COVER

CATCHING UP

MULRONEY VISITS THE NEW MOSCOW

Anthony Wilson-Smith December 4 1989
COVER

CATCHING UP

MULRONEY VISITS THE NEW MOSCOW

Anthony Wilson-Smith December 4 1989

CATCHING UP

MULRONEY VISITS THE NEW MOSCOW

When they met in the Kremlin’s lavishly appointed St. Vladimir’s Hall last week, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev smilingly chided Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. As they began the first official meeting between leaders of the two countries since 1971, Gorbachev declared, “We cannot allow such a long wait to be repeated in the future.” Responded Mulroney: “I expect that then you will accept our invitation to visit us soon.” Then, the two men sat down to a lunch at which they took turns

reminiscing about their parents and their respective childhood experiences. After five hours of meetings, the two leaders signed a joint declaration committing their nations to respecting the right of Europeans to “pursue paths of political and economic change, without outside interference and in an atmosphere of international confidence and security.” Declared an exuberant Mulroney: “Our two countries have embarked on a new beginning in our relationship.” And for his part, the Soviet leader said that Eastern Europe has to “make

up for lost time.” Added Gorbachev: “This requires a more rapid pace of change.”

Events last week provided abundant new evidence that, in parts of Eastern Europe at least, Gorbachev’s challenge had been accepted—with startling enthusiasm. In the wake of momentous changes in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia’s ruling Politburo resigned in the face of daily demonstrations by hundreds of thousands citizens demanding reform. Indeed, with the changes in Eastern Europe outstripping the reform policies that Gorbachev initiated after he succeeded the late Konstantin Chernenko in 1985, Mulroney’s six-day visit— which included visits to Leningrad and the Ukrainian capital of Kiev— seemed to be taking place in the eye of the storm. Even in the Soviet Union, the forces unleashed by Gorbachev’s reform policies continued to chip away at the foundations of the Soviet empire. Among last week’s developments: in Lithuania, annexed during the Second World War, the parliament established a commission to study means of restoring the Baltic republic’s independence.

‘Martian’: But, for the most part, Mulroney and the Canadian delegation, which included External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, tried to distance itself from Soviet domestic problems. Instead, in an apparent attempt to take to heart Gorbachev’s exhortation to make up for lost time, they concentrated on enhancing Canada’s image in the Soviet Union. Prior to the visit,

Mulroney was so unknown in the Soviet Union that the English-language service of TASS, the official Soviet news agency, not only identified him by his little-used first name, Martin, but also misspelled both that and his last name in the process, referring to him as “Prime Minister Martian Malrooney.”

But after Mulroney’s meetings with Gorbachev and Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov and his subsequent endorsement of the reform efforts, the tone and volume of coverage immediately changed. The visit became the lead item on Soviet radio and television and received favorable front-page coverage in the press. Said Pravda, the official organ of the Soviet Communist party: “The visit represents a large-scale act that will help shape the future and reflect the similarity of Soviet-Canadian positions on many problems.”

More importantly, the two sides signed more than a dozen agreements, covering subjects ranging from economic co-operation to joint programs in the Arctic. As well, in Leningrad on Friday, Mulroney said that Canada has invited the Soviet Union to work with a pro-

posed Canadian Polar Commission to study problems in the Arctic. Canada has also invited the Soviet Union to take part in a conference in Yellowknife, N.W.T., next spring to co-ordinate scientific and antipollution efforts in the Arctic. And on the diplomatic front, the two sides indicated their eagerness to expand consular ties with each other. Mulroney said that Ottawa, which now maintains an embassy in Moscow, is giving “urgent” priority to plans to open a consulate in Kiev, while External Affairs officials said that Canada is also likely to open a second consulate in Leningrad. In turn, the Soviets, who have an embassy in Ottawa and a consulate in Montreal, are expected to open a second consulate in Toronto.

Deals: Still, much of the activity last week focused on expanding trade ties between the two countries. Concurrent with the Mulroney visit, a 240-member Canadian business delegation was in Moscow under the sponsorship of the newly formed Canada-U.S.S.R. Business Council to attend that organization’s inaugural dinner and pursue new deals with Soviet businesses (page 40). Meanwhile, Mulroney and Ryzhkov eased concerns in some sectors of the Canadian business community by signing an agreement promising Canadian investors fair compensation if their ventures are nationalized or expropriated by the Soviet government.

During a Monday meeting with the Soviet prime minister, Mulroney even suggested that if Ryzhkov would designate a specific area of the troubled Soviet economy—citing agriculture as an example—Mulroney would encourage Canadian companies to concentrate their efforts on that sector. Ryzhkov initially refused the offer, saying that it is up to the Soviet people to solve their own problems. But, at a state dinner that night with Mulroney, Ryzhkov suggested that the country would welcome help to cure its chronic housing shortage. Mulroney then introduced Ryzhkov to Albert Reichmann, a guest at the dinner and president of the huge Toronto-based Olympia & York Development Ltd. As a result, Ryzhkov arranged for a future meeting with Reichmann, whose firm recently announced plans to build a $250-million, 60-storey building in Moscow. Commented Paul Drager, a lawyer with the Calgary firm Macleod Dixon and a former commercial officer with the Canadian Embassy in Moscow: “It used to be that few people here knew anything about Canadian business. Now, everybody wants to listen to us.”

In fact, Mulroney’s performance in private

meetings won praise from both sides. Both Soviet and Canadian officials said that he quickly established a strong rapport with both Ryzhkov and Gorbachev—in part by citing shared elements of personal history. In addition to exchanging family anecdotes with Gorbachev, Mulroney led into his proposal to Ryzhkov, a former director of the Soviet Union’s largest heavy-equipment manufacturing factory, by citing their mutual business backgrounds. Said an aide to Mulroney: “Brian dealt with him on the basis of one businessman to another, and it built a common ground.”

For their part, Soviet officials publicly echoed Canadian enthusiasm over the results of the meetings. Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, in a lengthy interview published in the daily newspaper Izvestia, said that SovietCanadian relations “have resembled a not-easy but consistent climb towards a mountain pass, beyond which new horizons of co-operation would open up.” Added Shevardnadze, who met Clark for two hours of discussions: “The talks in Moscow were just such a pass, a most important milestone.”

Reformer: Even as the accolades flowed freely, though, some Soviet officials privately admitted their displeasure about Canada’s slowness in recognizing the pace of Soviet reforms. Similarly, they voiced disappointment that Mulroney did not completely repudiate his government’s 1987 white paper on defence. In that position paper, the government referred to the Soviet Union as a potential enemy, accusing the country of wanting to remake the world in its own image. Asked on two separate

occasions by reporters whether he now disavowed such sentiments, Mulroney did not answer directly either time—although he praised Gorbachev as “a great reformer doing remarkable things.” Said one official in the Soviet foreign ministry: “It seems to take Canada a very long time to change its views. But we are learning to be patient, and Canada is learning to believe in us.”

As well, despite the widespread praise for Mulroney’s private demeanor, he got mixed reviews for his public performance. While Gorbachev smiled and bantered easily with report-

ers following the meeting between the two men, observers noted that Mulroney fidgeted uneasily and frequently wrung his hands. In Moscow, there also were snickers from onlookers when Mulroney used a limousine accompanied by a large motorcade to travel less than 200 m to a fitness-program ceremony in Red Square. At two news conferences, Mulroney’s answers were so vague and rambling that frustrated reporters frequently repeated their questions several times for clarifications. Aides later said that the Prime Minister was exhausted as a result of the eight-hour time difference between Canada and the Soviet Union and workdays that averaged more than 16 hours.

Still, Mulroney’s hectic schedule left time for a small and very private surprise party organized by his aides. On Tuesday night, following his meeting with Gorbachev, officials from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) spirited Mulroney to Moscow’s plush, newly restored Savoy Hotel—for a celebration to mark the first anniversary of his Nov. 21, 1988, re-

election. While about 15 guests listened via speakerphone, Mulroney took a long-distance call from John Tory, his campaign tour director. Tory told Mulroney that the media coverage of his trip had been “terrific.” As a result, he jokingly suggested, “you could bring in a budget right now, no one would notice.” Troubling: As an official visitor, Mulroney found himself drawn into controversial areas. In spite of the greater democratization now evident in the Soviet Union, some elements of Soviet life remain at odds with Canada’s commitment to religious, human and political rights. And although the emphasis during Mulroney’s Moscow visit was clearly on

trade and Arctic co-operation, he could not avoid confronting some of those troubling issues. The challenge facing him: how to voice support of long-standing Canadian policies—without raising objections that he was meddling in the domestic affairs of the Soviet Union.

For the most part, those Canadian efforts appeared not to raise the ire of Mulroney’s Soviet hosts. While in Moscow, the Prime Minister visited a Jewish school, or yeshiva. There he promised greater Canadian efforts to help Soviet Jews overcome difficulties in emigrating. As well, the Canadians followed up on the Prime Minister’s assurances before leaving for Moscow that the delegation would raise the issue of the Baltic states with Soviet leaders. Canada is one of many Western countries that does not recognize the Second World War annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by the Soviet Union. Those republics are now aggressively demanding greater political and economic autonomy from Moscow. In meet-

ings with Shevardnadze, Clark discussed the nationalist movements in the Baltic states. Clark later said that Shevardnadze had given him assurances that force was not being considered to quell the renewed tide of Baltic nationalism.

For many members of Mulroney’s staff, the visit to Kiev was clearly the one that presented the greatest diplomatic dangers. In Ukraine, nationalism and resentment against Moscow’s authority has been on the upsurge. The republic also has been wracked by a bitter and longstanding dispute between the Russian Orthodox Church, which is officially recognized by the authorities, and the Ukrainian Catholic

Church, which, although it has been outlawed for more than four decades, still has millions of adherents. Officials from the PMO said that Mulroney was acutely aware of the difficulty of successfully establishing his support of religious and political freedom without invoking official Soviet anger. Said one PMO official: “We were walking on eggs all the time we were here.”

Liberty: But Mulroney appeared to negotiate the minefield of nationalism successfully. In a meeting with Vladimir Ivashko, the first secretary of the Ukrainian Communist party, the Prime Minister stressed his support for the free practice of all religions. Ivashko responded that the Supreme Soviet will soon pass a bill guaranteeing that right. And in his speech in Kiev at the monument to 19th-century Ukrainian poet and nationalist Taras Shevchenko, Mulroney pointedly praised Shevchenko’s commitment to “freedom and liberty for all peoples.”

At the same time, the Prime Minister’s visit

to the Shevchenko memorial provided an indication that Gorbachev’s reforms have not succeeded in wiping away all the vestiges of the past. More than an hour before he was to appear at the monument, a large contingent of KGB officers—apparently fearing demonstrations by Ukrainian nationalists—sealed off the area to all but a handful of previously invited guests. When several hundred spectators arrived at the scene, among them some representatives of Ukrainian nationalist groups, they found themselves separated from Mulroney by the police barricade. KGB agents slapped at them with batons and pointedly filmed them. But as Mulroney left the monument after laying a wreath, he appeared suddenly to notice the crowd on the other side of the police barricade. He broke away from the KGB cordon surrounding him, walked up to the crowd and talked and shook hands with people for several minutes. KGB agents did not interfere with Mulroney— although they shoved several Canadian journalists standing nearby. Said one of the crowd, a 19year-old student named Natalia: “All we wanted was to say hello, but these pigs are even terrified of that.”

Courage: Despite that incident, though, Mulroney was clearly impressed with the sincerity of efforts by Gorbachev and senior government officials for reform. He 3 praised Gorbachev several I times for his “courage and 5 commitment to change.” And ¿5when asked by a reporter I how Canada would react if a Gorbachev’s reforms fail, he responded, “We do not consider that because we do not expect them to fail.”

That statement was a clear indication that, in spite of complaints of Canadian slowness in reacting to Soviet changes, Canada has embarked on a new course in Soviet-Canadian relations. Still, that change is likely to be more apparent in Ottawa than in Moscow, where Canada is regarded as a middle-level power— not a major diplomatic priority. Last week, some Canadian officials speculated that Gorbachev may visit Canada next spring in conjunction with his expected Washington summit with U.S. President George Bush. But Gorbachev, in spite of his expressed wish to visit “rather soon,” refused to commit himself to a date. Said one External official: “We have shown a new enthusiasm—it is up to them to decide what to do with that.” For Canada, part of the price of new friendship with the Soviet Union may be the willingness to watch—and wait.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH