannot make any serious agreement. Worst features of traditionalism, combined with fascist totalitarianism.
MS: Okay, how much support was there for Primakov’s initiative?
Informant 1: I don’t think too much. Maybe some structures were totally on his side, like KGB, some military, it’s okay. But in the political sphere, not much.
MS: What about in the general population?
Informant 1: In the general population nobody cared. It’s not like America — everybody sitting and watching CNN and the huge public opinion about this. It was not the same in my country because it was already a time of hardship and people are thinking about economic and political internal problems, and can witness that there was no huge interest. Among us, yes. Intellectuals who are involved in this process, but not among the general public.
MS: The reason I mention it is that he speaks of it in his resignation speech as one of the pressures on him. He was not supported properly in his policy.
Informant 1: Yes, it was more and more correct, this statement, that in the last year before his resignation there was a huge campaign waged by ethnic Russian people using all efforts and even simple arguments like “Oh, Shevardnadze’s Georgian. He can’t understand our Russian problems,” and that kind of stuff. It was openly said by many, many people, including some military people during discussions. You must not forget that Shevardnadze’s Georgian and that means a lot. It was too much for him. If he were a Russian man, there would not be much problem.
MS: The position in the parliament, the congress did not support him very strongly at the point and I wonder how much the Gulf War was a factor.
Informant 1: No, nobody cared about the Gulf War, but in that kind of struggle, people are using everything, everything. Like in ours people are using the island between us and Japan. If Yeltsin is going to make any concessions in this field — and he must make such concessions —then there will be a huge campaign against him. Those are not our islands; they never were before Stalin’s time.
MS: I hear a lot about anti-semitism. I don’t hear much about anti-Georgism.
Informant 1: Anti-alienism. Any kind of aliens. Sometimes people cannot distinguish Georgian or Armenian, or Tatars. Caucausus. You are uniting us. Azerbaijanis are Muslims and we are Christians, and —
Informant 2 is an American diplomat. This is from a 1992 Interview:
Informant 2: I’ll tell you for your background what [Yevgeny Primakov] told me. While that was going on, I had the sense that it was badly handled from the Russian side simply because if they really were going to be serious, they should have been in touch with the Bush Administration and have learned exactly what Bush’s parameters were and there should have been some consultation. If they were going to broker a deal, they should’ve known before Primakov ever went to Baghdad what the American end of that deal would look like. And I’m sure they knew in general terms just because of our statements of position et cetera. Maybe there was a conversation and some diplomat at the State department checking that out. But in any case that’s my observation. It’s just, when it was actually happening I thought, “Didn’t somebody communicate before this eleventh hour effort? If this is hitting the Bush Administration cold within not many hours of the deadline, it was really badly handled in the Russian end.” Okay, leave that aside. Just put that in the background. What Primakov said when I saw him the following June or July was, I think there are two things at play here. One, he said, yes, I had a real deal. It would’ve included Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. I thought I had quote “an invisible package”. What he meant by invisible package in his form of English was that… you and I might call it… a collection of steps that would not be formally linked but there would be a background understanding that they were all tied together. In other words, you don’t see the string tying them together, but they are there. They are invisible, but they are real. If the Iraqis had pulled out of Kuwait, there would have been negotiations about Iraqi debt to the Arabs and oil reserves, etcetera. So he said, “I thought I had an invisible package.” But then the really telling sentence was, “But [President GHW] Bush didn’t want to listen.” In other words, the argument that a lot of people here in the United States would have made— that Bush had really made up his mind long since and that he didn’t want to hear.
MS: Well, I think that that’s true.
Informant 2: The point is, Primakov said it… so I think that the reason for the failure, the reason for some people acting like there wasn’t an offer was that… they said they didn’t want to hear it. They didn’t hear it. It didn’t exist. Then the other thing that happened, of course, was a reason. Primakov didn’t seem terribly bitter about it by then, but what had happened in between was that in April or May, he had been sent by Gorbachev to Washington to present Gorbachev’s economic plan, which required some U.S. response. (Just some form. I can’t remember exactly what that was at this point.) But in any case, Primakov had had a subsequent contact with Bush in another arena, and that had worked pretty well, so I think he was not bitter about his rebuff earlier.
MS: What I wonder is…
Informant 2: Primakov’s written about all of that in print.
MS: I didn’t know that.
Informant 2: Yes.
Informant 2: Well, there’s a book published in French by Primakov. I don’t think in English. There were excerpts of it in Time magazine — but I’m not sure. I can’t remember exactly what’s in there in terms of the American reaction. But there’s two published Primakov accounts of this. Whether they say exactly what I just said I don’t know. I’m just reporting it to you.