Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bush-Gorbachev Summit, July 30-August 1, 1991

Excerpt from Draft Chapter 11.11
Moscow 1989-1991

Bush-Gorbachev Summit, July 30-August 1, 1991.
Toward the end of my tour in Moscow, Jim Collins approached me with a proposal. How would I like to stay on as Political Counselor? I made a fundamental career mistake by turning him down. I had my reasons of course. First and foremost, I was exhausted and looking forward to a year of rest at the National War College. I had the “horse in the barn” syndrome in the worst way, and the only thing I could think of was getting back to the States and decompressing. I should have said yes, without hesitation.

To soften my refusal, I did agree with Jim that if he really needed me, I would stay on beyond my regular end of tour (July 15) to help with the Bush-Gorbachev Summit. I didn’t really expect that Jim would ask me to stay, but I was wrong again, and he did. I was literally on the way out the door of my apartment with bags in hand when I got a last-minute phone call. Jim said he would feel better about things if I stayed for the Summit and ran the schedule, as usual. I immediately agreed, provided that I could leave immediately after. My classes at the War College began in the second week of August, and I had heard that if there was one thing the military insisted on, it was showing up on time. Jim agreed to my condition. He and I both felt that after the Summit, everyone in Moscow could relax. Gorbachev and most of the Politburo would be on vacation and nothing much happened in Moscow in August. How little we knew.

As my old apartment had to be given up that day, I spent the next few weeks sleeping on the floor in the living room of Ed Salazar and Anita Friedt. Actually, it turned out to be a good thing. I had been suffering from back pain, but after a night or two of camping out on the floor, my back pain disappeared and I was as good as new. The Summit went as all Summits do, beginning with a massive influx of advance personnel, who took over the nearby Penta Hotel. I would talk every day with the advance team and Soviet Protocol, Sergey Davydov and his boss Vladimir Chernyshev (also known by the moniker of "Caesar Romero," since he looked exactly like the aging movie star), and Aleksandr Shevchenko and David Chkhikvaidze from the Kremlin.

Mostly, I dealt with David Chkhikvaidze, as he was my opposite number for scheduling the visit. David, who was in his mid-30s, was Georgian by nationality. He spoke perfect English, and had just gotten back from a five-year tour at the Soviet Embassy in Washington. He invited me and other Embassy types over to his apartment frequently, and we became friends. His son was a big fan of the Mutant Ninja Turtles, and was overjoyed when I managed to obtain a videotape of their latest movie. David was extremely personable and well-organized, and it was largely due to his efforts that the Bush-Gorbachev Summit went off with few if any glitches.

As usual, the White House was insisting on multiple overlapping advance visits of every conceivable site. I drew maps for them of Novo-Ogaryevo, the Presidential Estate just outside Moscow where Gorbachev had been holding the Union Treaty talks, and where he would also hold informal meetings with President Bush. The advance team crawled all over the site, much to Soviet consternation, while I met with WHCA and Soviet communications representatives in the central residence on the grounds to work out communications protocols and procedures. It was a true test of my Russian language abilities, and it was only thanks to my previous working experience in WHCA that I had any idea what the American side was even talking about.

One advance visit that did not go so well, according to Soviet lights, was the Kremlin tour, and the advance visit to St. Catherine's Hall, where the START Treaty and a Middle East Statement would be signed. Kremlin security authorities, after much hesitation, reluctantly agreed to allow seven White House staffers into the Hall to advance the site. I reported this back to the Advance Team, and they said that seven wouldn't be enough. I advised them to agree, and then show up with however many personnel they needed. The Soviets would have to let them in. This is indeed what happened. To the consternation of the security team, we Americans showed up with a busload of over 40 people, and trooped all over the Kremlin while the security types stood by gnashing their teeth. It was the only way, and it worked.

Once the schedule had been nailed, control and site officers assigned, and all outstanding questions asked and answered, the visit was, for me, an anticlimax. I would have no work to do during the visit itself unless something went wrong. In the event, nothing did. The President and his massive entourage of over 600 people arrived in three 747's and a couple of C-141's (not to mention Secretary Baker's own plane). The schedule worked as we had anticipated, and I just stood in the background and watched history unfold. For me, the only problem occurred at the State Dinner at the Kremlin on the last evening of the visit. Everyone had arrived and was seated except for one person: newly-elected Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He and Gorbachev were in a running fight for political dominance even then, and Yeltsin would do anything he could to attract attention to himself and make Gorbachev look awkward. Yeltsin eventually arrived half an hour late, dressed in an elegant blue suit and red tie. He greeted Gorbachev with a knowing smile and a firm handshake, and even then looked like the dominant partner. Dinner proceeded normally after that.

After the Summit was over, President Bush flew on to Kiev, where he made the now-infamous "Chicken Kiev" speech, which was roundly denounced by Ukrainian nationalists at the time. I had only been marginally involved in the preparations for the Bush visit to Kiev, and did not really pay much attention to the fallout from the speech. Ukrainian nationalism, I thought -- what's that? No one could have known, and almost no one was predicting, that in only a few short months, the Soviet Union would fall and Ukraine and the other Republics would begin their independent lives.

A few days later, I packed up my bags, said goodbye to everyone, and boarded the plane for Washington. My second tour in Moscow was over.

End of Excerpt.

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