On the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

(The following is the introductory statement presented by Mr. Kennan in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 17.)

The situation in the Soviet Union is, at this moment, unstable in high degree. The extensive failure, to date, of perestroika to meet even the normal demands of consumers in the large cities; the disorders in the Transcaucasus (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) and in Moldavia; and the demands of people and Communist parties in the Baltic countries for virtual secession from the Soviet Union: these, coming at a time when the political institutions of the Soviet state are in process of basic change, have created a situation of great difficulty and danger for Gorbachev, who is viewed as personally responsible for all these crises and difficulties. So great are the political burdens he has now come to bear that it is doubtful in my opinion that he could have remained in office as long as he has were it not for his high international prestige, constituting as it does an important asset for the Soviet state, and for the fact that none of his senior colleagues has any program to offer as an alternative to the one he has created and carried forward. Such, indeed, is the burden of troubles he is now carrying on his shoulders that it is questionable whether there is anyone among his potential rivals who would like, at the present time, to assume this burden in his place.

While it is clear, in the light of the above, that Gorbachev’s position is in some respects a precarious one and could change unexpectedly at any point, it would be wrong to expect that the policies he has pursued would be likely to be totally and drastically altered by his successors. Actually, his foreign policies have been the least controversial of any of the efforts he has put forward; and there is no evidence of the existence of any competing faction calling for their abandonment. Beyond which, much of what he has initiated has already been locked into position by circumstances to such an extent that any complete reversal would scarcely be possible.

Regardless of the possibilities for Gorbachev’s political survival, the fact remains that he has taken a view of Russia’s place in the world more enlightened by far than that of any other Russian statesman of this century, and has made an outstanding contribution to the overcoming of the cold war and to the laying of the foundations for a more stable and peaceful Europe. This being so, it remains in our interests and in those of world stability that he should carry on with his ideas and initiatives as long as his energies and the patience of his colleagues permit him to do so. It is not, of course, our business to help him in the solution of his internal political problems; nor could we do so if we wanted to. Even in the economic field our possibilities are limited. He…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.