Legendary U.S. Ambassador Jack Matlock: the war between Russia and the United States impossible

NRA: In Latvia you well-known historical figure. Your performance on the Jurmala conference in 1986 was a harbinger of awakening in the Baltic States. You were the first foreign diplomat to publicly read, in Latvia the statement that the United States never recognized the incorporation of Latvia into the Soviet Union. Under what circumstances preparation the Jurmala conference?

Jack Matlock: After the Second world war, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were incorporated into the Soviet Union. This happened without the formal approval of the West. It was determined in the secret protocols, which complement the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The USSR denied the existence of the secret protocols, because in the official contract following the aggression is not mentioned. The US was the microfilm with the text of the Treaty the German side. The original was destroyed, and copies of the contract were in several archives in Germany, so we were convinced that the secret Protocol existed. USA, UK and other Western countries did not recognize the legality of the incorporation of the Baltic States. To Soviet territory was annexed to other land — Eastern part of Poland, part of Galicia, the former Transcarpathian region of Czechoslovakia. These territorial changes were based on peace and other treaties with Romania, Czechoslovakia, or other countries that have agreed to territorial changes. In the case of the Baltic States of such a Treaty was not. For this reason, the U.S. were saved the diplomatic missions of the Baltic States.

As a diplomat I first visited the Baltics in 1962. When I spoke with representatives of the local peoples, they stressed that they are not Russian, and Latvians, Lithuanians, etc. I said I understand you are not Russian, in turn, we (the US) do not recognize the incorporation of you in the Soviet Union. For many, this was a big surprise, and people could not believe it. As soon as I had the opportunity to speak at the conference “Chatauqua” in Jurmala, I thought to mention this question is important, especially because an agreement was reached on the smooth running of the meeting at the Latvian television.

– The US President was informed about the content of your speech?

— The time when the planned conference”, Chataqua” in Jurmala, coincided with the time when Moscow was arrested American journalist Nicholas Daniloff. Before we (USA) have arrested a Soviet spy who worked at the United Nations and had no diplomatic immunity. In the Soviet Union was immediately detained an American reporter, who was not a spy, but he brought charges of espionage that could be exchanged. Arrest Daniloff caused a crisis in relations between the US and the USSR. Wife Daniloff appeared on television, called for a boycott of travel to the Soviet Union.

My opinion was this: a trip to the Jurmala conference will not worsen the situation Daniloff. We must work to free him, but canceling our participation in the Jurmala conference, which will be shown on television, we will lose the opportunity to Express our position and lose the power of communication with the local people in the Baltics. Of having 300 people to the American delegation a stated concern about the trip, and then Secretary of state George Shultz expressed the view for those who decided to support Daniloff instead of driving: “If you don’t go, I won’t go there”. I was a professional diplomat in the Ministry of foreign Affairs of the United States. I asked Schultz on the phone a direct question: “Should we go or not?”. As others did not apply to him, that I was the only one whose behavior is to a large extent played a decisive role in this matter. Schultz’s response was: “You are a man with experience. Decide for yourself”. The issue was so politically sensitive that Schultz did not want to take responsibility. Then I turned to the US presidential Advisor for national security John Poindexter and said that we need to go, because this is very important, but asked to ask the US President about his opinion. Half an hour later Poindexter came back and said: “the President thinks you should go. Communication is important.”

After we returned, at a staff meeting, Schulz expressed the compliment in connection with my decision to go to the conference.

– Ronald Reagan was President, the outbreak of severe confrontation with the Soviet Union. But he also started to trust the Soviet leaders and began a policy that culminated in the end of the cold war.

He hated communism and was critical of communism. But he understood people, understood that the need to maintain relations with the Soviet leaders. Reagan his distaste for communism is not personified. He understood that there is a common responsibility for the preservation of peace. He never said we can’t talk with the Soviet Union. When he first met with Gorbachev, I realized that there are issues on which Gorbachev will not yield. At the same time, Reagan understood that Gorbachev was not an absolute dictator. Before going to a meeting in Geneva (1985) Reagan prepared a memo sent to councillors. In these notes there were some interesting points: “Gorbachev is not a dictator. It needs to coordinate with the Politburo. It is not an easy negotiating partner, but we need to build relationships to be mutually trusted. Whatever we have achieved, we can’t call it our victory.”

Reagan approved I will prepare a draft, which said that we can’t question the legitimacy of the government of the USSR. Along with this we are not trying to promote a change of government, and we have not had such opportunities. It was also an understanding that we should not attempt to achieve military superiority, because with this position of the Soviet leaders never agreed. We started with the fact that he tried to change the behavior of the Soviet leaders, they should focus on their interests. Paradoxically, much of the Soviet policy was against the interests of the Soviet Union, it was a problem, and that Soviet leaders had to convince.

The President of the United States realized that if we raise the issue of human rights publicly, it can get negative response. Such issues need to be resolved at the level of personal communication. When the questions about the fate of specific persons did consent, and we never published that this happened under the influence of our pressure.

Reagan was a good actor and well felt kind of reaction will cause his statements. For example, in public debates, Reagan never admitted that he and Soviet leaders called each other by name. Never! Any matters of state was separated from personal relationships. The President of the United States, it was important to know which medium is Gorbachev, what matters, except arms control, it is really interested in, etc.

But there is one important thing to understand President Reagan. He didn’t put an equal sign between the Communist system and Russia. He was guided in Russian cultural history and understood the importance of the Orthodox Church in Russia. He understood that communism is one thing, but Russia is quite another, that communism really hard oppressed Russian. He was never a Russophobe.

– What was the US role in the search for solutions in connection with the events of January 1991 in the Baltics?

— The start of violence, we did not have any effect. After the Vilnius event, Deputy Minister of foreign Affairs of the USSR informed the foreign ambassadors, including me, that it happened without the approval of Gorbachev. I immediately pointed out that in this case, you need to immediately punish all those responsible for those events. Of course, this did not happen. In late January I was supposed to deliver letter to Gorbachev by President George H. W. Bush. He wrote that in the case of continuing violence in the Baltics, but at the time the incident occurred in Riga (the events of 20 January 1991), we will have to suspend several joint initiatives. In the office, when Gorbachev was reading Russian translation of the letter to Bush was only three — I, Gorbachev and Gorbachev’s adviser on foreign Affairs Anatoly Chernyaev. Gorbachev said to me, promised Bush steps have already been initiated or planned? I said, these steps will be taken only if the violence in the Baltic States will continue. Gorbachev asked me: “How do you assess what is happening?”. I was not expecting such a question and was not instructed me to reply. I said I don’t understand many things that happened between you and November (1990): Gorbachev’s turn to the right, the change of the Minister of internal Affairs Vadim Bakatin, the strengthening of the military vector, events in Lithuania, etc. I said it’s none of my business, but Valentin Pavlov as Prime Minister — a very weak choice. Gorbachev replied (the words of Gorbachev, Mr. Matlock quoted in Russian- Y. P.): “Please explain to your President. You know, this country is on the brink of civil war. I, as the President is supposed to prevent. My goals have not changed, but I have to maneuver. Please help President Bush to understand it. As for your policies, then President Bush will do what is important for America, but tell him that I my promises I will perform!”.

It was. USSR blocked the UN the question of the punishment of Iraq (the occupation of Kuwait). Later I explained to Bush that Gorbachev restricted in their actions, but he supports us and does everything possible to prevent violence.

As you can see, today, the Baltic people underestimate the fact that actually it was Gorbachev defended them, though he never disclosed it publicly. In the Baltic States commemorated with a kind word of Boris Yeltsin, because he was in January 1991, he published an appeal to Russian soldiers not to shoot at the Baltic. But don’t value too low the contribution of Gorbachev. You have the wrong understanding about how much it helped the Baltic States, and that Gorbachev has defended the Baltic States. Another thing is that (the then head of the KGB Vladimir Kryuchkov was introduced Gorbachev to mislead on the Baltic and on the nature of the events in the Baltics.

– How did you manage to achieve a peaceful solution to the Baltic States from the USSR?

— After the adoption of the Declaration of independence, I met with the delegations of all three Baltic States. Met with each of them separately. The delegation explained to me, why the Baltic States want more autonomy, which they put next goal to achieve full independence. When I was asked the question: “what the US will do if we declare independence, whether to recognize us?”, my answer was: “No!”.

– They were in shock! Why?

— First of all, was the formal reason. We (the us) is the doctrine that we recognize only those governments that control their territory, but at that time the governments of the Baltic States all their territory is not controlled.

But the reason was even more important. I said, “If we recognize, as the Soviet Union did not recognize, they will destroy you, and we are under this outcome will not be able to protect you. We can politically support you, but in that case, if the Soviet forces will act against you, we will not be able to protect because I don’t want to risk a nuclear war for the sake of your freedom”. We have urged the Baltic States to gain independence through peaceful means: “whatever provocation you may be taken, do not respond to force!”. When I say that we need a referendum, members of the Baltic delegations said to me: “We were illegally incorporated into the Soviet Union! Why do we have to get out of the USSR with observance of the Soviet laws?”.

I said: “the Decision about your independence will not accept lawyers! Prove that the majority of your residents want independence. Gorbachev informed that you do not represent the majority of residents. The world needs to know that the majority of your residents want independence. I can’t give you advice, but you must ensure that the independence was supported by at least two thirds of the population.

It just happened. Latvian independence was supported by the majority of local Russians.

I am convinced that given the pressure exerted on Mikhail Gorbachev, he did the best possible for independence of the Baltic States.

– If you were an Advisor to the President trump, what would be your advice to improve relations with Russia? What about the Ukraine?

In my opinion, and I’m completely convinced these events in Ukraine (including Crimea) not be started, if Russian President Putin had given assurances that Ukraine will not be admitted to NATO.

Secondly. It is necessary to separate the Donbass and the Crimea as two different issues.

All the border conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in the USSR was associated with the problem that the newly formed States were not clearly formulated obligations towards the national minorities. In the republics of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union was an Autonomous administrative unit for minorities. In Serbia it was Kosovo. Georgia was the autonomy of South Ossetia, Abkhazia. The first thing implemented, some States gained independence (Georgia even before the official recognition of independence), is the elimination of autonomy.

In the case of Serbia and Kosovo, we (USA) took one position, and supported the Kosovo Albanians. In the case of Georgia, we took a completely different position, supporting forces of Georgia. Unfortunately, neither in international law nor in international agenda has been advanced, the question of the obligations of new States to the former autonomies. Whether to respect them or not, and whether it is possible to remove them by force? This issue was not consistent.

In the third place. Be aware that Crimea is geopolitically very important to Russia, because it was the base for the Russian Navy.

If you evaluate the political situation in Ukraine, without Crimea Ukraine is politically more stable. The Ukrainian government fought against any manifestation of the autonomy of Crimea. A leader like Yanukovych, would never have been elected President of the Ukraine, if he voted no in the Crimea. Ukraine was a region where 90% of voters supported one candidate, while in other areas, for example, in the Donbass, 90% supported another candidate. In Ukraine, there was no leader who could unite the country.

There is another issue: the Ukrainian-Russian border have never been conducted with respect to the free will of residents expressed by referendum. Why need to declare the sacred boundaries that had Stalin and Khrushchev corrected, when Crimea was given to Ukraine, and local people were not asked whether they want this? This issue is not black and white. The question of Donbass. In both cases, Russia made a big mistake regarding what was actually in her interests. I think the annexation of Crimea and events in Donbas is not in the interests of Russia. This was done because the Russians are convinced that the goal of the West to separate Ukraine from the sphere of interests of Russia that the West’s goal to eliminate the base of the Russian Navy in the Black sea.

One solution could be: take the cards from nationalist forces in Russia that there was no basis for arguments that the West or the USA want to control the Ukraine in a military sense. The situation is tragic. By and large, in this situation lose the Ukraine and Russia and not someone else. This would be my explanation of the situation, the President of the United States.

– What is your view on the current global challenges? Cope with them the President trump? Against him pressing charges over ties with Russia.

— I am not a supporter of trump, but it must be said that many of the accusations have no real basis and is intended for internal political struggle in the United States. I don’t think Russia is in some way influenced the results of the elections in the United States. Russian influence on the election became a political issue, the United States, because the Democrats still do not understand why they lost the election. Why people voted for trump? Because the national Committee Democrats put forward a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

I don’t think Russia did anything to influence the outcome of elections in the United States. Some of those who spread these statements, have not read the report of the investigation. On the first page of the report stated that there was no effect on U.S. elections, and that there is no evidence of impact on the election machinery. What does it say? Russia can be connected with hacker attacks on e-mail Democrats, which was published by Wikileaks. This means that information about the electronic correspondence was not a fabrication.

The best of that still did Donald trump is what he said: good relations with Russia for America is more profitable than conflict with Russia. Unfortunately, while there is an investigation of the allegations, these facts create great difficulties to the President of the United States in improving relations with Russia.

I want to emphasize that is unacceptable to me now sounding of the claim that any talks with Russian diplomats immediately mean something bad. I am a former diplomat, and part of my job was to explain the policies of my country, including other States, the explanation of what happened in the elections in my state. In my opinion, the basis of such campaigns is a desire to paint a picture that Russia and the United States real enemies, but there is no reason.

– What was your main message on “the Baltic forum” in Riga?

— Now there is something that many say is reminiscent of the cold war. But there are significant differences. The cold war at the time was a war against communism. It was a conflict between communism and the rest of the world. Now it is irrelevant. Now the discourse on both sides is wrong. On the one hand, the impression is that the US best return of the cold war. Then there were the military and economic competition, in which the Soviet Union collapsed. In turn, in Russia there is a prevailing opinion that at the end of the cold war it was a bit deceived that the West exerted a lot of pressure to get the Soviet Union collapsed. Both approaches are wrong. Negotiations on the terms of the end of the cold war took place so that the gain was on both sides. All contracts, signed by President Gorbachev, in the interests of the USSR. The cold war ended before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed, plagued by internal conflicts and not due to external pressure. Now dominated by the wrong assumption that the US and Russia are natural enemies, but this assumption is based on a misinterpretation of the history of how the cold war ended. The basic principles, which allowed us to complete the cold war, already forgotten. One of the first meetings in the 80-ies of the last century, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev agreed that a nuclear war is unacceptable, that it should never happen, and it means that the war between the United States and the Soviet Union impossible. This understanding meant great responsibility the US and USSR, and today it is the responsibility of the US and Russia. When it comes to conflict, we seem to forget that a nuclear war will not be tolerated under any circumstances. This means that impossible the war between Russia and the United States. Mutual growth of the demonstration of military force is just irresponsible behavior.