Did Ronald Reagan really kill the Soviet Union?

By A. H. Jaffor Ullah


Various Internet forums are abuzz with Ronald W. Reagan and his contributions to America and the world. Many writers who hardly lived in America during the time Reagan was president for eight long years are now telling us that the 40th president was instrumental in killing the Soviet system of governance. In other words Reaganís policy of Ďget-tough-with-Russiansí had resulted in the fragmentation of the Soviet bloc. This is simply a naÔvetť on the part of the new writers who are so eager to give Ronald Reagan all the credit for the dismantling of the Soviet bloc. The truth, however, is that Soviet bloc imploded because of economic strain. The reform to dismantle the age-old economic system was engendered from within.

In the waning days of Leonid Brezhnev as president of Soviet Russia (1980-82) many academicians in Russia saw the writings on the wall. Clearly Russians were spending a big chunk of the national budget on military and space exploration. The strain of the Cold War on economy was quite visible. Therefore, when Brezhnev died while still in the office many an academic and members of think-tank institute in Russian were coming to terms with the economic stagnation that plagued the nation at the time. Many were questioning the benefit of sending army to Afghanistan as a part of the "Brezhnev Doctrine" in 1977, which was dubbed by Russian intellectuals as "Russiaís Vietnam" with an obvious reference to Americaís experience in Vietnam. In the next three years after Brezhnevís death in 1982, Russians have selected 2 leaders to lead their nation. But these two aged politburo members were simply the remnants from Brezhnev era. Only in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev was chosen by the Russian politburo to not only run the government but to usher in the dismantling of what the world then knew as the Soviet Union. And believe me, Ronald Reagan had very little to do about it notwithstanding his imprecation for the country.

In this article I will extensively cite the work of Pulitzer Prize winner reporter of NY Times, Mr. Hedrick Smith who wrote such remarkable books on Soviet Union as "The Russians," "The Power Game," and "The New Russians." Mr. Smith contends that it was Mikhail Gorbachev who set free the process of perestroika, which ultimately led to the success of the process of reform. This homebrewed reform did the Soviet in. Let me cite some excerpts from Mr. Smithís book "The New Russians" to point out that Mr. Ronald Reagan played an insignificant role in the process that led to the break up of Soviet Union.

Mr. Smith wrote as a way of introduction the following:

"For Americans, Reaganís venture to the Kremlin was big news. His strolls on Red Square with Gorbachev, his luncheon for Moscow dissidents, his speech to university students, all made great television soap opera: the old Cold Warrior playing in the heart of "the evil empire.""

"But the Russians I talked with then were blasť about the summit. They saw Reaganís visit as a sideshow; the much more compelling battle was the one within their own country, over internal change. Its outcome that May was most uncertain. The Russians knew that Reaganís coming was important for Soviet-American relations, but it stirred no real excitement. They were glad for his courtesy call, especially after all the harsh things he (Reagan) had said about them, and they were polite to the president for a few days. But they could hardly wait for him to get out of town, so they could get back to their own unfolding political brawl, a struggle over their national destiny." ["The New Russian"; Hedrick Smith, 1990]

Mr. Smith wrote the above excerpted material in the introductory section of his book "The New Russian." Clearly, the second Russian Revolution started with Gorbachevís perestroika. Mr. Reagan or his much touted Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) had very little to do with the impending dismantling of Soviet Union. A long time ago (most likely in the 1990s) I read a biography on Mikhail Gorbachev in which it was mentioned that a white paper written by a team of academicians on Soviet Unionís impending economic disaster had correctly predicted that their nation would go bankrupt if the government keeps on building nuclear arsenals, sends missions to outer space, supports vessel nations such as Cuba and other Eastern European nations belonging to the Soviet bloc. Prominent among the academicians was Ms. Tatyana Zaslavskaya, a sociologist, whose name had been mentioned as one of the intellectuals who were very critical of the way the Soviet Union was conducting their foreign and economic policies. Mr. Gorbachev was given a copy of the white paper written by Ms. Zaslavskaya and her colleagues long before he took charge of the Kremlin. Come to think of it, Mr. Gorbachev was the chief of much dreaded Soviet establishment, the KGB.

Therefore, it is safe to say that Mr. Gorbachevís perestroika was influenced by the Soviet intellectuals. Mr. Reagan or any other U.S. politician did not play any role in putting the Soviet in the path of self-implosion. All the tough talk from Mr. Reagan could hardly have a ripple effect on up coming perestroika. It is only the Reaganites in America who believed in such a thing call "Reaganís tough talk" to Soviet leaders had led to the dismemberment of Soviet bloc and the "evil empire."

Two things that helped Mr. Gorbachev to dismantle the Soviet Union were perestroika and glasnost (openness). Needless to say, both were homebrewed - a Russian thing. American press especially the ones that are conservative (such as the Wall Street Journal) should stop blabbering about the role (?) Ronald Reagan played in the dismantling of Russiaís "evil empire." Truth should be told no matter what. History will treat Mr. Reagan correctly. Mr. Gorbachev did not win the popularity contest in the aftermath of 1991 upheaval in the former Soviet Union. But his place in history is assured. Therefore, if we have to point finger at someone for the demise of Communist Russia, you now know who would be that person. All the hoopla about Ronald Reagan would die down within a month or so. And with it will die all the falsehood that claims that President Reagan killed the Soviet Union. The claim is a prevarication of high order in my humble opinion.


Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA

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