Monday, May 24, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Two Hitherto Secret Moves at the End of Soviet Times With Present-Day Implications

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 24 – The Moscow media are reporting two hitherto secret political moves at the end of Soviet times – a suggestion by a Soviet official in 1990 that Moscow was prepared to discuss returning part of Kaliningrad to Germany and a question by Leonid Brezhnev in 1975 as to whether the 1980 Olympics were worth the trouble -- that are likely to feed current debates.
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Yevgeny Grigoryev reports and expands upon an article in the German weekly “Spiegel” which says that on July 2, 1990, the West German embassy in Moscow had sent a cable to Bonn reporting that a Soviet general had said Moscow might be ready to talk about Kaliningrad (
The cable, composed by Joachim von Arnheim, that embassy’s political counselor, said that Soviet Major General Geli Batenin had told von Arnheim that as part of the 2+4 talks about German re-unification, Moscow might be willing to discuss the status of the Soviet part of the former East Prussia, renamed by the USSR as Kaliningrad.
According to von Arnheim’s cable, “Nezavisimaya reports on the basis of the “Spiegel” article, Batenin indicated to the German diplomat that “the question of Eastern Prussia exists” and that “sooner or later this problem will arise for the Soviet Union and Germany,” an amazing statement given Moscow’s view on that trophy from World War II.
But because he believed that Batenin was “connected with the [Soviet] special services,” von Arnheim turned aside this suggestion with the declaration that discussions about German reunification concern “only the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR and all of Berlin” and that any “problems with the development of Northern Prussia” were Moscow’s “affair.”
Grigoryev notes that in the archives of “Nezavisimaya” is an article from the “Berliner Zeitung” of May 5, 1990, in which Batenin was described as “a military expert” of the CPSU Central Committee, an identification that if true suggests he was “one of a number of figures behind the scenes” involved in discussions of German reunification.
Given Moscow’s desperate need for cash at that time, the “Nezavisimaya” journalist continues, “one cannot exclude that in the situation which then existed in certain Moscow institutions the absurd idea of getting rid of Kaliningrad oblast” or at least using it as a negotiating ploy with the Germans.
That Batenin’s words came to nothing at the time undoubtedly reflects the overwhelming opposition of Soviet officials to any such shift in sovereignty, but their appearance now may stimulate renewed discussions about the possible future fate of that non-contiguous part of the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, another report about a hitherto secret development near the end of the Soviet period seems likely to have even more resonance. In today’s “Kommersant,” Yevgeny Zhirnov reports that Brezhnev in 1975 had raised the question as to the desirability of going ahead with plans for the 1980 Olympics (
At that time, Zhirnov reports, Brezhnev sent a note to his Politburo colleagues saying that “besides the colossal expenditures [such an Olympics could involve], there could be scandals of various kinds,” an indication that is certain to intensify debates about the 2014 Sochi Games which are already far over budget and are angering both ethnic and ecological activists.
On the one hand, many Circassians in the North Caucasus and around the world are upset that the venue of the Sochi games will take place on the site from which Circassians were expelled from the Russian Empire 150 years ago. And on the other, ecologists are warning that the Sochi games will destroy fragile and irreplaceable eco-systems in the North Caucasus.
Neither the report about Kaliningrad (East Prussia) or the one about Soviet leadership concerns over the 1980 Olympics is likely to drive Russian policy, but both are certain to complicate the politics around both, given that activists can be counted on to make use of these “historical” revelations.

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