The USSR had scores of soldiers deployed in East Germany in 1989 but all of them were ordered to stand down to allow for Berlin’s “wall of mistrust” to fall, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said.
Socialist East Germany, officially known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR), remained riddled with Soviet bases after the end of WWII.
“There were 380,000 Soviet soldiers stationed in the GDR at the time. They obeyed orders to refrain from intervening,” Gorbachev told Der Spiegel on Friday. “My main responsibility was to rule out the possibility of violence.”
Moscow’s ambassador in GDR, meanwhile, was instructed “not to make any demands” to German politicians on how to handle the situation on the ground.
The wall eventually fell on November 8, 1989, leading to the USSR greenlighting the reunification of Germany a year later. Gorbachev called this event “one of the most important things I’ve ever done.”
We didn’t need the Iron Curtain. We wanted to get rid of the wall of mistrust between East and West – and all other walls, for that matter, between states, groups of people and individuals.
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The Cold War ended but, as time went by, “new dividing lines were created and NATO’s eastward expansion shifted these lines to Russia’s border,” Gorbachev said.
Despite the current tensions between Moscow and the West, the former Soviet leader believes there is a better future ahead.
“There are signs that both the West and Russia understand that communication channels must be activated. The rhetoric is gradually changing. Perhaps this is the first step,” he said, adding that there is still “a long way to go” before trust is mutually restored.
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