The "Crimean Meetings" of the Warsaw Pact Countries' Leaders,
by Jordan Baev
Personal contacts often play a key role in the relations among the countries. Unofficial meetings between monarchs, presidents and secretaries-general during a hunt or a sports event, at seaside and mountain residences, at a "business" breakfast or a midnight cocktail have settled complicated bilateral problems and regional crises. Issues that the wearisome official negotiations with their methods of the "traditional" diplomacy have not managed to do.
In the Warsaw Pact history such examples of informal relationship were the animated discussions during the notorious "Crimean meetings" of the East European guests with their Kremlin hosts. In contrast to some very formal meetings of the Warsaw Pact, where usually official speeches were delivered and preliminary specified documents were signed, the talks in the summer residencies of the Soviet leaders in Yalta and Sochi were far more open and spontaneous.
It is well known that even in the times of Joseph Stalin a series of important talks were implemented in informal settings. Thus for example, in June 1946 during a "comradely" meeting with his Balkan guests - Josip Broz Tito and Georgi Dimitrov, "the Kremlin's master" discussed the issues of the so-called "South Slav Federation" and the necessity to accelerate the hit against the "bourgeois opposition". Three years later during the celebrations of his seventieth anniversary at private talks with Mao Zedong and Kim Ill Sung, Stalin examined the views of the Asian comrades on the final solving of the "Korean problem".
Stalin's successor, Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev was fond of such informal meetings, too. On 2 October 1958, for instance, at a Plenary meeting of the CC of the BCP the Bulgarian communist leader Todor Zhivkov informed his colleagues:Comrades, during my vacation a month ago at his invitation I visited Comrade Khrushchev for a week in the Crimea where he was resting. At this meeting Comrade Khrushchev and I had an opportunity to exchange views on a number of issues, or, so to say, to "set our clocks to the correct time"...
On 23 July 1961, Nikita Khrushchev invited for another long discussion Todor Zhivkov, the French Communist leader Maurice Thorrez and other foreign guests in his government residence in Sochi, in the Crimea. A year later, on the opposite side of the Black Sea coast, in a state Bulgarian residence near Varna, the Soviet leader got at the idea of deploying missile bases in Cuba as opposed to the deployment of US missiles "Jupiter" in Turkey. In principle, no official records were kept of the "friendly and informal" talks of such kind and the information about their agenda is very scarce.
Leonid Brezhnev, however, was exactly the "Kremlin's host" who tried to turn the organization of annual "friendly" discussions into tradition during the summer vacations in Crimea in 1971. The first three discussions were multilateral and a series of important actual topics of the international situation and the mutual cooperation were discussed there. At the first multilateral meeting on August 2nd 1971 in Crimea the Czechoslovak and the Polish leaders Edward Gierek and Gustav Husák reported the measures for overcoming the inner social crises in their own countries. According to Todor Zhivkov's information, at that meeting he himself proposed the establishment of a "coordination center of the seven brotherly parties for struggle against the Maoist ideology".
Indeed, there were some foreseeable differences on this issue with the Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu. After returning from Yalta, Zhivkov informed his colleagues in the Bulgarian Politburo of Moscow's apprehension that "allied with each other and with China" Yugoslavia, Romania and Albania would eventually form a special group in the Balkans that might weaken the Warsaw Pact' Southern tier and would "openly or under cover" result into a regional Balkan bloc "based on anti-Sovietism". In Brezhnev's view, "Ceauşescu has gone too far" for which reason serious talks with him were on the agenda in order to help "the Romanians to realize that their actions had been wrong and injurious". At the following multilateral meeting in the Crimea on 31 July 1972, one of the essential issues discussed was the topic of the further development and extension of the mutual economic cooperation and foreign policy coordination of the Warsaw Pact countries .
During the third multilateral meeting on 30-31 July 1973 a real scandal exploded. In his characteristic outburst of anger Nicolae Ceauşescu threatened that he would leave the meeting if Todor Zhivkov would not withdraw his critical remarks. The incident was overcome only with the imperative intervention of the Soviet host. This probably was one of the reasons, together with the aggravated health condition of Leonid Brezhnev, that during the following years the East European allies were not summoned for joint discussions, but were only invited individually and successively at intimate bilateral talks one by one in the Crimea.
In 1974 since no such meeting was held, however, a briefer informal "comradely" meeting without an official agenda for it, was organized on 18 March 1975 in Budapest. It is indicative that in it all leaders of the Warsaw Pact countries except Romania participated. Leonid Brezhnev explained that he had been ill for a long time and that had been the reason he was not able to conduct the preliminary appointed meetings with Kádár, Honecker, Husák, Gierek and Zhivkov. Quite tersely, he mentioned a lot of impending tasks, emphasizing on the preparation of the European Conference on Security and Cooperation. At the end of the meeting, János Kádár expressed the joint "satisfaction" of those present at the meeting with the improvement of Brezhnev's health and their "wishes" that he would not get overworked in the future. This episode is symptomatic and marks the beginning of the so-called period of "stagnation" in the Soviet domestic and foreign policy. From that moment on till his death in November 1982, Leonid Brezhnev was a rather decrepit and irresolute political figure, well suited to the aspirations of the "gerontocratic" state and party leadership of the Soviet Union who were interested to keep as long as possible the existing "status quo" of their unlimited personal power and privileges.
The Bulgarian State Records preserved series of shorthand records, which reveal the most important moments of the confidential talks between Brezhnev and Zhivkov during the last years of Brezhnev's life. From 1976 till 1982 in the beginning of August each year, the Bulgarian leader, like the bigger part of his East European colleagues, left for "a brief vacation" in Crimea, where a compulsory discussion with Brezhnev was held. Among the leading issues, besides the development of the international situation and the US-Soviet relations, the discussion about the political and the economical situation in the Warsaw Pact countries as well as the problems of the bilateral relations was assigned a place of importance. Significant priority was given to the unsolved economic issues. In an amazing way, this reminds the sagacious phrase from the famous US movie of the seventies, "TV Network": "What do you think they are speaking about in Kremlin? Ideology? Not at all! They are discussing petroleum and credits, dollars and rubles..."
At the meeting in Yalta on 14 August 1978, for example, Todor Zhivkov submitted to the Soviet leader a letter with a number of specific economic requests. The dialogue between them, ensuing from the reading of the letter, was quite characteristic:
BREZHNEV: It is good that you've expressed in written form your point of view on the unresolved issues in our relations...
ZHIVKOV: Bear in mind, comrade Brezhnev that the necessity to set these problems has been urged by the situation becoming uncontrollable... It was not easy to bring myself to set these issues before you.
BREZHNEV: The issues that you, Todor, are bringing forward cannot be solved immediately. But at the moment I can give you a guarantee of and a promise to help in their solving.
A detailed discussion on the "troubled relationship" with the Romanian leader Ceauşescu took place during the same meeting in August 1978 in Yalta. Leonid Ilich was extremely close to his Bulgarian ally, having developed a very cordial relationship with him during the past decade:I know, Todor, that you had many times the opportunity to speak frankly with Ceauşescu. It is obvious that the necessity of such an influence is now becoming extremely important, especially having in mind that with their policy regarding the Balkan cooperation the Romanians create diplomatic complications for Bulgaria. When they make a fuss over the question of the establishment of a Balkan cooperation, they do not do this merely as a whim. The issue of the regional cooperation development in the Balkans is seen by the Romanians as well as the Yugoslavs and the Greeks as a way to decrease the influence of the Warsaw Pact states in the region. This is the essence of their approach... We should decisively counter-act all the projects for creation of an autonomous Balkan group with its own particular interests'.
These words of Brezhnev's impart the quintessence of the firm Soviet attitude on the matter, expressed in the previous years mainly by the Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromiko.
As his habit was, Zhivkov tried to maneuver carefully during the conversation in order to reach certain compromise concessions without making his powerful protector through whom he obtained considerable financial and economic support for improving the Bulgarian economy lose his temper:Regarding our policy in the Balkans, I would like to state that we coordinate all our steps with the Soviet Union... The situation on our peninsula is extremely complicated... The steps, which we are undertaking here, are aimed at keeping Bulgaria from isolation. Of course, in no case would we allow the creation of a regional union in the Balkans, directed against the Soviet Union and Bulgaria. There are some common problems in the Balkans in the settlement of which Bulgaria should also participate. Otherwise we shall be isolated from the other Balkan states...
Further Zhivkov continued:We would like to be properly understood. If we approach these questions with prejudice and strictly support the concepts of certain people [in this case the Bulgarian leader definitely had in mind Andrei Gromiko, J.B.] not to participate in any joint Balkan initiatives, we shall be isolated from the other Balkan states. And this will not do any favor to us jointly.
A similar discussion arouse during the bilateral meeting in Crimea on 9 August 1980. Todor Zhivkov insisted emphatically on having Brezhnev's assistance in settling the issue connected with the increase in the import of Bulgarian agricultural production and foods into the USSR, which was of crucial significance to the Bulgarian economics, directed exclusively to the Soviet Union. Brezhnev replied: "Frankly speaking, our competent auities think that this issue can not find solution at all, but I assure you that it will be solved."
After Leonid Brezhnev's death, in June 1983 his successor, Yuri Andropov, held a meeting in Moscow with his East European allies. Mikhail Gorbachev also repeatedly held multilateral discussions with them - in Moscow, Berlin or in other European capitals. However, the tradition and the atmosphere of "The Crimean meetings" never came back, and during the period of the "Perestroika" the differences and the disagreements among the leaders of the Warsaw Pact countries were growing more and more. Thus, the talks in Crimea in the seventies remained a peculiar and unique form of consultations and political coordination in the Soviet bloc history.
In this documentary publication we have collected moments from the most characteristic and fully documented Crimean meeting, which also turned out to be the last one in that multilateral format - the meeting held at the end of July 1973. It includes the extremely extensive report of Leonid Brezhnev (68 pages) and his concluding speech at the end of the meeting; a shorthand record containing the most important point in the statements of the East European leaders; and, separately, the speech of Todor Zhivkov. For the first and last time the Mongolian leader Tzedenbal attended such a meeting and this was not accidental, because one of the main accents in the discussion was put on the attitude toward Maoist China. It is specifically pointed out in a Bulgarian diplomatic document of that period: "The task set at the Crimean meeting is clear - Maoism to be shattered theoretically and politically as an anti-Marxist and anti-Leninist tendency, hostile to the general revolutionary movement..."
We have also included certain interesting paragraphs from the Information on the last bilateral "Crimean meeting" between Brezhnev and Zhivkov on 9 August 1981. The attention of them both was concentrated mainly on the development of the Polish crisis. It is evident from the shorthand record of the meeting that they discussed other issues, as well, which the Soviet leader had put forward during his bilateral meetings with other East European leaders.
The disclosure of the contents and the character of those "off the record" consultations in informal atmosphere contributes to a more complete documentation and exploration of the history of the Warsaw Pact, the specific mechanisms of coordination of positions and justification of government decisions out of the offices and the restrictions of the bureaucratic administrative protocol. This new documentation undoubtedly is an interesting and important supplement to the collection of documents in regard of the official meetings of the Political Consultative Committee and the other political and military structures of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. The selected materials have been extracted from the CC BCP Politburo Records and Todor Zhivkov's personal files, kept now in the Central State Archive in Sofia.
JORDAN BAEV is graduate of Sofia University and received his PhD in History at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. He was a Senior Research Fellow on Military, Political, and Security issues at the Rakovski Defense College. Currently he is a Senior Expert at the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense and Associate Professor of National Security and Conflict Management at the University of National and World Economy and New Bulgarian University in Sofia. He is Vice-President of the Bulgarian Association of Military History and Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Studies as well as the coordinator of the Cold War Research Group-Bulgaria, a PHP affiliate.
 Central State Archive [CDA], Sofia, Fond 1-B, Record 5, File 353, p. 2.
 CDA, Fond 1-B, Record 35, File 2499, p. 10, 21.
 Ibid., File 3390, p. 1-6.
 CDA, Fond 378-B, File 429, p. 1-18.
 Ibid., File 960.
 Ibid., File 495.
 CDA, Fond 1-B, Record 66, File 2507, p. 21-23.
 Paradoxically or not, the tradition of the Crimean meetings was not left in the past after the collapse of the communist system in Eastern Europe. According to an official Information of 6 August 2003, an informal meeting "in sweaters" and "without neckties" has been arranged for early September 2003 in Sochi between Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Bulgarian colleague Georgi Parvanov.
 Diplomatic Archive, Sofia, Record 26-P, File 265, p. 20.