Foreign Affairs

Cold War International History Conference: Paper by Hope M. Harrison

Session II

Research in Former Soviet and East German Archives on the Cold War and the Berlin Wall

by Hope M. Harrison,
Research Fellow, the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies &
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Gov. and Law, Lafayette College
Paper presented at "The Power of Free Inquiry and Cold War International History" Conference of the National Archives
Sept. 25-26, 1998, College Park, MD
at the session on "The Cold War and the Former Soviet Bloc"

Copyright 1998 by Hope M. Harrison

Archival Access

Access to archives in the former Soviet bloc on the cold war period varies quite significantly. To get a general and sometimes very specific understanding of this, I recommend consulting the Working Papers and Bulletin of the Cold War International History Project. In particular, Patricia Kennedy Grimsted has written a Working Paper for the Cold War ProjectNote 1 that lays out in great detail the situation in Russian archives. Her paper exceeds 200 pages and is due out soon. The work I have done has been in the archives of the former Soviet Union and the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), and this is what I will speak about today. My work focuses on relations between the Soviet Union and East Germany between Stalin's death in 1953 and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

In Moscow I have used
  • the Russian Foreign Ministry Archives, Arkhiv Vneshnei Politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii (AVPRF)Note 2, also referred to as the MID archives, Ministerstvo Inostrannyikh Del; and
  • the post-1952 Central Committee Archives, the Tsentr Khraneniia Sovremennoi Dokumentatsii (TsKhSD) Note 3.
In Berlin I have used
  • the archives of the former East German ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). These archives now fall under the Stiftung Archive der Parteien und Massenorganisationen im Bundesarchiv, Zentrales Parteiarchiv (SAPMO-BArch, ZPA) Note 4;
  • the archives of the former East German Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministerium für Auswartige Angelegenheiten (MfAA) Note 5; and
  • the archives of the former East German secret police, the Stasi, known as the Gauck Behörde or the Bundesbeauftragte für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes (BStU) der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratische Republik Note 6

Previously inaccessible documents from these archives include:

  • letters and records of meetings between Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev and East German leader Walter Ulbricht and other high-ranking Soviet and East German officials;
  • Soviet and East German reports on and analyses of (political, economic, military, etc.) conditions in Germany and Berlin and of Soviet-East German relations written by officials in the Soviet and East German foreign ministries and secret police;
  • recommendations by Soviet Foreign Ministry officials regarding Soviet policy toward Germany;
  • preparatory materials by the Soviets and East Germans for their meetings;
  • records of speeches at Warsaw Pact meetings;
  • records of meetings between East German and Chinese officials at the East German embassy in Beijing; and
  • Soviet and East German analyses of Soviet-U.S. relations.
  • Soviet Interior Ministry (MVD) analyses of the East German refugee exodus.

Documents from Russia, Germany and other countries of the former Soviet bloc really offer a treasure-trove of information on "the other side" of the cold war. Access to these documents has created a new and burgeoning field of the international history of the cold war. I will talk about what we are learning from these documents in the next section of my paper, but first I want to talk about what kinds of documents I have seen and what kinds of documents I haven't seen.

Archives it's very hard or impossible to get access to
  • the Presidential/Kremlin archive. This includes the records of the highest party organs of the former Soviet Union, including Central Committee plenums, Politburo meetings, and the personal papers of the top leaders.
  • the former KGB archives, which are now housed in the archives of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
  • the General Staff archive.
  • the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense.
  • the archive of the Ministry of Atomic Energy.
Documents that have come down from the Presidential Archives to TsKhSD
  • Vladimir Malin's notes on Politburo meetings, 1956-64.
  • Fond 89 documents, which are from the political archives of the Central Committee (CC), the Secretariat, Politburo, the KGB and other organs on various topics, including some "hot topics" (osobyie papki) such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
  • transcripts from CC plenums and background information for the plenums, 1955-1966
  • some microfilms from the party control commission.
  • many documents on ideology and propaganda up to the 1980's.
Things that used to be open and now aren't
  • at MID, the list of Opisi (inventories of files)
  • at MID, the yearly otchoti done by MID (index # 041) on each country. The otchoti that I saw before they were closed were very helpful, describing the key political, economic, military, social, and other developments in, for example, East Germany, for a year, the successes and failures of Soviet policy there, and the goals for Soviet policy toward that country for the following year.
  • at MID, some crucial documents which are not open and have never been open are the ciphered telegrams
  • at TsKhSD, files from the International Department in Fond 5 (Obshchi otdel', the General Department), which include Opis 28 for 1953-57 and Opis 49 and 50 from 1957 on. Before they were closed again, I saw wonderful documents (mostly on microfilm) on Soviet-East German meetings in Opis 49 from the CPSU CC Department on Relations with Communist Parties of Socialist Countries. Opis 50 covers Relations with Communist Parties in Capitalist Countries. I also had access to the reference guides to Fond 5 and Fond 4 (the Secretariat).
Working conditions have worsened--for political and financial reasons
  • researchers can't use laptops any more in either MID or TsKhSD, but they are allowed at Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (GARF) and Rossiiskii Tsentr Khraneniia i Izucheniia Dokumentov Noveishei Istorii (RTsKhIDNI).
  • there is now a limit of 300 pages of photocopies per year at TsKhSD and most other archives, although this does not necessarily apply at MID
  • the cost of ordering xeroxes of documents keeps going up
  • the reading rooms are open for fewer hours each day and week than they used to be
  • researchers can order fewer files per day than previously
  • speed of delivery of documents has slowed

What is now being called "the golden age" of archival access in Moscow (especially at TsKhSD) was in late 1992 and in 1993. Since then the combination of the rightward, more nationalist turn in Russian politics, worsening financial conditions, and some "revelations" from the archives deemed embarrassing to the Russians have led in some cases to restrictions on archival access. Politically, there has been an increasing feeling among many employees of the archives that Russian "secrets" should not be let out, especially not to foreigners. And archival officials are much less willing under current conditions to take any sort of risks in what documents they show to researchers. Worsening financial conditions have also had increasingly negative effects on archival access. Sometimes there isn't enough money to heat the buildings, to repair broken xerox machines, to continue paying all the regular staff (who therefore are told to go on unpaid vacation, especially in the summer), and to pay the officials working on the various commissions to declassify documents.

Some more general information
  • The 30-year rule holds generally for both Russians and foreigners for the documents one is allowed to see, except, obviously for state secrets, etc. There is a 75-year rule for personal files.
  • In Aug. 1991, the CPSU archives were nationalized and brought under state archival authority, and then federal "documentary centers" were set up, like TsKhSD.
  • There is no guarantee of funding for the Interagency Commission (which was established only in November 1995) on declassification. The archives aren't allowed to declassify documents on their own--they have to go through this Interagency Commission.
  • There are no time limits set for classified status or automatic declassification.
  • There is nothing like FOIA.
  • Some documents have probably been destroyed.

The process of requesting documents
For both MID and TsKhSD (as well as the other archives), you write in advance, tell them who you are and what you're working on and request access. It's hard to know how general or specific to be in the letter. If you are really specific, but then once you are at the archive and want to see topics on a related, but not specifically the same, topic, you can be in trouble. They can say--"no, that's not your topic." This happened to me with Soviet-Chinese relations, after I said I was focusing on Soviet-East German relations. On the other hand, if you are too general in your letter, you might not get the kinds of documents you really want, and it might take the archivists longer to start giving you the kinds of documents you want to see. So, you have to strike a balance somewhere in between.

Once you arrive at the archive, you generally sit down and talk with someone in the reading room about the kinds of documents you are looking for. And you may need to do this again in the course of your stay if you don't get the kinds of things you want. Again, in this process, you walk somewhat of a fine line between being persistent about getting the kinds of documents you want and being nice and patient and not alienating the archival staff.

You are reliant upon the staff to understand the kinds of information you are seeking and bring you the appropriate documents, since there are really no finding aids researchers are allowed to use at MID or TsKhSD. At one point, MID had a list of the Opisi (the main categories of files) in the reading room, but they don't provide this any longer. TsKhSD for a period of time allowed us (or at least some of us) to use some of their reference guides, but now many fewer of them are accessible to scholars.

MID (AVPRF, the Foreign Ministry Archive)
There is some sort of classification system for documents at MID which, if you can figure it out by looking at the source information on all your folders, can help you figure out how to order documents folders by their source numbers. Sven Holtsmark of the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies tried, not completely successfully, to explain this to me! Note 7

The biggest category is the Fond. There is generally a Fond assigned to each country and to a key person such as the Foreign Minister. Fond numbers preceded by a 0 mean that they are secret. Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov's Fond is 06. Prior to 1955, the Fond # for all of Germany was 082, but after 1955, the GDR was 0742, and the FRG was 0757.

The next step down is the Opis. The Opis #'s generally change by year within a Fond. So, for the GDR, Fond 0742, for the most part, Opis 1 is 1956, Opis 2 is 1957, Opis 3 is 1958, Opis 4 is 1959, etc., and the same for the FRG. There are of course some exceptions, but this is certainly the rule.

Next is the Papka, storage unit for the Dela (plural of Delo), the smallest unit of classification. Each Papka contains Dela in consecutive order. So, for example, Papka 10 might have Dela 15-17, and Papka 11 might have Dela 18-22.

Finally, Delo (also referred to as the indexation system). This is particularly helpful to figure out what you've seen and haven't seen from each Fond. So, if I received a file on the GDR from Fond 0742, Opis 3 for 1958, Delo 66, that would tell me that there were also Dela #'s 1-65. The Dela numbers generally refer to the type of material the file contains. Thus, for example, Delo 041 (which unfortunately is no longer accessible) is the Foreign Ministry's yearly report (Otchyot) on a specific country, Dela in the 100's deal with political issues, in the 120's with military issues, in the 200's with economic issues, in the 800's on cultural issues, and Delo 030 contains notes of meetings of the foreign and deputy foreign ministers.

The documents at MID, not surprisingly, elucidate much about the policy-making process in the former Soviet Union. There are many recommendations made to the Central Committee, drafts of important documents, preparations for international negotiations, and analyses of various countries and policies. One learns a lot about the inputs from MID in the foreign policy-making process, but unfortunately one rarely sees directly in the files the outputs of the process, i.e., how the Central Committee actually responded in policy to MID's recommendations.

Some important Soviet foreign policies really did originate at MID, as opposed to in the Central Committee, the Politburo, etc., so for these, it is really wonderful to be able to see how the policy developed and how letters proposing these policies were addressed to the party leaders. For example, the document proposing in May of 1953 that the East Germans slow down their Construction of Socialism program (Aufbau der Sozialismus) originated and went through many drafts in MID. For me, the transcripts of some of the most important meetings between Khrushchev and Ulbricht during the Berlin Crisis (June 9 and 18, 1959 and November 30, 1960) were another useful part of the MID archive.

TsKhSD (the post-1952 Central Committee Archive)
Since the Foreign Ministry archives are good on policy inputs but not on policy outputs, it was a big relief for me to be able to get access to the post-1952 Central Committee archives, the TsKhSD, and see some of the other side.

TsKhSD seems to have been more affected by political changes than the MID archive. It may be that MID is partially insulated because it has an international advisory board which helps it out financially and holds it to some sort of international accounting on its policies. It is also the case that the various "scandals" about "embarrassing" documents have emanated much more from TsKhSD than from MID documents. MID has generally been more easily accessible than TsKhSD. When I first started working in both of them in 1992, the staff at MID was much more comfortable with me as a foreigner than the staff at TsKhSD, and there were more people, including more foreigners, working at MID than at TsKhSD, which I think remains the case.

Much of my access to the best stuff at TsKhSD was part of a deal (which included money) with the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson Center. This deal provided that both before and after a conference in Moscow in January 1993 in which various of us would present papers on new evidence on cold war history, we could have access to relevant documents. The deal was also supposed to provide that all the documents we got access to would be accessible to all at TsKhSD afterwards, but this has not happened.

I have found some fantastic documents at TsKhSD, which seems to have a much higher proportion of really top-level documents than MID does. They seem to have many rolls of microfilm on Soviet-East German relations. I saw a good number of them, but it is not clear to me how many more there are.

When I started working in this archive in 1992 and 1993, I felt that most of the staff I came into contact with were quite insulated from the larger world of archives and scholarship. Only on the last day of one of my trips there did they asked me where I was from, who gave me money for my trip to Russia, how can my computer type both English and Russian, and other such questions. We started talking, and it became apparent that they couldn't believe that my university would actually have money to give me to come to Russia and work in the archives. Russian universities certainly couldn't do that. And one of the archivists seemed rather scared of my laptop and sort of thought it worked through osmosis. She couldn't understand how it could type both Russian and English. When I heard in the last year that laptops are no longer allowed in this archive and at MID, I immediately thought back to this conversation. This particular archivist obviously had nothing to do with that decision, but her lack of understanding of how exactly my laptop worked and her suspicion of it are probably shared by a good number of others. And there is also probably general resentment that more foreigners than Russians can afford laptops, and thus may be at somewhat of an advantage.

In 1993 and after, there were various Russian newspaper articles criticizing us all for working for the CIA, etc. Many Russians seemed to think that we would figure out some way to use all the documents against Russian national interests.

(The former East) Germany
All much more regularized than in Russia, not surprisingly. The German system. The former SED archive and foreign ministry archive have been taken over by the Federal German Bundesarchiv. But the SED archive has been allowed to retain more independence and not to be held to the normal 30-year rule, making it possible to see many documents up to 1989.

SAPMO-BArch, ZPA (the SED archive)
This archive is very well organized with all sorts of finding aids, or Findbücher. They have these for just about everything and everyone--Walter Ulbricht, Ulbricht's office (Buro Ulbricht), Otto Grotewohl, the International Relations Department (which contains series of files on relations with the USSR, with China, etc.), Central Committee Plenums, Politburo meetings (often including both the Reinschriftenprotokoll [the more sanitized version of the meeting] and the Arbeitsprotokoll [which often includes the background documents for the meeting and more lengthy transcripts of the meeting], Agriculture, the Economy, the Internal Party Archive, the Party Control Commission, Agitation, Security Issues, and others. Often they have documents in both paper and microfilm. Some of the best documents I found here were records of conversations between Khrushchev and Ulbricht and letters between them.

This archive is really a treasure-trove of information on every aspect of the domestic and foreign policies of the GDR. It is also in many cases a real trip back to the cold war. There are many reports by party officials on the "mistaken views" or "confused views" held by normal East Germans about various East German or Soviet policies, which from our current perspective hardly were "mistaken" or "confused." For example, there are reports of regular East Germans thinking "mistakenly" that there was a contradiction in Soviet and East German policies against West German militarism while they were also promoting the building up of the East German military. These kinds of reports really give one insight into the system.

There is also a huge amount of information on economics, which the East German regime studied so much, but obviously quite unsuccessfully.

Ministerium für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten (MfAA) There are no finding aids here, and the archivists are still working through all the documents they have. Thus, as in Russia, you are reliant upon the archivist you work with.

While there are some jewels to be found here, generally this archive does not have as interesting and high-level documents as the SED archives does, because clearly the officials at the top of the party were making the key decisions, not the top foreign ministry officials. I saw many documents written up by the East German Ambassador to Moscow, Johannes Konig, complaining and complaining that he was out of the decision-making loop, and even the information loop. He kept sending messages back to Berlin saying that he was not sufficiently informed about developments in East German-Soviet relations to be able to speak with officials in Moscow; the Soviet foreign ministry officials he met with were always better informed than he was and always assumed he knew what they were talking about when he often did not. This clearly frustrated and embarrassed him tremendously.

The documents here are generally much less sophisticated than those in the SED archives, because the MfAA officials generally had much less training. Especially in the 1950's, the Ministry was really still being formed, and the diplomats often sought much detailed advice from the Soviets on how to set up and run their Foreign Ministry.

In this archive, I saw documents from the departments on the Soviet Union, West Germany, Hungary, Poland, China, Europe, Cadres, Law and Treaties, the Press, Culture, and the Main Department No. 1/Secretariat, from embassies in Moscow and Prague, and from the offices of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister K”nig, State Secretary Otto Winzer, State Secretary Anton Ackermann, and Minister Schwab.

Documents in this archive include the following:
  • regular reports on East German-Soviet relations;
  • reports on Soviet-West German relations;
  • regular reports on the activity of the GDR Embassy in Moscow;
  • reports on the attitude of the GDR and Soviet regimes to the West Berlin issue;
  • reports of GDR-Soviet talks;
  • reports on the 1959 Geneva Conference of Foreign Ministers from the GDR delegation;
  • consultations between the East German and Soviet Foreign Ministries;
  • reports on events in Hungary and GDR-Hungarian relations;
  • reports on events in Poland and GDR-Polish relations;
  • reports on events in China, GDR-Chinese relations, and Soviet-Chinese relations; and
  • reports on Soviet-U.S. relations.

the Stasi archive/Gauck Behörde
This organization is run by a former East German pastor, Joachim Gauck, and is used mainly by people (especially former East Germans) who want to see what the Stasi wrote about them and who informed on them. The files can also be used for scholarly purposes, often (but not always) with the names of people involved being blacked out. They have reams of files of people informing on other people in excrutiating detail. In terms of East German-Soviet relations, however, the archival officials (who are very helpful) told me that they don't have much, since the Soviets insisted they send everything on to the KGB (and not keep copies), and since much was destroyed back then and also in 1989-90. Accordingly I did not spend much time working at the Stasi archive.

In the short time I spent working there, however, I did find a handful of quite good documents. The best documents I found here were protocols of internal Stasi meetings, including Stasi Chief Erich Mielke, on proposals to stop the "flight from the Republic" and finally on the preparations to close the inter-Berlin border. "All preparatory work must be carried out with the preservation of conspiracy and under the strictest secrecy. The entire operation has the codename `Rose'." Also interesting were various Stasi "Assessments of the situation in West Berlin after 13.8.1961."

Happily, xeroxes at this archive are free, and they will even send them to you back at home.

The Substance of What I've Found on Soviet-East German Relations, 1953-61
In these archives I have been discussing, I have compiled information for a book I am writing on the distribution of bargaining power in Soviet-East German relations from Stalin's death in 1953 through the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. While there are certainly still many documents from various archives I haven't seen, I have seen many different kinds of documents Note 8 from five archives in Russia and Germany, and it all adds up to a fairly clear picture of Soviet-East German relations.

I will use the following abbreviations for the 5 archives:
  • SED for the former EG ruling party, SAPMO-Bundesarchiv
  • MfAA for the former EG Ministerium für Austwärtige Angelegenheiten
  • Stasi for the former East German secret police archives
  • CC for the former Soviet Central Committee archives, TsKhSD
  • MID for the former Soviet Foreign Ministry's archives, AVP, RF
I would like to give you an overall sense of the kinds of documents I've seen (and where) from the lowest level to the highest level:
  • Soviet analyses of the situation in Germany and Berlin and policy recommendations--CC and MID
  • East German analyses of the situation in Germany and Berlin and policy recommendations--SED and Stasi
  • East German analyses of relations with Soviet Union and of Soviet policies--SED and MfAA
  • analyses of Soviet-West German and Soviet-US relations and how these might affect the GDR--SED and MfAA
  • records of East German-Chinese meetings--SED
  • letters from Ulbricht to Khrushchev--SED
  • letters from Khrushchev to Ulbricht--CC, MID, and SED
  • records of Soviet-East German and Warsaw Pact meetings--CC, MID, and SED

Putting all these together has given me what I feel is a sufficiently complete picture of what I am studying. I rarely found overlapping documents in different archives--such as the Soviet record of certain talks with the East Germans and the East German record of these talks. Of course, it would have been very interesting to see these, but instead I saw a very broad range of documents from both sides. The documents combined with interviews I conducted in Moscow and Berlin with former officials and published memoirs and other materials give me a broad enough base to feel confident about the conclusions I draw. And reading what others such as Vlad Zubok, Kathryn Weathersby, Ilya Gaiduk, Tim Naftali, and Michael Lemke have found, as well as all the materials published in the Bulletin and Working Papers of the Cold War International History Project and in other sources such as the Russian journals Istochnik and Istoricheskii Arkhiv.

I have published at some length elsewhere on Soviet-East German relations and the building of the Berlin Wall Note 9, so today I just want to summarize my conclusions. But first, I want to tell a related story. When Mel Leffler's piece, "Inside Enemy Archives: The Cold War Reopened," came out in the July/August 1996 issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, I was working in the archives in Berlin, and a colleague of mine there drew my attention to it and Leffler's references to my work. My colleague was extremely concerned and agitated for me that Leffler was misusing my work to support a revisionist view of the cold war, in this case ascribing key events of the Berlin Crisis to the East Germans instead of the Soviets, which is of course, in part, precisely what my work does. It seems to me that much of the new evidence coming out of archives of the former communist bloc does actually support a new form of revisionism, not the old revisionism blaming the U.S. for the cold war, but a new revisionism looking at the importance of the superpowers' allies during the cold war, instead of just at the superpowers themselves.Note 10 Tony Smith of Tufts University has termed this a "pericentric" approach to the cold war. Note 11

Kathryn Weathersby's research on the Korean War (based on extensive documentation from Russian archives) indicates that the active role of the North Korean leader Kim Il Sung in urging Stalin to support Kim's desire to go to war against the South was essential to the outbreak of the Korean War. Weathersby points out that it is only by examining "the intersection of Moscow's and Pyongyang's aims" that can one understand what "produced the war in June 1950"--just studying the Soviet side is insufficient. Note 12 Similarly, I believe that it is only by taking into account both the actions, urgings, and proddings of East German leader Walter Ulbricht and the calculations of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that one can understand the building of the Berlin Wall and the crisis surrounding it. Just looking at the Soviet side yields an incomplete story. Likewise, writing about the Western side of the Berlin Crisis, William Burr has argued that West German actions and attitudes seriously constrained U.S. President Eisenhower's policymaking during the crisis and that, therefore, focusing only on the U.S. obscures a key factor in the crisis. Note 13

Alexandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali's research in Russian archives indicates that Khrushchev's deployment of nuclear weapons in Cuba, perhaps the most important single event of the cold war, was significantly motivated by Khrushchev's desire to support the communist revolution in Cuba and defend it from a U.S. attack. The goal was not just to equalize the balance of nuclear power. Having Cuba as an ally mattered to Khrushchev. Note 14

Ilya Gaiduk's extensive research in Russian archives on the Vietnam War has led him to the conclusion that North Vietnam behaved far more independently from its communist allies, China and the Soviet Union, during the Vietnam War than previously understood. The length and intensity of the war had much more to do with North Vietnam's policies and aims than with those of either of its two strong allies. Note 15 The Soviets and Chinese were frequently frustrated that they could not contol the North Vietnamese, in spite of all the aid they were giving North Vietnam. Again, a key part of the cold war cannot be explained sufficiently by a focus just on the superpowers.

The new evidence also indicates that the role of China and the Sino-Soviet split influenced the cold war much more than previously thought. It was a crucial factor in Soviet policy in the Korea War, the Berlin Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War. Soviet assessments of the actions China would be likely to support in these and other instances were essential parts of the formulation of Soviet foreign policy. Weathersby writes that "Stalin's insecurity about his relations with [Chinese leader] Mao Zedong and about Soviet relations with the PRC [People's Republic of China] led him to approve Kim Il Sung's reunification plan"--i.e., North Korea's attack on South Korea in June 1950. Note 16 Stalin was afraid that if he did not support Kim's plans, Mao would, and Stalin would look like a coward and a weak communist revolutionary.

Similar concerns affected Khrushchev's decision to deploy missiles in Cuba. As Fursenko and Naftali write: "What Khrushchev worried about was the shape that communism would take in Cuba. Would the Castro regime associate itself with the Soviet leader's path of `peaceful coexistence,' or would it ally with China, whose leader, Mao Zedong, advocated the violent overthrow of imperialist regimes?" Note 17a Khrushchev knew "that Chinese influence was rising among members of Cuba's revolutionary elite", Note 18 and "did not want to take any chances. Both the Soviets and Castro interpreted military supplies as a gauge of the health of the relationship." Note 19 Thus, the deployment of the missiles was in part to keep Cuba on the Soviet side of the Sino-Soviet dispute. Note 20

The Cubans, the East Germans, and the North Vietnamese, among others, all sought, often successfully, to use the Sino-Soviet rift to their advantage. And in each case doing so intensified the cold war. Since the Berlin Crisis and the burgeoning of the Sino-Soviet conflict occurred simultaneously, the East Germans sought to use the latter to advance their aims in the former, particularly their aim of closing the inter-Berlin border. Part of the reason Khrushchev ultimately gave in to Ulbricht's demands to close the border was to ensure that East Germany did not stray towards the Chinese, similar to Khrushchev's calculations in deploying the missiles in Cuba. Similarly, with regard to the war in Vietnam and increasing Soviet support for the North Vietnamese, Gaiduk points out that "the Soviet leaders were apprehensive of radical views held by North Vietnam's leaders, who had a clearly pro-Chinese orientation." Note 21 Hanoi was well aware of its opportunity and "took steps to secure maximum profit by exploiting its friendship with both of its mighty allies--the PRC and the USSR--as they competed for influence in Southeast Asia." Note 22 Thus, an approach to the cold war which does not take key allies, "superallies," into account would miss an essential part of several focal points of the cold war.

Two different ways in which allies mattered during the cold war are particularly well illustrated in the case of East Germany's influence on the Soviet Union. First, allies mattered at times because of the actions they took independent of their superpower patrons, especially actions which exacerbated the cold war. Both Germanys, Cuba, and North Vietnam certainly did this. Second, allies mattered, because the United States and the Soviet Union thought they mattered and, therefore, acted as if they did. During the cold war, both the United States and the Soviet Union increasingly believed that their own reputation and strength would suffer if they lost an ally or if the other side gained one. Thus, an important part of the cold war was a competition for allies. Keeping allies was an essential component of this, a dynamic seen at work at least on the Soviet side in the Korean War, the Berlin Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War. The Soviets felt even more pressure to keep allies as the rift with China deepened; the Soviets then needed to keep their allies from moving closer to either the United States or China.

East Germany mattered very much in both of these ways between 1953 and 1961. East Germany took actions independently of and not supported by the Soviet Union in both domestic and foreign policy, actions which had profound effects on the course of the cold war. It was also the case that Khrushchev believed that keeping East Germany firmly in the Soviet communist camp was very important to him personally, to the reputation of the Soviet Union, and to the communist cause. Thus, he allowed the East Germans to influence his decisions in some important ways. As he said to Ulbricht in November 1960, "the GDR's needs are also our needs." Note 23

East German independent behavior generally contributed to the cold war by deepening the division of Germany. This behavior took the form at times of harsher domestic policies than the Soviets favored. Beginning in the months after Stalin's death in the spring of 1953, the Soviet leaders insisted that the East German regime lighten up its domestic policies and institute a "New Course" to reduce the numbers of East Germans fleeing to the West. The June 1953 uprising in East Germany was the realization of the worst fears of the Soviet and East German leaderships that the latter did not have much support among the citizens of East Germany. In the aftermath, while adopting various measures to shore up the East German regime, the Soviets also continued to urge that the regime treat its citizens much more carefully and less "bureaucratically" and "administratively" and generally to take seriously the issue of the relationship between the government and the people. For the period of my study, however, from 1953 through 1961, the Soviets consistently complained that the East German regime was not taking its problems seriously enough, especially the refugee exodus through Berlin, and not adopting constructive policies in response. Note 24 Khrushchev, for prestige reasons, wanted to solve the refugee problem in some way other than closing the border around West Berlin, since he knew closing the border would look bad internally and externally, would look like a defeat, and might provoke the West. The East German regime, however, practiced the power of nonimplementation with regard to Soviet policy preferences. Ulbricht did not want to lighten up on his policies, fearing (rightfully no doubt) that he would then really lose control. Thus, his domestic policies ultimately left the Soviets with no other option than closing the border.

As the Berlin Crisis (initiated by Khrushchev's November 27, 1958 ultimatum to the Western powers) went on without Khrushchev carrying out his threats to the West of signing a separate peace treaty with East Germany, turning over control to the East German regime of the access routes between West Germany and West Berlin, and turning West Berlin into an international "free city," and with more and more East Germans fleeing West through Berlin, Ulbricht became increasingly frustrated and began to act unilaterally. In September 1960, Ulbricht unilaterally announced that Western diplomats accredited to West Germany had to obtain permission from the East German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MfAA) to enter East Germany and East Berlin. Previously Western diplomats only had to show their documents to Soviet, not East German, border guards. This was done, however, without getting permission from the Soviets, or even informing them. The Soviets were "astounded" and demanded "to be informed in the future about measures of this kind." Note 25 Worried by Ulbricht's unilateral actions, Khrushchev met with Ulbricht in Moscow in November and insisted that Ulbricht refrain from any more unilateral actions until Khrushchev met with the new American president, John F. Kennedy. Note 26

Other indications of East German unilateral behavior, or the threat thereof, at the Berlin sectoral border are the following:
  1. In view of the worsening refugee situation, A.P. Kazennov, second secretary at the Soviet embassy in the GDR, sent a report to the Central Committee and the Foreign Ministry on October 17, 1960, on the basis of a meeting with G. Danelius, secretary of the Berlin district committee of the SED, reporting that

    our friends [the East Germans] are studying the possibility of taking measures directed towards forbidding and making it more difficult for GDR citizens to work in West Berlin, and also towards stopping the exodus of the population of the GDR through West Berlin. One of such measures by our friends could be the cessation of free movement through the sectoral border and the introduction of such a process for visiting West Berlin by GDR citizens as exists for visiting the FRG. In so far as measures in this direction would have definite consequences for the work of the embassy in West Berlin and for the development of direct Soviet contacts with West Berlin, it would be expedient to discuss with our friends at the appropriate level the question of the regime on the sectoral border in Berlin. Note 27
  2. On April 7, 1961, the Soviet Ambassador to the GDR, Mikhail Pervukhin, sent the CPSU CC a report on the East German refugees written up by V. Sul'din, a second secretary at the Soviet embassy in the GDR. Sul'din reported that
    the efforts of our friends to impede the exodus of the populace to the West by introducing a passport law establishing a stricter process of granting permission for temporary departure to the FRG and introducing control over the railroads and highways leading to Berlin have not yielded the expected results. Note 28
  3. On May 19, 1961, Pervukhin wrote Soviet Foreign Minister Anatoly Gromyko that the East Germans wanted to close the border immediately and were not following Soviet policy on Berlin:
    Our friends would like to establish now such control on the sectoral border between democratic and West Berlin which would allow them to, as they say, close "the door to the West" and reduce the exodus of the population from the Republic and weaken the influence of economic conspiracy against the GDR, which is carried out directly from West Berlin.
    Trying to liquidate the remnants of the occupation period as soon as possible, our German friends sometimes exercise impatience and a somewhat one-sided approach to this problem, not always studying the interests of the entire socialist camp or the international situation at the given moment. Evidence of this, for example, is their efforts to stop free movement between the GDR and West Berlin as soon as possible with any means, which in the present conditions would complicate carrying out the struggle for a peace treaty. Recognizing the correctness of our position that the liquidation of the remnants of the occupation period is possible only on the basis of a peace treaty, our friends therefore urge a speedy conclusion of a peace treaty with the GDR. Note 29

In addition, on January 18, 1961, an East German delegation led by Politburo member Hermann Matern showed up unexpectedly in Moscow on its way to Peking for a month. Without giving the Soviets any advance notice, the East Gemans plannined this trip to the Soviets' socialist camp rival in the midst of East German negotiations with the Soviets on policy regarding a peace treaty, West Berlin, and economic aid to the GDR. This may well have been intended to step up the pressure on the Soviets, although Matern assured them that they were only going to discuss economic issues with the Chinese, not political issues. Note 30 The Chinese and East Germans, however, discussed far more than economic issues in their meetings in Peking, as the record of the final meeting of the GDR delegation with Chinese Foreign Minister Chen Yi on 30 January illustrates. Note 31 They compared their similar concerns about West Berlin and Taiwan, in which Chen Yi admitted to having "romantic images of imagining that the Americans would give up both positions." The GDR Ambassador to Peking, Paul Wandel, stressed that although the situations in West Berlin and Taiwan were very similar, they differed in the sense that the West Berlin situation needed to be resolved by its transformation into a free-city as soon as possible. Chen Yi stated that the Chinese completely supported GDR policy regarding West Berlin. Finally, although the East Germans told the Chinese that they hoped that the foundations for ideological relations among socialist states established by Moscow would also be the basis of GDR-PRC relations, the East Germans did listen to Chen Yi's discussion of the need for "communists also to argue so as to probe deeper into the truth." This was hardly a discussion about economics, as the East Germans had assured the Soviets.

Horst Brie, a former East German diplomat posted at the GDR embassy in Peking at this time, spoke to me of a "tendency on the part of the East German party leadership to use the relationship with the PRC in bargaining with the Soviet Union." There was always an underlying feeling "that one day, the Soviet Union, in improving relations with the United States, would sacrifice East Germany." Thus, even in the midst of the Sino-Soviet split, the East Germans were eager to maintain good relations with the PRC. Note 32 Perhaps most importantly, both the East Germans and communist Chinese considered part of "their territory" (West Berlin and the offshore islands, respectively) to be "occupied by the imperialists" and both had a strong desire to remedy this state of affairs, hopefully with Soviet help. Note 33

The East German trip to China was a shrewd attempt by Ulbricht to increase the pressure on the Soviets to act on Berlin and to increase East German room for maneuver in the bloc. The combination of Ulbricht's leaning somewhat toward China, his other unilateral moves and threats of more, his continued hard-line domestic policies, the expanding refugee exodus, and Kennedy's refusal in Vienna to back down on Berlin led Khrushchev to finally agree in July 1961 to Ulbricht's pleas to close the border. Thus, the construction of the Berlin Wall began on August 13, 1961. For Khrushchev, this would save the East German regime, wall in Ulbricht, preventing him from any more unilateral moves at the border, reduce East German economic demands on the Soviets, and show the Chinese and others that he was acting strongly vis-a-vis the West..

End Notes

  1. Working Paper No. 20, "Archives of Russia Seven Years After: `Purveyors of Sensations' or `Shadows Cast to the Past'?" [Back]

  2. Elena Vladimirovna Belevich (Director), 121200, Moscow, Plotnikov per., 11. Fax: (7 095)244-44-11. Phone: (7 095)241-04-80. [Back]

  3. Natal'ia Georgievna Tomilina (director), 103132, Moscow, ul. Il'inka, 12, entrance 8. Fax: (7 095)206-23-21 or 200-42-05. Phone: (7 095) 206-23-21. [Back]

  4. Dr. Büttner (director) Finckensteinallee 63, 12205 Berlin, Postfach 450569, 12175 Berlin, B.R.D. Fax: (49 30)84350-246 or 833-0659. Phone: (49 30)84350-0. [Back]

  5. Herr Meyer, Auswartiges Amt, Dienststelle Berlin, Archiv, Postfach 610187, 10922 Berlin, B.R.D. Fax: (49 30)20186-252. Phone: (49 30)20186-260 or 20186-264. You probably have to first get the American embassy in Bonn (Cultural Attache, U.S. Embassy, Bonn, fax: 49 228-334102) to send a letter of introduction to the main office in Bonn: Auswartiges Amt, Referat 117, Adenauerallee 99-103, 53113 Bonn, B.R.D. Fax: (49 228)17 3402. The web site is [Back]

  6. Fr. Sündram oder Hr. Dr. Hecht, BStU, Zentralstelle Berlin, Abteilung Archivbestände, Postfach 218, 10106 Berlin, B.R.D. Fax: (49 30)2241-8651. Phone: (49 30)2241-8503 or 8520. [Back]

  7. See the helpful hints in Vladimir V. Sokolov and Sven G. Holtsmark, "Note on the Foreign Policy Archive of the Russian Federation," Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Issue 3 (Fall 1993), pp. 26, 52. [Back]

  8. For caveats regarding the use of and excessive trust in archival documents, see Mark Kramer, "Archival Research in Moscow: Progress and Pitfalls," Cold War International History Project Bulletin 3 (Fall 1993). [Back]

  9. "Ulbricht and the Concrete `Rose': New Archival Evidence on the Dynamics of Soviet-East German Relations and the Berlin Crisis, 1958-1961," Working Paper No. 5, Cold War International History Project (Washington, D.C.: The Woodrow Wilson Center, May 1993); and "Soviet-East German Relations After World War II," Problems of Post-Communism (September/October 1995). See also my dissertation, "The Bargaining Power of Weaker Allies in Bipolarity and Crisis: The Dynamics of Soviet-East German Relations, 1953-1961" (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1994). [Back]

  10. See Leffler, "Inside Enemy Archives," pp. 128-131. [Back]

  11. Tony Smith, "New Wine for New Bottles: A `Pericentric Paradigm' for the Study of the Cold War," June 10, 1997 updated version of a talk presented at the 1997 Baker Conference on "The New Cold War History," Ohio University, Athens, OH, May 9-11, 1997. In his discussion of the importance of the periphery, Smith draws on Michael W. Doyle, Empires (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986). On the importance of actors other than the superpowers, see also Odd Arne Westad, "Russian Archives and Cold War History," Diplomatic History, Vol. 21, no. 2 (Spring 1997), especially pp. 268-271. [Back]

  12. Kathryn Weathersby, "Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War, 1945-1950: New Evidence from Russian Archives," Cold War International History Project, Working Paper No. 8 (November 1993), especially pp. 23-25, quote from p. 23; and idem, "Korea, 1949-50. To Attack or Not to Attack? Stalin, Kim Il Sung, and the Prelude to War," Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Issue 5 (Spring 1995), especially p. 3. [Back]

  13. William Burr, "Eisenhower's Search for Flexibility: Strategy and Diplomacy During the Berlin Crisis, 1958-1960," paper presented to a conference on the Berlin Crisis at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., May 20-21, 1993; and William Burr, "Avoiding the Slippery Slope: The Eisenhower Administration and the Berlin Crisis, November 1958-January 1959," Diplomatic History, Vol. 18, no. 2 (Spring 1994), pp. 177-205, especially pp. 180-181. [Back]

  14. Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, "One Hell of a Gamble": Khrushchev, Castro & Kennedy, 1958-1964. NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997, pp. 178, 182-3. [Back]

  15. Ilya V. Gaiduk, "The Vietnam War and Soviet-American Relations, 1964-1973: New Russian Evidence," Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Issues 6-7 (Winter 1995/1996), pp. 232, 250-258; and idem, The Soviet Union and the Vietnam War (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996).

  16. Weathersby, "Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War, 1945-1950: New Evidence from Russian Archives," p. 29. [Back]

  17. Fursenko and Naftali, "One Hell of a Gamble", p. 167. [Back]

  18. Ibid., p. 169. [Back]

  19. Ibid., pp. 169-70. [Back]

  20. Ibid., and see also Zubok, "Stalin's Plans and Russian Archives," p. 304.[Back]

  21. Gaiduk, "The Vietnam War and Soviet-American Relations, 1964-1973: New Russian Evidence," p. 250. [Back]

  22. Ibid., p. 251. [Back]

  23. "Record of Meeting of Comrade N.S. Khrushchev with Comrade W. Ulbricht on November 30, 1960," AVPRF, Fond 0742, Opis 6, Portfel' 4, Papka 43. This is available in English translation as an appendix to my Cold War Working Paper. [Back]

  24. See for example the top secret report by I. Tugarinov, Deputy Chairman of the Committee of Information of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, "On the Exodus of Part of the Population of the German Democratic Republic to West Germany," December 28, 1955, TsKhSD, Rolik 5147, Opis 28, Delo 325. [Back]

  25. See the record of the meetings between the East German Ambassador to Moscow, Johannes König, and Oleg Selianinov of the Soviet Embassy in the GDR, on September 23 and 26, 1960, as told by König to Ulbricht in letters on September 23 and 27. SAPMO-BArch, ZPA, J IV 2/202/128. [Back]

  26. "Record of Meeting of Comrade N.S. Khrushchev with Comrade W. Ulbricht on November 30, 1960," AVPRF, Fond 0742, Opis 6, Portfel' 4, Papka 43. [Back]

  27. "Zapis' besedy s sekretarem Berlinskogo okruzhkoma SEPG G. Daneliisom," 17 October 1960, from the diary of A.P. Kazennov, second secretary of the USSR embassy in the GDR, 24 October 1960, TsKhSD, Rolik 8948, Fond 5, Op. 49, Del. 288, 5. [Back]

  28. "K voprosu ob ukhode naseleniia GDR v Zapadnuiu Germaniiu (kratkaia spravka)," report sent from Pervukhin to the CPSU on 7 April 1961, TsKhSD, Rolik 8979, Op. 49, Del. 381, 3. [Back]

  29. Letter from Ambassador Pervukhin to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, Comrade A.A. Gromyko, 19 May 1961, AVP, RF, Referentura po GDR, Op. 6, Por. 34, Pap. 46, 2-3. [Back]

  30. TsKhSD, Rolik 8978, Fond 5, Op. 49, Del. 377. The one-page report was sent by Yuri Andropov to the Central Committee on 18 January 1961, and written by I. Kabin, Chairman of the German section in the CPSU CC Department on Relations with Communist and Workers' Parties of Socialist Countries. The SED Politburo met on 17 January to discuss Matern's trip to Peking. Unfortunately, the Reinschriftenprotokoll of the meeting supplies no information on the discussion. SAPMO-BArch, ZPA, J IV 2/2/745. [Back]

  31. "Aktenvermerk über den Abschiedsbesuch beim Stellv. Ministerpräsidenten und Minister for Auswartige Angelegenheiten der VR China, Genossen Tschen I, am Montag, den 30. January 1961, 10:00 bis 11:00 Uhr," written up by GDR Ambassador to Peking Paul Wandel, 30 January 1961, SAPMO-BArch, ZPA, IV 2/20/123. [Back]

  32. Author's interview with Horst Brie, Pankow, 1 June 1992. Yuli Kvitsinski, who was a Soviet diplomat in the embassy in the GDR at the time, made similar comments in an interview with the author on 26 October 1992. Brie also emphasized the importance of old German-Chinese communist ties and East German-PRC economic ties and said that many East German communists who became disillusioned with the results of socialism in the Soviet Union were more inspired by PRC efforts at socialism. [Back]

  33. See, for example, "Vorlage für das Sekretariat," prepared by the GDR Central Committee's Department on Foreign Policy and International Relations, 29 January 1960, SAPMO-BArch, ZPA, IV 2/20/115; "3. Entwurf! Streng Vertraulich! Vorschläge zur künftigen Gestaltung der Berichterstattung über Probleme der Volksrepublik China in der DDR-Press," prepared by the Chinese Section of First Extra-European Department of the GDR Foreign Ministry, 15 May 1961, ibid.; and "Entwurf! Argumentationshinweise zum 12. Jahrestag der VR China am 1. Oktober 1961," 19 September 1961, ibid. [Back]