Two interviews with Yegor Kuznetsov in Moscow, spring 1994
Interviewers — Metta Spencer (#1) and Julia Kalinina (#2)
See the two papers in the Notes section that Kuznetsov later gave me. I tracked him down in 2009 in Virginia, where he was working for a computer or software company. I interviewed him again (without transcribing the conversation) and got the papers on which his Ph.D. thesis had been written. I also sent Ignat to read his dissertation in Moscow and take notes on it. Nothing in it sounded as shocking as his statement that Gorbachev had intended to DESTROY the CPSU. It mostly described the kinds of structural changes his committee wanted to introduce.
1. Interview with Yegor Kuznetsov at Gorbachev Foundation, March 10, 1994. The tape is inaudible. These are notes only.
He is coordinating the Global Security Program at GF, which will lead to a conference later. He gave me a paper, evidently by Jonathan Dean, that is really a wonderful document for peace. It includes a lot of suggestions from Falk, Mendlovitz, and others.
says Yeltsin will announce in about a month that he is in favor of trying to put the USSR back together, in so many words. He has no other choice, with Zhirinovsky running things. Has to be nationalistic. However, it might be easier for them to have an international body doing the job (i.e UN peacekeepers) than the Russian army. They might tolerate that easier.
He took the same line that Shakhnazarov took in explaining the coup before the coup. Says that it was not duress from the hardliners but the fact that his staff had moved away from him and supported faster, more radical changes. However, he had planted a bomb that was going to blow away the hard liners — the Novo Ogaryevo… treaty. It would have swept them away.
Also re the Soviet role in E. Germany. it was not that the Soviet troops blocked the road, but that they would not take any position. Really left it to the Germans.
Says that the white books were more impt than contacts with peaceniks. It was very hard to have access to Gorbachev during that period. But if 30 people in the apparat read one of those books it could make a difference. The important writers were Avtorkhanov and Paul Kennedy The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, and Zinoviev. The guy who wrote Gorbachevism.
Says that Yakovlev is still the vice president of the foundation but he does not come around very much, now that he is the head of the Russian radio-television at Ostankino.
I asked him about rumor that Shakhnazarov and Yeltsin were fighting. He said that was nothing new. The problem was not that they have different goals but different ideas about how to reach their objectives.
Later Sasha asked me if I had learned anything revealing from Kouznetsov and I said no. He said I had asked the wrong questions, then. If I had asked, he would have told me that during the time he was working for the president’s office that Gorbachev’s whole objective had been to destroy the CPSU. I told him that Kouznetsov had said he’d never even met Gorbachev during those years, had only met him after coming to the foundation. But Sasha said that was true but he knew from the people he had been working for.
So a couple of days later when I visited the GF to interview Likhotal, I saw Kouznetsov in the hall and asked him this. He said that is right, and if I will drop into his office later he will tell me about it. I couldn’t do so, because I had a different appointment later with Andrei Kortunov. So I have asked Julia to check out the story for me.
By the way, Sumsky is also working at the GF on a project dealing with Russian relations to the Far East. He also works with Mendlovitz and Falk.
2. Yegor Kouznetsov’s interview (by Julia. Moscow, May 1994)
Gorbachev’s intention to destroy that remarkable organisation can be explained by three reasons. First, in the beginning of 70s Gorbachev and his wife got permission to travel in France. He was a high level official at that time and such a trip must have been permitted by the highest authorities. It was a unique case — that an official could travel alone, individually, without any control. I think that after that trip a kind of shift in consciousness occured; he saw how the world is living and realized the necessity for changes in his country.
The second point that could influence him — his contacts, persons with whom he was in touch. For instance, Yakovlev, who together with a KGB person, Oleg Kalugin, got the permission to study in the US, in Harvard if I’m not mistaken. [MS. Yakovlev studied at Columbia.] It was approximately at the same time when Gorbachev was exploring France. So it was a unique situation when two representatives of the higher echelons got an opportunity to get in touch with Western reality directly. I suppose that the Western way of life seemed to them pretty attractive. Their further meeting in Canada where Yakovlev was sent as an ambassador (but in fact it was an exile) gave birth to reformist thinking.
The third reason why Gorbachev started reforms was the possibility of access for the higher officials to foreign mass media, to all the sociology and politology researches that were published in the Western countries. And they also had access to the reliable information from special services, KGB etc.
So these three points pushed him to start reforms. And Khruschev’s experience proved that if the system is not destroyed completely it will mean the failure of reforms and the personal defeat. So he calculated very literally the brick that should be pushed off to break down the whole system. It was evident that he was sawing a bough on which he was sitting because nobody in the whole world had the same amount of power as the General Secretary of CPSU. Probably long years spent in Central Committee and the comparative analysis caused his deep disgust toward Soviet reality.
As I understand it, there was no strict plan of reforms. A general strategy existed until the 19th Party Conference. After that a plan of political steps was worked out: elections in the new parliament, establishment of the institution of Presidency. On the other hand we can’t say that no documents existed that defined the initial direction of reforms. It seemed that the first free elections to the Supreme Soviet and the establishment of presidency were somehow spontaneous.
But now in the archives documents start to reveal that a detailed plan of the transformation of state institutions existed. It was worked out in a very narrow circle of persons — much more narrow than the PolitBureau. Few persons knew about that. For example, at that time very few people knew who Shakhnazarov was. Well, they knew that he was a President’s Assistant but nobody suspected that the level of his influence was much higher than, for instance, some PolitBureau members’. It can be that one day we’ll come upon the documents that describe the strategic plan against the absolute power of CPSU.
What concerns the second step of reforms — I saw the plan, I found that document in the private archive of Shakhnazarov. These documents were not registered, there are not in the President’s archive. The document covers the smooth transformation of the political system, shorthand records of the closed meeting that, surely, were not published anywhere. I. It means that it was just a performance that Gorbachev was so addicted to the idea of CPSU ruling, that he was so against the idea of cancelling the Article 6 of the Constitution.
Gorbachev is a great master of the staff games. That is what helped him to pass all the way as a legitimist. To the end, the Party just hated him but there was no one case when the majority voted against him. In fact this manoeuvring helped to transit to democracy non-violently. Up to the last moment the Party didn’t realize what was going on. Thanks to Gorbachev’s tactics, communists didn’t vote against him —not at the Plenum, nor at the Congress (the opposite happened with Khruschev). When they understood at last what was happening, they initiated the coup (1991) but it was too late, they couldn’t do anything.
That is a Jesuit calculation. He is an amazing master of the apparatus fight, ‘under-carpet intrigues’. As we can now see, all this was dictated by his good intentions. He was extremely consistent. Only in the end of his political life did he start to betray himself, though we still don’t know what forces were pressing on him at that time. I mean Vilnius and Tbilisi. To some extent, events in Baku. We don’t know if he was controlling those situations, maybe already not — as the coup had demonstrated. Actually, the bloodshed that he couldn’t prevent became the beginning of the decline of his political career. He launched a powerful fly-wheel that couldn’t be stopped. In fact, I think that his resignation saved his life and his good name in history.