Gorbachev allies feel betrayed by West, 25 years on

Swept along by the excitement as the Berlin Wall was torn down, former top Soviet officials now say, 25 years on, they feel stabbed in the back by the West.

Moscow: Swept along by the excitement as the Berlin Wall was torn down, former top Soviet officials now say, 25 years on, they feel stabbed in the back by the West.

Igor Maximychev watched with trepidation from the Soviet embassy in Berlin as East Germans streamed towards the Wall the night it came down. 

"I heard their footsteps and above all I feared that I would hear shooting," the former advisor to the Soviet ambassador, now 82, told AFP. 

"But there weren`t any shots. And then there wasn`t a border anymore either," he said, recalling events on November 9, 1989.

Anatoly Chernyaev was a foreign policy advisor to the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the heady years of "perestroika" and "glasnost" introduced by Gorbachev after coming to power in 1985.

After decades of bitter enmity during the Cold War, East-West relations gradually turned around under these policies of reform and transparency.

When Gorbachev refused to intervene militarily as the Communist bloc crumbled across Eastern Europe, ties "above all with the American leadership" rapidly became "personal even friendly," said Chernyaev, now 95.

"With the fall of the Berlin Wall it became clear that this process had became irreversible," he told AFP.

"It was a period of general euphoria."The Wall`s collapse ushered in the end of communist East Germany and the country`s reunification the following October.

But the other events that followed -- the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the expansion of NATO to the east -- now cast a long shadow over the memory of those momentous times. 

"The reunification of Germany was a logical step but it was done on the condition that the USSR would participate in the new European order and NATO would not move closer to our border," said the former diplomat Maximychev. 

"Gorbachev set those conditions himself and the Western leaders assured him that was the case," he recalls. "Unfortunately he never signed any concrete deals about this."

Western leaders from the period have consistently rejected claims that they ever struck a deal with the Kremlin, and say no deal was ever broken.

Now looking back, for Maximychev it was "a period of grand illusions" when leaders in Moscow "took the West at its word." 

In the intervening years, the US-led NATO alliance has incorporated 12 countries from the former Soviet bloc.

More painful though is the current crisis over Ukraine.

Accusations that Moscow is meddling in its ex-Soviet neighbour have sent East-West ties to their lowest since the Cold War.

A newly emboldened Russia under President Vladimir Putin, in part, says it is correcting the errors of the past and the alleged broken promises made by West when Communism fell. Former Gorbachev advisor Chernyaev swears that he personally witnessed a pledge from Washington to the Soviet leader not to enlarge NATO.

"With my own ears I heard Secretary of State James Baker promise Gorbachev on February 9, 1990 in the Kremlin`s Catherine the Great hall that NATO would not extend `even an inch` to the East if we accepted the entry of a unified Germany into the alliance," he details.

"Gorbachev took these assurances as a word of honour given between friends," Chernyaev laments.

"The West assured us that it wanted to end communism, but in fact its real goal was to end the USSR, and the anti-Russian position of the West in the Ukrainian crisis today is further evidence of this," he says.

For others, though, the fault is not only with the West but with the Soviet leadership at the time.

"Gorbachev has to explain why he believed what the West told him," said the former Soviet ambassador to Bonn Vladislav Terekhov.

"At the time we behaved as though we were friends with Europe," he said.

"But after all the beautiful words on the creation of a united Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific, NATO forces seem determined to set up camp now in our neighbour Ukraine." 
 

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