“The Soviet system in crisis” (1989)

In November 1989, United States intelligence agencies compiled the following briefing paper (NIE11-18-89) titled “The Soviet system in crisis: prospects for the next two years”. It provides predictions about political and economic developments in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev over the next two years:

“The Soviet domestic crisis will continue beyond the two years of this Estimate, regardless of the policies the regime pursues. The regime will be preoccupied with domestic problems for years to come, will want to keep tensions with the United States low, and will probably still pursue agreements that reduce military competition and make resource trade-offs easier.

Despite the enormous problems he faces, Gorbachev’s position in the leadership appears relatively secure, and he has increased power and political room to cope with the crisis.

There will be a greater effort to define the limits of political change, a tougher approach on ethnic issues, and some retrenchment in media policy; but the process of political liberalisation will expand with the legislature and independent political groups increasing in power at party expense.

The regime will concentrate on stabilising the economy and, while pulling back on some reforms, will push for others designed the enlarge the role of the market and private enterprise.

Despite these efforts, we expect little improvement – and possibly a decline – in economic performance, as well as further increase in domestic turmoil…

The crisis, precipitated by long-simmering problems and Gorbachev’s policies to address them, will continue over the next two years and beyond and could threaten the system’s viability. Ethnic problems are endemic: conflict between the centre and regions will increase, as will interethnic strife, and the regime can at best hope to manage and cope with these problems, not resolve them. Economic ills are deeply rooted in the system and efforts to reform it will be slowed by the priority given to stabilising the economy…

Gorbachev’s power has been significantly enhanced with the weakening of the leadership’s orthodox wing and the development of a second power base in the legislature…

To pursue this course and arrest the growing fear of anarchy in the country, Gorbachev will try to rein in somewhat the now freewheeling Soviet press, and be tougher in defining the boundaries of the political and economic autonomy for the country’s minority nationalities. He already has and will continue to use repressive measures if necessary to control communal violence or prevent secession [from the Soviet Union].”