Uncovered: Gorbachev’s warning to Libyan leader after terrorist attack in Germany

By Pavel Stroilov | 22 August 2011

Gaddafi told: ‘I am not starting World War III for you’Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told Muammar Gaddafi that he would not “start the Third World War” for him over an American air attack on Libya.

The comments were made in the wake of a terrorist attack – blamed by America on Libya – in a disco in West Berlin in 1986, and are recorded in a transcript of a Politburo meeting. They show Gorbachev’s frustration with Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan leader whose regime is currently at the point of collapse.

Opposition forces yesterday entered Tripoli with little resistance as the civil war that began in February reaches its denouement. Although government tanks and snipers put up last-ditch resistance in the Libyan capital today, Gaddafi’s 42-year rule looks to be at its end.

The transcript of the Politburo meeting that provides some insight into Gaddafi’s relations with other leaders is among secret documents unearthed by Exaro from a huge Soviet archive that has been smuggled to the West. Exaro has had some of the material translated from Russian to English.

Exaro revealed other documents from the archive last month that showed how France helped the Soviet Union to stop America toppling Saddam at that time. In June, other documents revealed how America secretly took part in an audacious Soviet plan to strike a peace deal with Saddam Hussein, then Iraq’s president, that would have stopped the outbreak of the Gulf War of 1990-1991.

Earlier this month, Exaro uncovered papers from the archive that revealed how Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, was ready to switch allegiance from the West to the Soviet Union, and showed a cavalier attitude to his country’s burgeoning debt.

Two weeks after a bomb exploded in a disco frequently used by US military personnel stationed in West Germany, Gorbachev’s then foreign policy adviser, Anatoly Chernyaev, wrote a memo showing how irritated the Soviet leadership – and Moscow’s allies in the Arab world – were with Gaddafi.

Three people, including two American soldiers, were killed and 230 people injured in the blast. America retaliated by carrying out an air raid against Libya, which, according to reports in Libyan state media at the time, killed Gaddafi’s adopted baby daughter. Gorbachev, the then Soviet president, publicly condemned the US attack.

However, Chernyaev told Gorbachev in the memo: “In the present situation, our unreserved support for Gaddafi undermines our reputation. Hardly anybody in the world has any doubt that he is the culprit of the West Berlin explosion and other such things. Is it not the time to tell him frankly that we cannot agree with such actions?”

After the US air raid, Gorbachev protested by cancelling a planned visit to Washington by the then foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, and instead received Libya’s then foreign minister.

However, the record of his comments the following month at a Politburo meeting shows Gorbachev’s frustration with Gaddafi. He said: “Gaddafi has a very high opinion of his role as a world revolutionary. He acts as if he were dealing with pre-school children. One might think, he who shouts louder, succeeds more in revolution. This is revolutionary primitivism.

“Gaddafi went so far that he provoked the United States to punch him. He panicked, although we tried to shield him so to speak. One way or another we shall have to deal with him and show him the reality.

“The desire to live at the expense of others and to exploit internationalism is very strong over there. Gaddafi does what no one else allows themselves to do: he blackmails us. We had to answer in a way that he would understand was a rebuff. We told him clearly, ‘We are not going to start the Third World War because of you, nor for any other reasons.’ They need to know that otherwise they will drag us into this. We said the same to the Syrians.

“Gaddafi is trying to get an agreement with them. Our position should be as follows: we have a platform.  We are ready to negotiate and willing to deepen our relationship. Let’s take care of our mutual interests etc, and draw them closer to the countries of the Warsaw Pact. We don’t really need an agreement with them but tactically we need to buy time. Opportunists! We won’t compromise.

“Everyone wants us to work instead of them. And now they want us to fight instead of them.”

Referring specifically to the then Iraqi and Palestinian leaders, he continued: “All of them – Saddam, Arafat, the Iranians – have adopted the course of destruction. As simple as that. But there is not much that we can do. All our proposals are aimed at calming them down, preventing panic, discouraging them from adventures.”

Gorbachev appears to have been calmer during a meeting with Syria’s then vice-president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, but a transcript of that conversation reveals how Gaddafi unsuccessfully tried to persuade Moscow to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Pavel Stroilov is a Russian journalist and political exile living in London, and author of ‘Behind the Desert Storm’. Additional reporting by Katie Storry.

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