Mulroney in Moscow, Kyiv and Leningrad
Several postwar Canadian leaders sought to reach across the Iron Curtain in their foreign policies. This produced academic and cultural exchanges, sporting contests, and limited commercial relations. But throughout the Cold War, the common denominator in Soviet-Canadian relations was opposition, rather than cooperation.
It was ultimately Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who reset bilateral (and bloc) relations. Gorbachev’s reforms at home and the (mostly) peaceful Eastern European revolutions of 1989 set the stage for Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s visit to the Soviet Union in November of that pivotal year. The documents in this briefing book provide insight into the anatomy of the official visit, and the purpose and planning of Mulroney’s travels to Moscow, Kyiv, and Leningrad between November 20-25. Far-reaching agreements were concluded in fields like the Arctic, environmental cooperation, film production, defence exchanges, and joint action against drug trafficking. The imminent entries of McDonald’s and Imax into the Soviet Union were potent illustrations of changes that were underway.
For all the bonhomie and new possibilities in relations between Arctic neighbours, the documents reveal that the visit was also an opportunity for Mulroney to raise pressing issues with his Soviet counterparts. Economic reform within the Soviet Union had stagnated. Were the Soviet people going to lose faith in perestroika? Could Gorbachev's reforms maintain the Soviet Union's "status as a superpower” if its economic and technological bases continued to erode (CDMV00020)? Glasnost seemed “traumatic” for the Soviet population. Had it brought to the surface long-repressed ethnic/national ambitions and resentments (CDMV00023)? How would Moscow handle the nationalities question, and how would Soviet policy evolve in republics like Ukraine, Armenia, and Azerbaijan? What were Soviet views on the possibility of German reunification? Would the Soviet leadership address persistent human rights issues? Canadians were optimistic about new avenues of cooperation, but conscious that Soviet diplomats continued to engage in “unacceptable” espionage on Canadian soil (CDMV00022).
This briefing book is comprised of 54 documents that shed light on how the Canadians of 1989 perceived the meaning and significance of seismic shocks to the Soviet Union and international system. The full suite of records released under the Access to Information Act can be downloaded as CDMV00056 and CDMV00057. These records emphasize that it was in Canada’s best interests for Soviet reforms to succeed. In November 1989, Canadians hoped for the transformation, rather than the collapse, of the Soviet Union.