Soviets Bidding for New Pattern From U.S. Talks


The agenda for the U.S.-Soviet summit meeting in Washington this week appears remarkably routine--arms control, economic cooperation, bilateral problems, regional conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East and broad discussions on the state of the world.

But President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s hopes reach well beyond this settled pattern of superpower summits toward the development of a new U.S.-Soviet relationship.

“The Cold War ended at Malta. We start with that,” said Arkady A. Maslennikov, the Soviet president’s press secretary, referring to Gorbachev’s last meeting with President Bush on that Mediterranean island in December. “And with the Cold War over, we have finally emerged, we hope, from the long and often bitter relationship of rivalry and competition between our countries.

“But what will the new relationship be? This will be the theme through all our discussions in Washington, and we will be looking for practical as well as philosophical answers.”


In each of the issues that the two presidents take up, Gorbachev will be seeking to define the new relationship and to move toward cooperation on the broadest range of both international and bilateral issues, according to Soviet officials and foreign policy specialists.

“The Cold War was buried at Malta, and a new countdown begins in Washington,” Tomas Kolesnichenko, a veteran political commentator for the Communist Party newspaper Pravda, said. “It is now necessary to decide how to live without the Cold War.

“This is a very important question. If Gorbachev and Bush find an answer, then we will have ample reason to beat the kettledrums--it will be an outstanding event and a new political impetus indeed.”

Moscow ranks the reduction of two countries’ nuclear arsenals as the most vital issue in the talks. And Soviet officials have made plain their hope that Bush and Gorbachev not only will agree, as expected, on the basic principles for a treaty this year reducing strategic arms, but also that they will launch negotiations for a second treaty cutting them further.

“There is no reason now to have such massive nuclear forces, and some would say there never was,” Andrei Kortunov, an arms control specialist at the Institute of the United States and Canada, said in an interview. “But that still leaves us with the problem of how to rid ourselves of them and with the problem of how to prevent a new arms race under the guise of weapons-system modernization. . . .

“This will be both an exercise and a test in how we will get along in this new era, of whether we can understand and meet the needs of the other. The commitments that Bush and Gorbachev made on the next strategic arms treaty will be very important in shaping the whole relationship, not just one set of negotiations.”

The No. 2 issue--and one that Moscow actually sees as a sterner test of Washington’s intentions than strategic arms--is the political and military status of Germany after its unification.

“This is perhaps the most sensitive and most complex problem in our relationship today,” said Leonid N. Dobrokhotov, a senior official at Communist Party headquarters. “The West, led by the United States, wants Germany to be a member of NATO after it is unified. We cannot agree to this without very serious, evident and significant concessions from the United States to assure our security. This will show how far mutual understanding and cooperation go.”

What Moscow wants is a new security arrangement in Europe that will provide, largely through political agreements, the protection it had with the Warsaw Pact, which has all but collapsed, and the deployment of Soviet troops throughout much of Eastern Europe.

The key to such security is Germany, which Moscow sees emerging as not only an economic but also a political giant on the European continent; its future military status is consequently of crucial importance to the Soviet Union, which even as czarist Russia feared domination of Europe by a single power, including that power’s allies.

The first Soviet proposals--a neutral Germany or a Germany belonging to both NATO and the Warsaw Pact--were dismissed as laughable by the United States. Now, Moscow says that until there is agreement on the future of Germany it will not withdraw its troops from East Germany or sign a peace treaty formally ending World War II and restoring German sovereignty.

“We are looking to the United States to be understanding and helpful, and that should be made plain to the U.S.,” one Soviet Foreign Ministry official said. “The German issue is of great political as well as strategic sensitivity to us because of World War II and because of all the recent events in Eastern Europe.

“If the United States appreciates this correctly, then we should be able to work out suitable arrangements in the proper forum. The U.S. attitude is very important here,” this official said. “If Washington says, ‘We won, you lost,’ and attempts to force us into accepting a Germany within NATO as it is today, there will be trouble. But U.S. sympathy and understanding would show us that the Cold War really is over and that when one of us wins, the other wins too.”

The transformation of what had long been a zero-sum relationship--in which one superpower gained only at its rival’s expense--should become evident in the Washington talks, Soviet officials hope.

“The Cold War turned all friction points, even things as routine as consular treaties and shipping agreements, into tests of will, each one a conflict on that glorious battlefield where good confronted evil,” a leading specialist in Soviet-American relations said.

“We feel that we are moving away from that past with what Mikhail Gorbachev calls ‘new political thinking,’ which is a willingness to rethink everything without the old assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices--but we are not sure the United States is so ready to change,” he added.

Kolesnichenko was equally blunt in assessing bilateral relations, particularly trade and economic cooperation, which is the third area of importance to Moscow in this summit.

“Many fine-sounding words have been said lately on this score,” Kolesnichenko said. “But there has been little progress in practical terms. If Washington backs up its words with deeds, there will be every reason to say that the meeting has been a success, and it would be fair to say that the American side has a large part of the road to go.”

Of primary importance to Moscow are the conclusion of a trade agreement; the granting of most-favored-nation trading status, which would mean lower tariffs on Soviet goods, and increased access to the American high-technology products needed to help modernize Soviet industry.

Amid these questions and complaints, however, there is Soviet appreciation, clearly stated, for the Bush Administration’s approach to the political crisis in the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The republics have declared their independence and are seeking to secede from the Soviet Union.

“We value the restraint and wise policy of the Bush Administration,” Dobrokhotov said at Communist Party headquarters. “Potentially, this is a most dangerous, most volatile element in our relations.

“What Americans should remember,” he noted, “is that, despite our desire for good relations, the national interests of the state that Gorbachev heads come first, not foreign relations. Those interests he must fight for--and if he does not, then he will be gone.”

The fate of Gorbachev and of perestroika, as his reform program is known, is a theme that is woven through all discussions of the Washington summit as a preoccupation of the whole political Establishment here--and a warning to the Bush Administration.

Kortunov warned especially against any arms control agreements that would appear one-sided to the Soviet public, which even two years ago questioned the wisdom of the U.S.-Soviet treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear weapons because Moscow had given up more than Washington.

“The strategic arms treaty could prove very vulnerable,” he said. “The left here would criticize it as not going far enough, not cutting nuclear weapons 50% as promised, not saving us much money. The right would criticize any Soviet concessions that are not at least matched by the United States. A treaty with such weaknesses as these would not be ratified by our Parliament--no way.”

That, Dobrokhotov indicated, would be “a colossal blow to President Gorbachev, his prestige and his policies.”


On the eve of the summit, actual troop withdrawals have so far been minor, but the collapse of communist governments in Eastern Europe has effectively ended the military impact of the Warsaw Pact. Bush and Gorbachev now are grappling with a series of inter-related issues.

1. Vienna, negotiations are under way to reduce the size of European armies. Bush hopes to resolve several remaining issues to allow completion of these CFE talks by year’s end. 2. Gorbachev remains concerned about the rapid movement toward German unification, and has resisted U.S. insistance that a united Germany remain in NATO.

3.Soviet Union’s three Baltic Republics have voted to secede, with Lithuana moving most quickly. Their fate will be a major issue.

4. U.S. negotiators in Geneva have been working for months on a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Bush and Gorbachev hope to announce at least an outline of a START agreement.

Envisioned in TROOPS Jan. 1989 May 1990 negotiations

U.S. 309,000 305,000 225,000*1 troops in Europe

Total 2,901,000 2,898,000 2,698,000*1 NATO troops

Soviet 2,169,000 2,059,000 1,730,000*1 troops 635,000 in Eastern 607,000 in 195,000 in Europe, the rest in Eastern Eastern European portion Europe Europe of Soviet Union Other Warsaw 1,096,000 938,000 783,000*1 Pact

TANKS NATO 21,800 22,700 20,000

Soviet 40,000 35,400 12,000-14,000*2

Other Warsaw 15,760 12,820 8,000-6,000*2 Pact

AIRCRAFT NATO 5,700 5,700 5,200

Soviet 8,990 8,390 3,320-6,400*3

Other 2,175 2,044 1,380-1,880*3 Warsaw Pact

NUCLEAR FORCES U.S. in- 896 410 0*4 termediate range

Soviet in- 1,846 231 0*4 termediate range

U.S. 680 680 0*5 short- range

Soviet 3,000-6,000 3,000-6,000 0*5,*6 short- range

U.S. 1,450 1,450 0*5 nuclear artillery

Soviet approx. 2,000 aprox. 2,000 0*5,*6 nuclear artillery


*1. The current round of Conventional Forces talks is aimed at reducing U.S. troops in Europe to 225,000 and Soviet troops to 195,000. But both sides have agreed a second round should be held to reduce troops further.

*2. Negotiators have agreed the Warsaw Pact tanks total should be 20,000 but have not settled the Soviet share.

*3. Negotiators have not yet agreed on levels for aircraft.

*4. Intermediate-range weapons are to be destroyed by the end of this year under the terms of the INF treaty signed during the Reagan Administration.

*5. President Bush has proposed a new set of negotiations on ground-based nuclear missiles and artillery. Because of strong public pressure in Europe and military skepticism about the weapons’ usefulness, they are likely to be eliminated entirely.

*6. Precise numbers for Soviet short-range nuclear weapons are unknown. These figures include missiles that may be located outside Europe or that may carry chemical or conventional, rather than nuclear, warheads.

Sources: Arms Control Association, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Department of Defense and Natural Resources Defense Council.


As recently as 18 months ago 2.9 million troops in 16 NATO countries faced 3.4 million troops of the Soviet Union and its 6 Warsaw Pact allies across the most heavily militarized border on Earth.