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Leading Man in Moscow: Warmly Received on the Road

June 12, 1988|Roy Medvedev | Roy Medvedev is a Soviet historian whose works, including "All Stalin's Men" and "Khrushchev" (Doubleday), have been published in the West.

MOSCOW — All observers have pronounced the Moscow summit a success; the differences are in debating the degree of forward movement.

Soviet-American political contacts have reached unprecedented intensity. The Moscow summit was the fourth in less than three years. In the same period, U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze met no less than 25 times. For the first time in our mutual history, ministers of defense met, Soviet officers were admitted to top-secret U.S. facilities and their American counterparts to Soviet military installations. This contrasts sharply with the deep deterioration in bilateral relations from 1979 to 1985, when the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the SALT II treaty and the Soviet Union broke off all talks between our countries .

I write this just as the summit has ended, amid voices expressing satisfaction with the results. However, I cannot forget that just 10 days earlier, Moscow exhibited discernible nervousness and some prognostications were rather pessimistic. The U.S. Senate had not yet ratified the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, while Reagan himself, first in America and then in Finland, made several not very friendly statements, in fact rendering support to one of the short but very intensive anti-Soviet campaigns, in the course of which the Soviet Union was faced with numerous accusations.

It was becoming clear that the two leaders would not be able to sign the planned treaty on the 50% reduction in strategic arms, which was part of the "maximum" agenda for the meeting. What is more, even the "minimum" agenda looked to be in jeopardy; if this happened, then Reagan's trip to Moscow would have become a mere formality. Luckily this proved not to be the case. Two days before the meeting, both the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Soviet ratified the treaty; all statesmen and politicians engaged in preparations for the meeting gave a sigh of relief. Only then, just a few hours before the presidential Boeing was due in Moscow, did the political and psychological atmosphere start to improve rapidly. To the utter joy of the TV people and meteorologists, the weather in Moscow also started to warm up after a cold spell.

It is true that new agreements between the Soviet Union and the United States signed during the summit proved few in number, but the talks between Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Reagan, as well as those between their respective delegations, were successful. They substantially advanced the solution of many important problems connected to disarmament, regional conflicts and certain other specific irritants in relations between the two superpowers. In December, 1987, we saw that Gorbachev's stay in Washington led to a clear growth of trust among Americans toward Gorbachev personally and toward the Soviet Union as a whole. But Reagan's visit to Moscow clearly changed for the better many Soviet public perceptions of the United States and its President.

Now many can see the advantage of the summit meetings between our two leaders that take place not in the neutral venues but in the capitals of our nations themselves. Both in Geneva in the fall of 1985 and in Reykjavik in October, 1986, thousands of reporters had practically nothing to report and were reduced to commenting on the outfits worn by Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev. Intensive talks were held behind closed doors and were not only exhausting but not very productive. Small wonder that both the participants and the reporters left Geneva and Reykjavik badly disappointed.

Last year in Washington and this spring in Moscow the situation was quite different. No correspondent sat around with nothing to do, and television crews from many countries toiled from dawn to dusk. Rough estimates show that no less than 2 billion people all over the world watched the events in Moscow with great interest.

The fact is that meetings on neutral soil deny the leaders opportunities for all sorts of sideshows, which have considerable interest even by themselves. In his precious few days in Moscow, Reagan managed, apart from his talks in the Kremlin, also to meet groups of ordinary Muscovites, students at Moscow State University, prominent members of the creative intelligentsia, a large group of refuseniks and dissidents--and on top of that he also presented U.S. views on many problems, going far beyond disarmament alone.

All this undoubtedly reflected in a positive way on the summit meeting's atmosphere and results. It ran its course with a touch of friendliness and even festivity diffused in the air, psychologically incompatible with what is now defined as the Cold War. It was plainly visible to everyone that both Reagan and Gorbachev are strong personalities, not just faceless heads of state. They represented more interest for the people here and in other countries than, say, Richard M. Nixon and Leonid I. Brezhnev.

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