Larry Watts about Myth and Methodology: The Clash Over Soviet “Tourist” Presence During Romania’s December 1989 Revolution - Ziaristi OnlineZiaristi Online

Larry Watts about Myth and Methodology: The Clash Over Soviet “Tourist” Presence During Romania’s December 1989 Revolution

Revolutia Romana din 1989 de Dinu LazarMyth and Methodology:

The Clash Over Soviet “Tourist” Presence

During Romania’s December 1989 Revolution[1]


Larry L. Watts




Conversation overheard at a Customs and Passport Control point

(on the border with one of Russia’s neighbors)


Customs Officer: Nationality?


Tourist: Pусский. [Russian.]


Customs Officers: Occupation?


Tourist: Нет. Нет. Я только посещение! [No! No! Just visiting!]




Confusion continues to surround many of the events and details of Romania’s Revolution of December 1989. So much so that each new archival revelation seems to complicate as much as it clarifies. The persistence of this seemingly perpetual fog is due not only to continued efforts at obfuscation but also, and perhaps even more so, to logical fallacies in research agendas and the lack of appropriate contexts.


In his very good book on the revolution based on the evidence then available, Peter Siani-Davies noted this apparently global breakdown of normal analytical processes when attention was turned to Romania. “It is a little ironic – he observed – that a revolution which sought to reassert rationality in Romania created an apparent collective loss of the same facility in the outside world.”[2]


Indeed, structural problems afflict many of the arguments and approaches employed in studies of Romania in 1989. That does not mean, however, that such approaches can or should be simply dismissed. Not all arguments that prove structurally false in one respect are false in all respects. And even if they were false in all structural respects that would not necessarily mean that they are false in substance. One can be right based on only some of the reasons one uses. A single error in one’s argument does not necessarily invalidate it. One can even be right for all the wrong reasons.


Nor does the use of structurally false argument or substantially false conclusions necessarily mean that the analyst has a hidden or sinister agenda. Many structural and substantive errors in argument and assessment are born of very human cognitive biases that the analyst can hope to identify and try to control for but never avoid entirely.


For example, analysts who came to the study of Romania during the 60s and 70s had the opportunity to observe first-hand Bucharest’s extraordinary clashes with Moscow over foreign and security policy. Consequently, their evaluations usually take performance in those domains into account resulting in less absolutely negative assessments of the regime than those made by analysts who began their study during the 1980s, after the domestic situation and Ceausescu’s reputation had fallen into the abyss.


Apart from what might be considered a generational bias, analysts frequently mistake responsibility for cause, confusing ethical issues with a problem of agency by merging the two very different questions – “How did it happen?” and “Who is to blame?” – into one and then demanding a single answer. Many an analyst has fallen victim to this error, as has more than one post-communist institution, rejecting evidence of regime behavior and intent that does not provide proof of the desired culpability as allegedly “rehabilitating” Ceausescu, communism, and repressive authoritarian dictatorship in general.


This bias is often encountered among Romanian analysts (in Romania and in the diaspora) who have been unable to reconcile the regime’s dysfunctional domestic policies and impressive international policies except by denying the latter. Outside analysts who come to the problem without the burden of this complex, and who attempt a more even-handed approach, can find themselves labeled sympathizers, propagandists and even “agents” of the defunct regime and its institutions.[3]


A related error commonly met is the argument ad consequentiam, whereby the validity of a line of reasoning is judged according to whether or not one likes its implications, driving the analyst to accept or reject reasoned argument on the basis of the consequences that flow from it. This error seems to surface whenever the possibility of Soviet bloc involvement in the revolution, the overthrow of the dictator, the collapse of communism, and/or the execution of Ceausescu are at issue. The apparent fear driving it being that the Romanian people will be excluded entirely from the story of their own revolution or, worse, that the “real” culprits will be provided alibi.


I propose to approach the issue of Soviet bloc paramilitary presence – the notorious “Soviet tourists” – during Romania’s December 1989 Revolution by taking a closer look at the rough handling this question has received and more closely examining the context, interests and evidence most frequently invoked regarding the topic. The aim here is the limited one of determining why and whether Soviet “tourists” might have been present and why it is so difficult to establish the truth of their presence or absence beyond reasonable doubt. It is hoped that a more detailed look can reveal prevalent biases, presumptions, fallacies and analytical errors and thus contribute to more robust approach to the problem.



A History of Unorthodox Soviet Tourism


The practice of infiltrating paramilitary and clandestine agents into countries for purposes of targeted violence, subversion, sabotage and terrorism was firmly embedded in Soviet security practice long before 1989. The team of professional revolutionaries that Moscow sent into Hungary in November 1918 arrived under the cover of “humanitarian assistance,” in the guise of Red Cross “military surgeons and medical specialists” (as did a team sent to Poland in the same period.) During the interwar period Soviet intelligence often used the Red Cross and “humanitarian missions” as façade for smuggling in agents, assassins, saboteurs, terrorists, etc.[4]


During the 1989 revolution, the Soviet press announced that some “60 teams of doctors and nurses” had crossed the border into Romania, ostensibly to provide urgent care and transport the injured to the more than 6,000 hospital beds reserved for them in Chisinau.[5] What they actually did there and how and when they returned to the USSR remain mysteries still. Moscow employed “humanitarian assistance” both to infiltrate military personnel and equipment over the border into Ukraine and as cover for other purely military operations in 2014 and 2015.[6]


In 1968 the KGB, the Soviet military and the loyalist bloc member services all sent clandestine operatives under cover of “tourists” into Czechoslovakia. Different sorts of “tourists” fulfilled different missions.[7] Some carried out the commando operations that established a bridgehead by taking over Ruzyne airport in Prague. Some provided reconnaissance of transportation and invasion routes. Some established clandestine command networks to takeover control of both the soon-to-arrive invasion forces as well as the Czechoslovak armed forces. Some provoked opposition members and demonstrators into actions that could be used to justify the invasion. And some simply gathered intelligence on the unfolding events and their various players.


The Soviet commandos that took over the airport in Prague at the start of the 1968 invasion, consisting of Soviet military intelligence special forces (GRU Spetsnaz) and airborne assault personnel, as well as the bulk of the military command network, arrived bearing Soviet “tourist” passports. Credibly posing as any other identity would have been difficult given their linguistic and cultural limitations. In contrast, the provocateurs and intelligence gatherers from the KGB’s PROGRESS operation arriving prior to and during the invasion came under the guise of “tourists” and “journalists” from anywhere but the Soviet Union, including West Germany, Austria, England, Switzerland, Lebanon and even Mexico.[8] Meanwhile, the Soviets claimed that Western agents disguised as “tourists” were flooding into the country.[9]


In 1968 the Soviet Armed Forces mobilized hundreds of Romanian-speaking Moldavians and Ukrainians, along with more than 600 trucks, at the Soviet border with Romania.[10] So far no more specific information as to their intended tasks has emerged from the former Soviet archives, but the similarity with Soviet invasion preparations during the late 1930s suggests their intended use was for propagandizing and liaison purposes. During the 1920s-1930s Soviet authorities identified and recruited Romanian speakers in the USSR to accompany invading forces into Romania during a planned invasion, mostly to serve as propagandists and liaison with the occupied population.


Romania also experienced an unusual influx of “other” Soviet bloc tourists, mostly coming in over the Bulgarian border – Bulgaria being the least threatening of Romania’s Warsaw Pact neighbors.[11] This would have been a fairly easy guise for Soviet military personnel to pull off with the largely non-Slavic speaking Romanians, particularly since Romanian-Bulgarian interactions at that time were normally carried out in Russian.[12] These “Bulgarians” gathered around stores in the immediate vicinity of the Romanian Ministry Defense (which was subsequently relocated).[13] This was the first time local security organs noted the peculiar urge of young men of military service age, with correspondingly short hair cuts and high standards of fitness, to visit Romania during crisis.


As former Warsaw Pact Chief of Staff General A. Gribkov describes in his memoires:


The Romanians were concerned they would share the fate of Czechoslovakia. So they adopted a doctrine of “defense of the entire people.” Gradually and secretly they redeployed their troops. The best-equipped and most combat capable divisions were deployed close to the Soviet border and to the Iron Gates [on the Yugoslav frontier], and close to the border with Bulgaria. Later the Hungarian front was strengthened. They deployed anti-aircraft batteries with combat charges, at all airports, including the capital, for destruction of aircraft and airborne troops. The Commander-in-Chief and Chief of Staff of the Warsaw Pact Armed Forces did not have the right to land at Romanian airports or to fly across its territory to Bulgaria without written permission from the Romanian authorities. When a [Soviet] aircraft approached Romania – it was as if it was about to be put under enemy fire.[14]


Anatolyi Dobrynin, former Soviet ambassador to the U.S. and head of the Soviet Central Committee’s International Department, later acknowledged that the Soviet military ran invasion exercises along the Romanian border at the time, although he insists that Moscow didn’t mean anything sinister by it.[15] West German military intelligence came to a very different conclusion. Their attaché in Bucharest warned that if the Soviets could not force Romania to host a military exercise in order to achieve “the permanent stationing of Soviet troops and also the replacement of several high officials of the party and state who in one way or another oppose the Soviet line” then “the contingency plan of the Soviet leadership provided for instigation of diversions among population and the establishment of pro-Soviet factions to oppose the measures taken by the Romanian government, both domestically and in foreign policy.”[16]


In 1980 and 1981 Soviet bloc “tourists” descended upon Poland. Apparently, their missions were very similar to that of bloc “tourism” in Czechoslovakia (and in the apparently aborted Romanian mission) a dozen years earlier. General Gribkov later confessed that there was a “plan for the entry of allied troops into Poland,” and that “there was even a reconnaissance of routes of movement and of regions of concentration of troops, in which Polish representatives took an active part.” As part of this plan the “SOYUZ” exercise was mounted and continued for two-months, and the staff headquarters of the Warsaw Pact was relocated from Moscow to Legnica, Poland.[17]


The CIA’s principal asset on the Polish General Staff, Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, confirmed that loyalist Soviet bloc members sent intelligence officers into Poland “dressed in civilian clothing” to undertake “reconnaissance of invasion routes as well as the distances and terrain for future operations.”[18] Czechoslovak intelligence archives also confirm that, during 1980-1981, “several hundred agents” of the Czechoslovak state security “volunteered to go to Poland” as part of a Soviet-planned invasion. That group stood down only after martial law was implemented.[19]


Between the Czechoslovak and Polish crises the USSR had invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. In the best of cases Kabul was an unlikely vacation destination and any sudden influx of “tourists” would have stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. Thus, commando units were infiltrated in as aircraft maintenance and embassy staff personnel.[20]


Along with the periodic use of “tourist” and “humanitarian assistance” cover, the exertion of pressure on the borders of non-compliant partners by Moscow had a history of over 70 years before December 1989. Typically, Moscow coordinated reports of border incidents provoked by other bloc members that set the target country in a negative light internationally while registering its own official complaints against the target country’s border closures as unacceptable and repressive measures. These techniques were applied towards Romania, Poland, Finland and the Baltic states in 1939-40, and again versus Yugoslavia in 1949-51.


In the latter case, the CIA reported that “the Soviet attack was carried on by Hungary and Albania and strongly supported by Bulgaria,” and “included troop concentrations and recurring incidents along the Albanian, Bulgarian and Hungarian borders with Yugoslavia, increased hostile Hungarian espionage activity,” open Bulgarian encouragement of “subversive activities” and sabotage within the country including “harassment by guerilla forays, particularly in Yugoslav Macedonia,” and the “tightening of the economic blockade.” The loyalist bloc members coordinated their propaganda “to undermine Tito’s internal and world position,” giving “considerable play to charges that the other side is suppressing various national minorities and denying their rights.”[21] Many of these techniques and allegations were evident during the run-up to Romania’s revolution in 1989.


There are also several examples of Soviet bloc “tourism” in which the suspicious sightseers took no apparent operational actions. For example, Czechoslovak “tourists” in Poland under Gomulka in 1956, “Bulgarian tourists” in Romania in 1968, and East German “tourists” in Romania (in and around Brasov) in 1987.


Of course, none of this proves anything about Soviet presence during Romania’s December 1989 Revolution. However, it does prove that the concept of Soviet “tourists” was neither an absurd “fairy tale” nor a fantastic “myth” invented by Ceausescu that some have claimed.[22] The insertion of Soviet intelligence and military personnel in the guise of “tourists” was eminently plausible precisely because Moscow had done it many times before. The Soviets had even done it before in Romania. By 1989 the precedent of Soviet “tourism” for ulterior purposes was well established.



Divining Soviet Intent


The use of “tourist” cover by KGB, GRU and regular Soviet Army officers was employed within the Soviet bloc on more than half a dozen occasions between 1956 and 1987. On a number of occasions (Poland 1956, 1980 and 1981, Romania 1968 and 1987) such “tourism” was not accompanied by any observably hostile action, as if the deployment was based on a contingency that did not occur or for an operation that Moscow, in the final analysis, chose not to authorize.


The questions thus arise as to what sort of contingencies the Kremlin believed to require such deployments and whether sufficient motive existed for the USSR to deploy its “tourists” in Romania in 1989?


Post-mortem assessments of the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 by U.S. intelligence concluded that Moscow’s principle motivation for military intervention was the loss of Soviet control; either intentionally, when local leaders attempted to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, or unintentionally, because of serious domestic instability.[23]


According to former Warsaw Pact Chief of Staff Anatoly Gribkov, a principal motivation for the 1968 Soviet-led invasion was precisely Moscow’s fear of the:


… possible loss of Soviet control over the Czechoslovak armed forces – indeed, in the future there could arise the question of Czechoslovakia’s departure from the Warsaw Pact. As a result, there would take place an inevitable weakening of the European borders of the Pact, followed by a revision of the post-war order in Europe and the break-up of the East European system of military security as a whole. The Soviet leadership drew an analogy with Hungary’s attempt to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact.[24]


Did Moscow harbor such fears regarding Romania? It certainly did. In August 1964 Khrushchev argued that leaving the alliance was “exactly what the Romanian leaders want” but that allowing it would be “totally and disastrously wrong.” On the contrary, he insisted, the “whole Balkan situation would become untenable” if Romania were to withdraw and it was “the responsibility of the Party to stop Romania leaving the Pact.” Soviet Defense Minister Rodion Malinovsky referenced contingency plans in case of Bucharest’s attempted departure, underscoring that French assistance would hardly be of “any help to the Romanians in resisting a blitzkrieg from the Warsaw Pact,” which echoed Khrushchev’s pledge that “if they’re so blind as to try and leave the Warsaw Pact, then our soldiers, not de Gaulle, will have the last word.”[25]


That November the tension between Soviet and Romanian military personnel was serious enough to result in fistfights during the visit of Warsaw Pact Commander Marshal Andrei Grechko. As two Romanian military attaches told their American counterpart at the time, “if Romania had its way it would not belong to any pact including Warsaw Pact and would be concerned only with defense of its own frontiers.”[26] During the same period, Bucharest’s ambassador in Paris inquired of the De Gaulle government exactly how it managed to withdraw from the military structures of NATO as his country was considering a similar move:


Bucharest was interested in knowing precisely how France intends to “disassociate” itself from NATO while at the same time maintaining its Western alliance. Romania wants “to get rid of the Warsaw Pact,” the ambassador said, but to preserve its alliance with the Soviets. The ambassador noted that France and Romania had an interest in keeping close together and in developing their ideas together.[27]


For Moscow, the necessity of contingency plans for a Romanian withdrawal was rather evident by mid-1965. “Certainly,” the CIA concluded, “the evidence suggests that Bucharest would at least like to leave the Pact,” and any attempt to do so would provide the “one very telling reason why the Soviets might actually use force”: “to preserve their empire, not only in Rumania but throughout Eastern Europe. A failure to intervene would signal to the other Eastern European states that the USSR had either deliberately decided to let the empire break up or that it was powerless to prevent it.”[28]


In July 1967, in the absence of Romania, which refused to condemn and break off its ties with Israel during the Six Day War, Brezhnev announced to the other Pact members and Yugoslavia’s Tito that he anticipated Romania’s imminent withdrawal from the alliance.[29] KGB sources confirm that “such anxieties about Eastern Europe as existed in Moscow Center when Andropov became chairman [in June 1967] centered on Romania,” and that “ironically, there was far less concern about Czechoslovakia” than about Romania at the beginning of 1968.[30]


Clearly, Moscow perceived the same essential causa incursio in Romania and Czechoslovakia – a potential withdrawal from the alliance and the resulting collapse of Soviet security architecture in Europe. As Soviet Defense Minister, Marshal Grechko told the Politburo in May 1968, Bucharest was “seriously considering full withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact” and if it did then “the Pact would not be able to hold together.”[31]


Why then had the USSR and loyalist bloc members not invaded Romania earlier? The standard interpretation, until recently, amounted in fact to a simple tautology. Romania was not invaded because it lacked any strategic importance for the Soviet Union, and that insignificance is proven by the lack of Soviet invasion. According to General Gribkov, however, the reason the Kremlin demurred from intervening in Poland and Romania was their probable willingness and credible ability to resist militarily, raising the costs of such interventions well beyond what the Kremlin was wiling to pay.


Gribkov notes that Moscow’s ability to command the Czechoslovak defense minister to order his army not to resist was a decisive factor in the Soviet decision to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968. The absence of this condition in Poland in 1980-1981 was precisely why Gribkov advised against invading that country, because he believed the Polish military to be “battle ready and in a patriotic frame of mind,” and likely to join in any “struggle against our troops and the other allied troops.”[32]


As noted above, Gribkov is rather clear on where exactly Romania stood along the spectrum bounded by Czechoslovak submission and anticipated Polish defiance. As noted above, the Romanians had immediately “adopted a doctrine of defense of the entire people,” “secretly redeployed” their best troops “close to the Soviet border,” prepared for the “destruction of aircraft and airborne troops,” refused permission for the Soviet Warsaw Pact commanders “to land at Romanian airports or to fly across its territory to Bulgaria without written permission,” and threatened to shoot down unauthorized Soviet aircraft.[33] The had also just told the world that they would militarily resist any invasion from any quarter, thereby making resistance a matter of their own political survival should such a contingency come to pass.


After the Czechoslovak invasion U.S. intelligence conduced several post-mortems in an attempt to identify the conditions that enabled or discouraged Soviet military intervention. The CIA concluded that aside from the communist party holding a monopoly of power, two internal conditions had to be met before Moscow would intervene. First, “the local Party must be alienated from the people” and second, “the local leadership must be capable of fragmentation.”[34] Neither of these conditions held true for Romania in 1968. Both conditions had been fulfilled and were blatantly evident by December 1989.


It bears emphasis that the Romanian “threat” to Soviet interests was not limited to its possible departure from the Pact or an internal destabilization that would lead to the same conclusion. Bucharest actively challenged Soviet policy, “caused harm to USSR interests,” and endangered Soviet security across a broad range of issues within the Soviet bloc and internationally. The Soviet leadership and its loyalist allies repeatedly invoked Romania’s “anti-Soviet policy” in their internal deliberations from the 1960s, through the 1970s and well into the 1980s.[35]


According to the Kremlin, there was virtually no chance that Romania would stop pursuing its “relationships with the principal powers that oppose us, in the contemporary world, not only in the political domain, but also in the economic, military, cultural, etc.,” or that it would retreat from its efforts to undermine “real collaboration within the framework of the Warsaw Pact and the CMEA.”[36] Moscow lambasted Bucharest for undercutting Soviet foreign policies in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, for example, by “warning” Khomeni after the fall of the Shah “not to invite specialists of the USSR into Iran,” and advocating moves of an “overtly anti-Soviet character” to the Afghanistan Democratic Republic in the spring of 1979, weeks before the Soviet forces that would lead the invasion were infiltrated into Kabul under cover.[37]


According to Moscow, Romania pursued the destruction and “disintegration” of the alliance from within, by lobbying other Pact members “to combat together, through joint action, the actions and measures of the USSR within the CMEA and the Warsaw Pact, as well as on many other questions connected with the communist and workers movement and the resolution of a series of problems of international importance.” Soviet military leaders repeatedly complained that Romania had “prejudiced the defense efforts of the countries participating in the Pact during times of peace, as well as in case of an armed aggression.”[38]


By the late 1980s Moscow was seriously concerned by what it perceived to be Bucharest’s campaign to transform the alliance out of existence. According to other Pact members, Romania refused “to allow any strengthening of alliance structures,” and aimed instead to achieve the “weakening” of the alliance.[39] Soviet officials reported that Romania pursued an “obvious” policy of “dismantling the organs of political and military cooperation within the Warsaw Pact.”[40]


Romania now also posed a destabilization threat to Soviet security. During 1983-1985 the KGB’s London resident received multiple requests “for intelligence on Western attitudes to Romania” because KGB Center believed it to be on the verge of an economic collapse that would result in “loss of control by the regime” and a Romanian “turn toward the West.”[41] The Soviet officials warned of the same in February 1989. The most likely scenario, they concluded, entailed “the danger of a decisive shift of the country in the direction of the West (including its exit from the Warsaw Pact),” after which “financial and material support from the West, highly probable if there are real changes, may prove to be very effective for a country possessing a good deal of natural and economic resources.”[42]


In July 1989 Hungarian communist leaders insisted to Radio Free Europe that Moscow’s “priority is to maintain the system of alliances,” and that “the Soviet Union considers it essential for Romania to remain a [member of] the Warsaw Pact.”[43] The sigh of relief in the Kremlin was almost audible when Romania’s provisional authority announced in December that it would respect its obligations to the Pact.[44]


Perhaps the greatest problem that Bucharest’s “separate course” presented for the Kremlin was its impact on the approximately 3 million co-ethnics in the contiguous Soviet Moldavian and Soviet Ukrainian Republics. Romania’s defiance made it a point of attraction and a dangerous example of independent behavior vis-à-vis Moscow Center. And Soviet officials repeatedly complained of Moldovan susceptibility to Romanian “subversion” during the 60s, 70s and 80s; while undertaking actions to combat that threat.[45]



Moscow thus had a variety of serious motives for considering and preparing contingency plans for an intervention in Romania. More, in fact, than it had regarding any other member of the Soviet bloc. But did these motives persist after 1985 under Gorbachev’s “New Thinking”?


By 1988 Gorbachev began signaling a change in Soviet policy to the effect that the Brezhnev Doctrine was no longer applicable in Eastern Europe. Few Pact members believed him sincere at the time, partly given their former experience and partly because of the continued use of violence within the USSR. While they may have been wrong in essence the legitimacy of their skepticism did appear to be confirmed by Gorbachev’s later authorization of commando operations against independence movements in Lithuania, Latvia and Azerbaijan.


However, even as Gorbachev applied “New Thinking” to Eastern Europe generally speaking, the Kremlin still held Romania to be an area of special strategic interest because of its links with and attraction for the majority population in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic – a unique situation in the Soviet bloc. According to KGB reports, Romania remained a dangerous center of subversion and a nationalist point of attraction for “Soviet peoples” – i.e. ethnic Romanian Moldovans and not only – well into late 1989.[46] It is worth emphasizing that KGB Chief Vladimir Kryuchkov had designated the fight against “the centers for ideological diversion and nationalists” as the number one operational priority of Soviet security intelligence.[47] Understandably so given that those centers were perceived to be threatening the territorial integrity of the USSR.


According to the CIA, the December revolution “strengthened” the identification of Moldovans with Romania and that sentiment was “likely to grow if Romania’s new regime can stabilize that country and begin to forge a viable democratic political system.”[48] The projected result was not one Moscow would have found comforting. “As ethnic Romanians,” the CIA concluded, “the Moldavians are looking to Bucharest for assistance in resurrecting their long-suppressed national identity. They also hope to lay a foundation for eventual reunification with Romania.”[49] Soviet and Russian leaders continued to fear and exploit the Romanian-Moldovan linkage after 1989 in an effort to influence Romanian security policy and block its entry into NATO, long after Moscow had accepted NATO entry for Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.[50]


The Soviet/Russian creation and sponsorship of the Transnistrian breakaway region in the early 1990s, and continued Russian efforts to distance Chisinau from Bucharest and to leverage European institutions along similar lines while blocking Moldovan integration efforts, underscore Moscow’s ongoing strategic preoccupation with the Romanian-Moldovan relationship even today.


Returning to the more distant past, the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was another point of major Soviet concern vis-à-vis Romania by December 1989. Under the terms of the Pact Stalin was able to annex Romania’s former territories of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina as well as parts of Poland and Finland, and the Baltic States in their entirety with Hitler’s consent. Since the 1960s Bucharest had been persistent and public (and alone) in its condemnations of the 1939 Pact for encouraging Hitler’s expansionism and causing World War II.[51]


By the end of the 1980s, however, a groundswell of similar protest within the bloc gave alarming proportions to what up to that point had been singular Romanian protest. When, in December 1987, Gorbachev attempted to justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Ceausescu responded that the “agreement signed with Hitler” gave “Germany a powerful support for her striving towards war, for which mankind paid a high price, particularly the Soviet Union.”[52] At the Warsaw Pact meeting in Bucharest in July 1989 he declared to the other Pact members that it was “well known” that “the treaty between Molotov and Ribbentrop, did not stop the aggression, but on the contrary facilitated it.”[53]


In mid-November 1989 Ceausescu insisted that Hitler’s agreement with Stalin be annulled along with all its dependent accords, “including that involving Bessarabia and northern Bucovina,” which he described as “a part of Romania that was ceded because of the agreements with Hitler.”[54] On November 21, before an international audience at the 14th RCP Congress, he argued the “particularly important” need to “clearly and unequivocally condemn and cancel all agreements with Hitler’s Germany,” while implementing practical measures “to do away with the results of all those agreements and dictates.”[55]


Regardless of its moral or legal merit, such advocacy held the potential to rip the Soviet Union apart from the Baltic to the Black Sea – and to destabilize Europe in the process. Diplomats observing this frontal assault evaluated it as by far the dictator’s “most dangerous” move yet, the gravity of which was reflected in TASS’s immediate response “that no serious or responsible politician could bring up the question of post-World War borders, including the Soviet-Romanian border.”[56]


There were, in fact, several extremely plausible motives for the USSR to intervene in Romania at the end of 1989. But the existence of motivation, no matter how powerful, does not prove intent. Indeed, categorical proof of intent would require an internal Soviet document generated at the time that clearly indicated it. Third party allegations of such intent may be informed speculation, but they remain speculation just the same and cannot be taken as “categorical proof” of anything other than (possibly) the perceptions of their originating source.


Even absent such evidence, however, the existence of contingency plans for intervention certainly justifies hypotheses of intent under the right conditions.

The question therefore arises as to whether Soviet coercive institutions continued preparations for such an intervention under Gorbachev.


Treating either the Soviet Union or Romania as a unified rational actor in December 1989 is exactly where many theories and hypotheses regarding the Romanian Revolution come crashing down. Various groups with conflicting agendas were at work in both of their party and state leaderships as well as in their coercive institutions. Many analyses of 1989 overlook altogether the fact that Gorbachev was unable to reform the Soviet Army and its intelligence branch, the GRU or the KGB during his six-year tenure.[57] His relationship with the USSR’s institutions of state coercion was so antagonistic as to be evident to foreign observers by 1988, and the fact that it reflected genuine differences was confirmed when the Soviet military and KGB leaderships mounted the coup to oust Gorbachev in August 1991.[58]


Gorbachev’s failure to reform these institutions and the mutual antagonism between him and them had two very practical implications for analyses of Romania’s December 1989 Revolution. First, the Soviet military and the KGB were predisposed to independent behavior, on several occasions going “off the reservation” during this period (the April 1989 Tblisi massacre being a case in point). Second, the Gorbachev leadership was never in a position to formulate much less implement any reconsideration or alteration of KGB or Soviet military contingency plans for dealing with serious instability among the Bloc members or their attempted departures from the Warsaw Pact. If alliance departure or destabilization constituted triggers for such contingencies prior to Gorbachev, then they very probably did so at the end of the 1980s as well.


Even had the Soviet leader focused on a policy revaluation among these institutions in line with his general foreign policy of non-intervention and withdrawal, his parallel efforts to reassert stronger central control over the Warsaw Pact members during 1985-1989 would have created a perfectly ambiguous context for his military and intelligence chiefs.[59]


How then, can one assess “Soviet” policy and intent towards Romania? Indeed, the question arises as to what was “Soviet” in late 1989, when Boris Yeltin’s Russia was allied with republican independence movements against Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. And how does one factor in the contradictory policy interests pursued by competing Soviet authorities? Who best represented “Soviet” policy toward Romania in December 1989: Gorbachev? The KGB? The Soviet Army? The latter two carried the main responsibility for implementing Soviet security policy abroad.



Pitfalls of Testimony as Evidence


There are a number of problems with the current classification and handling of “evidence” regarding the presence or absence of Soviet (and Soviet bloc) “tourists” in Romania during the 1989 revolution. They appear repeatedly, for example, in perhaps the only English-language blog dedicated solely to Romania’s revolution, run by Richard Andrew Hall.[60] While Hall makes his claims as a private person, his views carry some weight because he is also a CIA analyst who once served on the Romanian desk at the agency. Although the problems addressed appear in the analyses of many others, his claims are a convenient reference and easily accessible.


Hall begins a series of posts on what he regards as lessons learned about the 1989 Revolution with one entitled: “The Securitate Deny Foreign Instigation of the Timisoara Uprising”. Securitate is the Romanian shorthand for the now defunct Department of State Security or DSS. According to Hall, the evidence from the witness depositions of former DSS officers and media reports filed during the revolution prove that the presence of Soviet tourists is a “myth” and an “absurdity.”[61]


Before proceeding it is worth noting that Hall’s analysis is representative of a trend that fails to consider the context of Soviet-Romanian relations or patterns of previous Soviet covert, paramilitary and military operations within the Soviet bloc. A recurrent assumption in these analyses is that Moscow had no motives for forcing a change in Romanian policy under the right circumstances, and that all Soviet institutions and personnel comported themselves accordingly.


Hall likewise adheres to the premise that the DSS was culpable for all or most of the violence perpetrated in 1989, which can blind the analyst to any evidence of outside involvement. Indeed, when arguing this hypothesis Hall repeatedly shifts from a discussion of “tourist” presence to the specific roles “tourists” played (or rather did not play) in Timisoara where the revolution began. He thus misinterprets testimony to the effect that foreigners were not observed playing such roles as proof that they were not observed – and therefore not present – at all.


All of the DSS testimony cited by Hall was generated after the fact and for a specific audience: the Romanian courts. Each of the DSS officers giving testimony was or had recently been under investigation. No matter their individual strength of character, each had a vested personal interest in not antagonizing their interrogators.


The reader should know that historians and courts both regard eyewitness testimony as the least reliable form of evidence because memory is so easily manipulated. The reliability of testimony rapidly declines within days of an event. Weeks and months after the fact the accuracy and value of testimony becomes highly questionable. With time, memory falls increasingly under the influence of emerging public interpretation while subsequently formed impressions increasingly replace forgotten details.


Hall claims that the four testimonies he originally cited were written “immediately after the December 1989 events.” That is not true. The testimony most proximate to those events, that of DSS officer Niculae Mavru, was written more than three weeks later, and a second citation from Mavru eighteen months later. The second-most proximate, Emil Macri, testified one and a half months later. The third, Filip Teodorescu, submitted his testimony one month and three weeks after the events. And the least proximate, Liviu Dinulescu, gave his testimony a full year and half later. All were either posted in or sent to Timisoara at the start of the December revolution.


The fact that Hall does not dwell on how those testimonies came into being is somewhat problematic. The circumstances in which testimony is given can have a significant influence on its content. Testimony is highly susceptible to distortion over time even when third-party influence is benign. Testimony is even more susceptible to distortion when given under duress.


Several DSS officers have complained of being told during the 1990 trials that they would be acquitted if they denied any Soviet bloc presence during the revolution. Interestingly, none of the DSS sources cited by Hall as denying the existence of “tourists” was convicted (3 were acquitted and one died before trial). All of their cited testimonies had been made in the quality of witness in the trials of others. On the other hand, several of the DSS officers convicted including DSS chief Iulian Vlad insisted on an anomalous Soviet bloc presence at their trials and in later hearings before various Senate commissions of inquiry.[62] A rigorous comparison of the depositions given by the convicted and the acquitted DSS officers might help elucidate this particular anomaly, one way or the other. It is also worth noting that both commissions – the original Senate Committee for the Investigation of the Events of December 1989 under ruling party Senator Sergiu Nicolaescu as well as the continuation of the committee investigation under opposition party Senator Valentin Gabrielescu – concluded that there was an abnormal Soviet bloc and especially Soviet presence in December 1989 on the order of more than 30,000 persons.[63]


Hall evades the topic of the problematic circumstances under which the testimony was obtained with the rather astonishing claim that coercive influence on the DSS officers is not “terribly plausible.” Gauging the plausibility of coercive influence would require examination of the circumstances in 1990-1991 when the depositions were taken. Mainstream public opinion at that time, both within Romania and internationally, held the DSS to be the “most brutal” repressive institution in the Soviet bloc. There was even a concerted effort to brand it – along with the entire communist regime – as a completely illegitimate criminal institution (an anomalous approach among the former Warsaw Pact members).


By the end of December 1989, DSS personnel had not only lost their jobs, they were also subject to criminal investigation and incarceration, with the distinct possibility of long-term imprisonment. Some of the very officers cited by Hall spent time in jail previous to their testimony. Only the most obtuse would not have experienced these circumstances as coercive pressure. It is in fact highly plausible that some DSS personnel tailored their testimony in order to please their jailers (or potential jailers). Such “tailoring” did not necessarily require one to commit perjury. Topics towards which interrogators showed disinterest or hostility could simply be avoided. And ambiguity could be employed to allow for multiple interpretations; including that evidently preferred by interrogators.


Pressure on those affirming a Soviet presence was particularly evident, and it is obvious why it should have been so. In the midst of the revolution, on December 23, General Nicolae Militaru, forcibly retired eleven years earlier when he was caught red-handed spying for the Soviet Union, set himself up as the new head of the Romanian Army.[64] He was confirmed as defense minister on December 24, 1989, only to be dismissed from that position seven weeks later for bringing about the disintegration of the Romanian Army. Militaru bragged about his Soviet contacts in his famous joint interview with co-conspirator Silviu Brucan.[65]


The DSS was subordinated to the military on December 26, two days after Militaru officially took over the Defense Ministry and the Army, which gave the Soviet agent control of the DSS while it underwent reorganization. Whatever residual bureaucratic leverage the DSS may have possessed disappeared with its formal dissolution on December 30, 1989. Militaru reactivated some 30, mostly Soviet-trained officers (many known or suspected of being Soviet agents) and appointed them to senior positions in the military and in the newly forming security intelligence institutions under his control. This wave included the new foreign intelligence chief (and former DSS foreign counterintelligence chief) Mihai Caraman, and the advisor to the vice-prime minister (and former DSS foreign intelligence chief) Nicolae Doicaru, as well as the new interior minister, chief of the general staff, chief of military intelligence, etc.


The military prosecutors and military court trying DSS personnel in the immediate aftermath of the revolution were likewise subordinate to Defense Minister Militaru. In fact, Militaru exercised direct control over who was incarcerated, tried and convicted until February 14, 1990, when he was dismissed from his post. No major reforms were undertaken or personnel changes instituted in the military justice system prior to Romania’s first constitutional election in May 1992.[66]


Even if the kangaroo court and summary execution of the Ceausescus on the flatly ridiculous charge of genocide had not made the entire world aware of how fast and loose the Romanian military justice system operated at that time, it would still strain credulity to deny the manifest interest of previously identified Soviet agents in obscuring their roles.


The more closely one examines the testimonial evidence provided by Hall and others, the more problematic it appears. For example, DSS Colonel Filip Teodorescu is quoted from a January 12, 1990 deposition regarding his report from Timisoara on the evening of December 18 as asserting “there is no data indicating any leaders or instigators coming from abroad.”[67] Likewise, that portion of General Vlad’s July 19, 1991 deposition is translated in which he states “More precisely, those sent by me to Timisoara reported that they had no evidence indicating any foreign involvement in producing the events in Timisoara.”[68]



Cherry-Picking the Evidence


While apparently clear enough, these statements do not fairly represent the opinions of those expressing them. As related by Vlad’s chef de cabinet and confirmed by General Vlad to this author, Teodorescu’s initial report on December 18, 1989 stated that because “there was not enough manpower to prevent access [to Timisoara] on the Buzias Road” the Romanian militia “left access into Timisoara from this direction open.”[69] This lead to the following exchange:


Gen. Vlad:           “And did they enter?”

Teodorescu:      “Some 3-4 automobiles entered, each with 2-3 occupants.”

Gen. Vlad:           “And what did they do?”

Teodorescu:      “We don’t know.”

Gen. Vlad:           “I’ll tell you what they did. They performed their mission and moved on. Do not leave the [local DSS] headquarters, so that you are not blamed for their provocations.”[70]
Within two months of his initial testimony Teodorescu was describing publicly how he had “detained foreign agents during the Timisoara events.”[71] In his subsequent statements Teodorescu consistently noted how DSS attention was “drawn to the unjustifiably large number of Soviet tourists” claiming to be “in transit to Yugoslavia.” “Unfortunately,” Teodorescu notes, “we did not have enough manpower and conditions did not allow us to monitor the activities of at least some of these ‘tourists’.”[72]


The testimony of General Vlad is misrepresented in a similar manner. Elsewhere in the same testimony Vlad made the following clarification:


I mention that the mission of Gen. Macri and of the others that I sent to Timisoara was to establish, in the first place, what involvement foreigner and foreign interests had in setting off the events, because the data base of which we disposed from foreign sources indicated this…[73]


A related problem appears when one reads the entire page of Nicolae Mavru’s testimony, of which Hall translates only those sections asserting that “(there were not any [foreigners]) who incited disorder, acts of violence or other acts”; that “Although we tried we could not report to Col. Sima the complete involvement of any foreign citizen in the evolution of the demonstrations”; and that he was unable to discover any foreign involvement.[74]


Hall is using Mavru to support his compound assertion that Soviet “tourists” were neither involved nor present during the revolution in Timisoara. According to Hall, therefore, Mavru, Tedorescu, Macri and Dinulescu all claimed that: “they could find no such presence and role played by Soviet tourists.” However, none of those officers claim that Soviet tourists were not present. They insist only that, according to their investigation, foreigners were not leading or overtly instigating the events in Timisoara. In the facsimile reproduced by Hall, Mavru actually goes on to explain that Vlad’s request for intelligence on possible foreign involvement was motivated by the extraordinarily large numbers of foreigners appearing in the region:


The order of Col. Sima referring to foreign elements was justified because an exodus of visitors from foreign states to the dwelling of Pastor Tokes had begun two months earlier. Thus, there existed suspicion of the implication of circles from other states in the launching of the events in Timisoara. I would also like to point out that in November approximately 1500 persons from one and the same neighboring state appeared in Timis county and the city of Timisoara, usually men, whom I was not able to keep under surveillance, because of lack of manpower. I reported details regarding these foreigners only verbally without drawing up any notes.[75]


Two the original four testimonial sources cited by Hall as proof of Soviet non-implication in the Timisoara events in fact provide much stronger evidence for the counterargument; that the Soviets were present and vexatious. Indeed, both Mavru and Teodorescu insist on the unusual influx of Soviet bloc “tourists” into Romania immediately preceeding and during the December 1989 revolution.


Evaluating Best Evidence


Along the testimonies from former DSS officers, media reporting is also often cited as a source of supposedly ‘definitive’ proof regarding what was perhaps the first revolution broadcast live. Given that, some consideration of what constitutes “best evidence” is necessary.


The utility of any primary source evidence for evaluating leadership policy (whether state, government or party) is dependent on its origins and intention. There is often a wide variance between declared policy – produced for public consumption and expressed in official statements and media reports – and actual policy as reflected in internal reports, military planning and deployments and clandestine operations. Any thorough comparison of the two documentary records in any country reveals that governments frequently do not mean what they say.[76]


Historians rank primary source evidence according to their general reliability, accuracy and vulnerability to interested manipulation. Generally speaking – albeit with some striking exceptions – the least accurate and least reliable are media reports. For a variety of reasons the press as institution is the most vulnerable to internal and external manipulation. Public communiqués establishing official positions and reactions, while usually more accurate in terms of declaratory policy, are also a form of self-interested and self-conscious political advertising – an image of policy that leaderships purposefully project to domestic populations, allies and adversaries – and thus often not a faithful reflection of actual policy.


More accurate are diplomatic correspondence and instructions. However, diplomats often employ misrepresentation, misdirection, and subterfuge at the direction of their superiors in pursuit of state and national goals. And, on occasion, leaderships mislead their own diplomats to achieve such ends; so that the diplomat believes the misdirection he propagates and therefore does so more credibly.


Most accurate and reliable are executive decisions, internal discussions and intra-governmental instructions that are not designed for public consumption. These documents are considered to best reflect real intent and policy. Actual military (and intelligence) plans and deployments are often considered highly accurate indicators of intent and policy as well. However, these institutions are also more susceptible to bureaucratic inertia and may reflect defunct policies of former leaders, regimes and international situations rather than current policy during periods of transition. The Brezhnev-Andropov-Chernenko era plans and deployments that for the most part remained in effect and unchanged in the Soviet military and KGB under Gorbachev during 1988-1991 provide a case in point.


Ceteris paribus, executive decisions and internal governmental discussions not meant for public consumption easily trump media reports in terms of accuracy and credibility. They especially trump reports from international (rather than local) media, which are the least likely to reflect accurately the internal deliberations, decisions and intentions of a foreign leadership. Where a media report contradicts a contemporaneous internal report, the internal report easily constitutes the better evidence (unless, of course, it can be proven that it was created specifically to be “leaked” publicly for disinformation purposes.)


In his discussions of Romania’s December 1989 revolution, the analyst Richard Andrew Hall overturns this hierarchy, reversing the primacy of documented internal leadership deliberations in favor of media reporting that supports his argument, and accepting and promoting journalistic assertions as solid fact. From this rickety base other assertions dependent upon it are made such that the careless reader is led off into a wilderness of speculation and self-contradiction.


For example, it is claimed that the Ceausescu regime is claimed was not especially concerned with any influx of Soviet “tourists” in December 1989 based on an Agence-France Press (AFP) article of December 19, 1989. According to that report, a Romanian border guard declared that the “border was closed to everyone but the Soviets!” In more than a dozen blog posts Hall insists upon this report as proving that the regime was neither worried about nor taking measures against Soviet “tourists.”[77]


To his credit, after his first use of this evidence in his dissertation written in the 1990s, Hall also cited the subsequently published transcripts of the December 17, 1989 meeting of Romanian Communist Party’s (RCP) Political Executive Committee (PolExCom), in which Ceausescu condemns Soviet bloc “tourism” and orders that it be shut down immediately:


I have also given the order to interrupt all tourist activity. Not a single foreign tourist should be allowed in, because all have become espionage agents. Likewise, the small cross-border traffic should be shut down immediately. I have given the order to the Ministry of Interior but those from [Ministry of] Tourism must be called immediately, and the unoccupied rooms should be given to Romanian citizens.

No one should be allowed in from the socialist countries, aside from Korea, China and Cuba. Because none of the neighboring socialist countries can be trusted. Those from neighboring socialist countries are sent as agents. We are shutting down all tourist activity.

A state of emergency is declared for all counties. The units of the Military, of the Ministry of Interior, of the State Security are in a state of emergency.

We should give the instruction in the teleconference to take all measures against any attempt, because we must defend the independence of the fatherland and socialism against anyone, no matter who it is.[78]


Soviet bloc “tourism” – the only significant “tourism” during that period – was likewise implicitly condemned in the teleconference following that meeting:


We have ordered, temporarily, that foreign tourists will not be received and that the so-called small cross-border traffic will also be discontinued. We suspend it! We will restart it later. Now we do not have time for small cross-border traffic! Each one should be occupied with their own problems! We must not admit anyone, neither foreigners and nor anyone from the country, those who are caught engaging in anti-socialist activities should be struck without mercy, with no [other] justification, and we should tell the people clearly, to avoid any ambiguity![79]


How does Hall deal with this? He insists Ceausescu was merely being paranoid and argues that since “Ceausescu had ordered not just that Soviet tourists, but that all tourists, from East and West” be stopped, the dictator was not especially concerned with Soviet “tourists.”[80]


The problem with this reasoning is that specific complaint was made only against Soviet bloc “tourists.” Aside from the odd Bucharest-based diplomat attempting to visit Timisoara the only troublesome Westerners were the journalists who attended the RCP Plenum in November and never left. Although Ceausescu never mentioned western “tourists,” he did single out the socialist countries three times. First, to order that none of their citizens be allowed into Romania, then to underscore that none of them were trustworthy, and finally, to underscore that all “tourists” sent to Romania from the bordering socialist countries came as hostile espionage agents.


Hall likewise dismisses more recently discovered evidence regarding Ceausescu’s preoccupation with Soviet “tourists,” for example, the correspondence between Bucharest and its embassy in Moscow during the latter half of December 1989.[81]

According to Hall, this diplomatic correspondence “never once” mentions or objects to “the presence or behavior of ‘Soviet tourists’ in Romania during these chaotic days of crisis for the Ceausescu regime.”[82]


The strength of the operation biases is illustrated by the fact that Hall not only cites this diplomatic correspondence but also reproduces on his blog. The December 17 Political Executive Committee meeting clearly identified Soviet “tourists” as agents entering the country to engage in hostile espionage, which certainly qualifies as “mentioning” and “objecting” to Soviet behavior in Romania, and also ordered a halt to all Soviet bloc tourism.[83] The next day, when reporting on his implementation of the December 17 order, Romania’s ambassador in Moscow noted that as of “the morning of December 18, Soviet citizens have been telephoning the Embassy from border points with Romania, reporting that there are hundreds of automobiles that are not being permitted entry into our country.” The ambassador then requested instructions from his ministry on how to field Soviet demands for explanation of the border closure.[84]


On December 21 the Romanian ambassador explained to the Soviet Foreign Ministry that the closure of the border “to Soviet citizens, especially tourists” was a “temporary” measure “for limiting the access of some groups of foreign tourists,” much like Moscow had done in “restricting the travel of Romanian tourists” at certain times to Georgia and Armenia. The ambassador then suggested the linkage between Soviet “tourists” and espionage agents by following up with a reiteration of Romania’s “decision to repulse any attempt to interfere in its domestic affairs and to take decisive measures against any provocative or subversive actions initiated by reactionary, anti-Romanian circles, secret services or foreign espionage agencies.”[85]


In one document apparently missed by Hall (and Munteanu), the Romanian Embassy in Moscow relayed the Soviet television broadcast of December 19, which reported “the closing of the border in a unilateral manner by our country” and presented the official communiqués issued “by the Soviet tourist agency Intourist, and by the [tourist] agency of the GDR, regarding the temporary halting of tourist travel to our country from these countries.” Thus, it would appear, Soviet media sources did confirm the ban against Soviet “tourists.” On December 20 further confirmations appeared in Pravda, Sovietskaia Rossiia, Izvestia, Selskaia Zhizni, Komsomolskaia Pravda, and Sotsialisticheskovo Industriia bearing titles like “A Worsening Border Regime,” Tensions with Romania,” and “Tensions on the Borders of Romania.”[86]


In spite of this daily mention of Soviet “tourists” ever since Ceausescu first ordered that they be stopped at the borders on December 17, Hall considers his contention that the regime was unconcerned by Soviet “tourism” proved by the AFP report of December 19, 1989, claiming that two Romanian border guards at the frontier with Yugoslavia told a journalist to: “Go back home, only Russians can get through!” Hall reproduces this report in subsequent posts as if it were an unproblematic truth – and better evidence than the PolExCom of December 17, 1989. “Why,” Hall asks rhetorically, “was it precisely ‘Soviet travelers coming home from shopping trips to Yugoslavia’ who were the only group declared exempt from the ban on “tourism” announced on that day?” However, the documentary “best evidence” indicates that no such exemption was ever given.[87]


Relying on a translation provided by Mircea Munteanu, Hall makes much of an alleged statement by the Romanian ambassador to the Soviet Foreign Ministry on December 21, that the – “limitations do not apply to business travel or tourists transiting Romania” – as proving Bucharest’s lack of concern regarding Soviet “tourists”.[88]


In this case, however, Munteanu’s translation is in error, and on several accounts. In the original Romanian the ambassador specifies an exemption only for “those in transit,” not for “tourists transiting Romania.” Given that the discussion at that point was precisely about “the closing of the Soviet-Romanian frontier” to tourists, it stands to reason that the ambassador’s reference was to transit for non-touristic purposes. Readers may judge for themselves which of the following translations best reflects the Romanian original:


With regard to the issue of tourists crossing the border in Romania, I said that I did not possess an official communication in this regard. I suggested that some temporary measures were adopted due to the need to limit access of certain groups of tourists [in the country]. [Those limitations were imposed] due to difficulties in assuring their access to hotel rooms and other related essential conditions. Those limitations do not apply to business travel or tourists transiting Romania.[89] (Munteanu)


In legatura cu problema turismului, am mentionat ca nu dispun de o comunicare oficiala privind inchiderea frontier soviet-romane. Am aratat, totodata, ca au fost adoptate unele masuri temporare privind limitarea accesului unor grupuri de turisti straini, din considerente legate de dificultatile de asigurare a hotelurilor si a conditiilor corespunzatoare. Aceste masuri nu afecteaza calatoriile in interes de serviciu si nici pe cele in transit. (Original)


In connection with the issue of tourism, I mentioned that I did not dispose of an official communication regarding the closing of the Soviet-Romanian frontier. I explained, at the same time, that some temporary measures were adopted for limiting the access of some groups of foreign tourists, from considerations connected with the difficulties of assuring hotels and appropriate conditions. These measures do not affect travel for official purposes or those in transit. (Watts)


The ambassador was in fact referring to a very specific form of non-tourist transit traffic from the Soviet Union that Bucharest had decided to continue several days earlier, and which the ambassador describes in his telegram of December 18.[90] The English translation below is made from the original Romanian version beneath it:


The Consulate Section has continuously accorded transit visas for Jews from the USSR who have approval to settle in Israel, as well as for foreign students studying in the USSR. Since the chief representative of TAROM has received instructions to continue this transit traffic in the normal way, we request that you communicate to us clarification on how to act in such cases.[91]


In addition, in his translation of the same document Munteanu intercedes with a note of his own specifying that the approvals were given by Moscow: “Continuously, at the Consular Section, we have given transit visas to Soviet Jews who have the approval [of the Soviet government] to emigrate to Israel.”[92]


Munteanu has translated “se stabileasca” as “emigrate” but it is more accurately translated as “to settle in” or “immigrate.” There are circumstances in which this difference would not matter. However, by adding that the approval was “[given by the Soviet government],” Munteanu misleads the reader. Obviously, Moscow had no say regarding who was approved to settle in or immigrate to Israel. That decision was up to Tel Aviv alone. Moscow could only approve departures from the USSR. Bucharest had been cooperating with Tel Aviv and allowing the transit of Soviet Jews to Israel since the late 1960s, frequently against Soviet protest.


The internal deliberations of the Political Executive Committee on December 17, in which Ceausescu not only ordered a halt to “all tourism” from “the neighboring socialist countries” because those tourists were “espionage agents” but also stressed that the USSR bore chief responsibility for organizing “all that happened and is happening in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria now, and in the past in Poland and Hungary,” together with the subsequent diplomatic correspondence between Bucharest and its embassy in Moscow, soundly debunk the affirmations of the AFP report, not the other way round.


But that is not the only problem with the credibility of the AFP report. The sources cited by AFP claimed that “thousands” were killed in Timisoara when the actual figure at the time of the report was 50-70; that “at least 1,000” of these alleged fatalities were located in a single hospital; and, after claiming that the tourism ban applied to “all but Soviet travellers,” the report immediately cited the reverse claim, that the ban applied to “all travellers.”[93]


In fact, French press coverage of the 1989 events was so outrageously manipulated that it is now used as a case study of journalistic and media failure. According to the conclusions of one French inquiry into the manipulation of news coverage during Romania’s December Revolution, the “misreporting of events in Timisoara by French media,” including even that of the “usually reputable French news agency AFP,” will “go down in history” as “an example of journalists failing to check the accuracy of the news they broadcast.” [94]


Solid research methodology might not deliver results that we desire, but it will bring us closer to answers that the evidence actually supports. Testimony after the fact and media reports crafted for public consumption are almost never superior in accuracy and reliability to non-public internal deliberations and decisions produced in the course of events. Reliance on the former is unlikely to answer or clarify the outstanding questions regarding Romania’s Revolution of December 1989.

Larry L. Watts

Source: via Ziaristi Online

Photo: Dinu Lazar

[1] This originally appeared as a series of four essays under the title of “Romanian Revolution December 1989” during January-May 2015.

[2] Peter Siani-Davies, The Romanian Revolution of December 1989, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2005, p. 282.

[3] See for example, Larry L. Watts, “Falsifiers, Deniers And Deceivers,” May 27 and June 25, 2013, available at; “Pacepa, The Great and Powerful or How to Trap a Former CIA Director,” August 13, 2013,; and “Trapping Woolsey: How to Hoodwink a Former CIA Director,” June 7, 2014.

[4] Raymond W. Leonard, Secret Soldiers of the Revolution: Soviet Military Intelligence, 1918-1933, Westport CT, Greenwood Press, 1999, pp. 50, 59

[5] TASS in English, Radio Moscow International Service, and Moscow Domestic Service in Russian, 23-25 December 1989. FBIS-SOV-89-246, 26 December 1989, pp. 1, 13, 17-18, 21.

[6] See e.g. Jeffrey Mankoff, “Russia’s Latest Land Grab,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 93, no. 3 (May/June 2014)

[7] See L. Grigorescu and C. Moraru, “Trupe în Aproprierea Frontieri şi Turişti în Interior” [Troops Near the Frontier and Tourists Inside], Magazin istoric 32, no. 7 (1998): 29; Mihai Retegan, In the Shadow of the Prague Spring: Romanian Foreign Policy and the Crisis in Czechoslovakia, 1968, Iaşi, Center for Romanian Studies, 2000, pp. 93-100; Cristian Troncota, Duplicitării: O istorie a Serviciilor de Informaţii şi Securitate ale regimului Communist din Romania 1965-1989 [The Duplicit: A History of the Intelligence and Security Services of the Communist Regime in Romania 1965-1989], Bucharest, Editură Elion, 2004, p. 178, 181.

[8] Christopher Andrew and Vitali Mitrokhin, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, New York, Basic Books, 1999, p. 251-257, 334; Oleg Kalugin with Fen Montaigne, The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1994, p. 107.

[9] Mitrokhin and Andrew (1999), p. 254.

[10] Elena Negru and Gheorghe Negru, „Cursul deosebit al României” şi supărarea Moscovei. Disputa sovieto-română şi campaniile propagandistice ale PCM împotriva României (1965-1989) [“Romania’s Special Course” And Moscow’s Anger: The Soviet-Romanian Dispute and the Propaganda Campaign of the Moldavian Communist Party Against Romania (1965-1989)], Studiu şi documente. Vol. I: 1965-1975 Chişinău, CEP USM, 2013.

[11] Retegan (2000), pp. 93-100.

[12] Romania removed obligatory Russian language training from its school curricula in the second half of 1963, gradually replacing it with French, English and Spanish.

[13] Retegan (2000), pp. 93-100.

[14] A. I. Gribkov, Sud’ba varshavskogo dogovora: Vospominania, Dokumenty, fakty [Part of the Warsaw Pact: Recollections, Documents, Facts], Moskva, Russkaia Kniga,1998, pp. 75-76

[15] Anatoly Dobrynin, In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to Six American Cold War Presidents, Seattle, University of Washington, 2001, p. 178-183.

[16] Dennis Deletant And Mihail Ionescu, “Romania And The Warsaw Pact: 1955-1989,” Cold War International History Project, Working Paper #43, April 2004, p. 86,

[17] Gribkov (1998), pp. 144-146

[18] “Report Warning of Soviet intervention,” December, 1980, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, CIA Release, Ryszard Kuklinski documents. Published in CWIHP Bulletin 11.

[19] Mladá Fronta Dnes (Prague), 21/12/2005.

[20] See Gromyko-Andropov-Ustinov-Ponomarev Report on the Situation in Afghanistan, 28/6/79 in Cold War International History Project Bulletin (CWIHP) 8-9 (1996): 152, 159,

[21] CFM Meeting: Eastern Europe, June 24, 194949, pp. 7-8, available at; Tito-Kremlin Conflict 2/9/49, and; and Analysis of Soviet or Satellite Propaganda Directed To or About Yugoslavia, August 5, 1950, available at

[22] CIA analyst Richard Andrew Hall makes this claim repeatedly on his blog devoted to the revolution

[23] Intelligence Memorandum: Czechoslovakia: The Problem of Soviet Control, (Ref Title: ESAU IV), January 16, 1970, available at

[24] Gribkov (1998), pp. 117-118.

[25] Jan Sejna, We Will Bury You, London, Sedgwick and Jackson, 1982, pp. 74-76.

[26] Telegram From the Embassy in Romania to the Department of State, Bucharest, November 24, 1964, 11 a.m., Document 145, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Vol. XVII, Eastern Europe. According to the CIA, “since the fall of Khrushchev signs of Rumania’s apparently declining interest in pact membership have been aired with some frequency.” DI, Research Staff, Intelligence Study: Warsaw Pact Military Strategy: A Compromise in Soviet Strategic Thinking (Ref Title: Caesar XXVI), 7 June 1965, p. 26.

[27] Ibid. The report noted that, “Bucharest has been [deleted word] indicating for several months its unhappiness with its Warsaw Pact ties. [long deletion to end of page and next page]” Soviet concern prompted another high-level visit by Marshal Grechko “related to Rumania’s dissatisfaction with its Warsaw Pact relations” on 16 June 1965. “Rumania-Warsaw Pact: Friction between Rumania and the USSR over Warsaw Pact matters appears to be mounting,” in Central Intelligence Bulletin: Daily Brief, CIRel2NS, 18 June 1965, p. 10 .

[28] Rumania and the Warsaw Pact, CIA/DI/ONE Staff Memorandum 2465, 25/06/65, at

[29] Document 2 in James G. Hershberg, The Soviet Bloc and the Aftermath of the June 1967 War, Cold War International History Project e-Dossier No. 13, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, July 7, 2009, at

[30] Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev, New York, HarperCollins, 1990, p. 481-482.

[31] Matthew J. Ouimet, The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy, Chapel Hill, University of Northern California, 2003, p. 17.

[32] Gribkov (1998), p. 119-147.

[33] Ibid, p. 75-76.

[34] Intelligence Memorandum: Czechoslovakia: The Problem of Soviet Control (1970),

[35] See e.g. the Documents appended to L. Watts, The Soviet-Romanian Clash over History, Identity and Dominion (2012),

[36] Documents 1-4 in Watts (2012),

[37] Ibid.

[38] Documents 2-4 in Ibid.

[39] Romanian Proposal For Warsaw Pact Reform: Information Regarding The Romanian Proposal, 08/07/88; Joint Memorandum of the [Hungarian] Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of National Defense on the Future of the Warsaw Treaty, March 6, 1989,

[40] The Political Processes in the European Socialist Countries and the Proposals for Our Practical Steps Considering the Situation Which Has Arisen in Them, Memorandum of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 24 February 1989, Document No. 3 in Jacques Levesque, “Soviet Approaches to Eastern Europe at the Beginning of 1989,” CWIHP Bulletin, no. 12/13 (Fall/Winter 2001), p. 69.

[41] Gordievsky and Andrew (1990), p. 641.

[42] Memorandum to Alexander Yakovlev from the Bogomolov Commission (Mariana Sylvanskaya), February 1989, Document No. 1 in Levesque (2001), pp. 57-59.

[43] Interview of Hungarian Parliamentary spokesman and former HSWP CC International Department chief Szűrös by Nestor Ratesh in Michael Shafir, “Matyas Szűrös’s Interview with RFE’s Romanian Service,” RAD Background Report/127, RFER, 20 July 1989, p. 6.

[44] Ibid; TASS, 23/12/89.

[45] See e.g. Documents 11, 13, 17-18, in Larry L. Watts, A Romanian INTERKIT? Soviet Active Measures and the Warsaw Pact “Maverick” 1965-1989, Cold War International History Project Working Paper #65, December 2012b, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, at These are all Soviet documents from the Moldovan Archives obtained by Elena Negru and Gheorghe Negru.

[46] Documents 24 and 26-27 in Watts, A Romanian Interkit? (2012b), available at

[47] Christopher Andrews and Vitalyi Mitrokhin, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, New York, Basic Books, 2005, p. 243.

[48] National Intelligence Daily: Tuesday, October 2, 1990,

[49] Ibid. See also Perestroyka at the Crossroads: And Intelligence Assessment, March 1, 1990,

[50] Janusz Bugajski, Cold Peace: Russia’s New Imperialism, Westport, CT, Praeger, 2004, pp. 95-8, 103-5, 215.

[51] “Hint of Warsaw Pact Split Is Seen in Rumanian Stand,” The New York Times, May 14, 1966, p. 4.

[52] Scânteia, January 26, 1988.

[53] Records of the PCC Meeting in Bucharest: Speech by the General Secretary of the PCR (Nicolae Ceauşescu), 7 July 1989, pp. 11-12/144-145, available at Parallel History Project,

[54] Romanian National Archives (Arhivele Naţionale ale României: ANR), Fond C.C. al P.C.R., Secţia Cancelarie, dosar 76/1989, f. 115-116.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Yosef Govrin, Israeli-Romanian Relations at the End of the Ceausescu Era, New York, Routledge, 2002, p. 114.

[57] Larry L. Watts, Extorting Peace: Romania and The End of The Cold War, Bucharest, RAO, 2014, pp. 531-534; Mikhail Gorbachev, Memoirs, New York, Doubleday, 1996, pp. 203-204. See also Alexander R. Alexiev and Robert C. Nurick, The Soviet Military Under Gorbachev: Report on a RAND Workshop, R-3907-RC, Santa Monica, RAND, February 1990, p. 45; and Jeremy R. Azrael, The Soviet Civilian Leadership and the Military High Command, 1976-1986, R-3521, Santa Monica, RAND, June 1987, pp. 30-42.

[58] See e.g., Gorbachev’s Growing Confrontation with the KGB: A Coming Showdown? (SOV 88-10045 X), June 1, 1988,

[59] Thus, the CIA considered that Gorbachev had to exert tighter control over his Warsaw Pact allies in order to institute his reforms. See e.g. Director of Central Intelligence, Soviet Policy Toward Eastern Europe Under Gorbachev: National Intelligence Estimate (NIE 11/12-9-98), 26 May 1988, pp. 1-17,


[61] #1 Securitate Deny Foreign Instigation; #8 Romania Closes its Borders to Almost All Foreigners … Except Russian Tourists Returning from Shopping Trips to Yugoslavia.

[62] See e.g. Şerban Sandulescu, Decembrie ’89: Lovitura De Stat A Confiscat Revoluţia Română [December ’89: The Coup ďetat Confiscated the Romanian Revolution], Bucharest, Editura Omega, 1996, pp. 158-208. Sandulescu also served on the Committee.

[63] See Ibid. See also Sergiu Nicolaescu, Revoluţia: Începutul Adevărului. Un Raport Personal [The Revolution: The Beginning of Truth. A Personal Report], Bucharest, Bucharest, Topaz, 1995.

[64] The means by which Militaru accomplished this were simple enough. In the absence of a formally appointed defense minister – previous minister having committed suicide several days earlier – Militaru and his cronies sent Captain Mihai Lupoi to the Romanian Television, where his “appointment” was announced. Although no one knew who was behind it, no one questioned it given the general chaos of the revolution. Silviu Brucan, then a leading member of what was about to become the new provisional authority, advised the other members to recognize Militaru’s self-appointment the following day, when the provisional authority – the Council of the Front of National Salvation – was officially announced.

[65] Adevarul, August 23, 1990. Brucan was also a Soviet agent and his staunchly pro-Soviet, anti-American, and anti-United Nations perspectives are highlighted in his discussion with former Soviet Central Committee International Department chief Vadim Zagladin. Vadim Zagladin, Note Regarding Discussions with Silviu Brucan (Romania), 17-22 September 1990, October 1990, Gorbachev Foundation (Mezhdunarodnii Obshestvennii fond sotsialno-ekonomicheskih i politologicheskih isledovanii: Social International Foundation for the Political and Socio-Economic Studies), Moscow, fond 3, opis, 1, dosar 7287, f. 1-8; Larry L. Watts, With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc’s Clandestine War Against Romania, Bucharest, Military Publishing House, 2010, p. 12.

[66] Romania’s new Constitution had been passed only in December 1991.

[67] In the original: “nu sint date ca ar exista instigatori sau conducatori anume veniti din strainatate.”

[68] In the original: “Mai exact, cei trimis de mine la Timisoara mi-au raportat ca nu au elemente din care sa rezulte vreum amestec al strainatatii in producerea evenimentelor de la Timisoara.” Vlad Testimony, 19/07/91

[69] In the original: “nu au existat fortele necesare pentru interzicerea accesului prin Calea Buziasului, deoarece … a ramas descoperitat directia respective de access in Timisoara.

[70] Aurel Rogojean, Fereastra serviciilor secrete: România în jocul strategiilor globale [Through The Window of the Secret Services: Romania in the Game of Global Strategies], Bucharest, Compania, 2011, pp. 158-159.

[71] Romania Libera, March 9, 1990.

[72] In the original: “Ne-a atras atentia numarul nejustificat de mare de turisti sovietici, fie cu autobuze, fie cu autoturisme. … Declarau cu totii ca sint in transit pentru Iugoslavia. … Din pacate nu dispuneam de forte si nici conditiile nu au permis; pentru a urmari activitatea macar a unor dintre “turisti.” Filip Teodorescu, Un Risc Asumat, Bucharest, Viitorul Românesc, 1992, p. 92.

[73] In the original: “Mentionez ca misiunea gl. Macri si a celorlalti pe care l-am trimis la Timisoara a fost aceea de a se stabili in primul rind ce amestec au strainii si strainatatea in declansarea evenimentelor, intrucit pe baza datelor pe care le detineam din surse externe, rezulta acest lucru…” Vlad Testimony, 19/07/91

[74] In the original: “(nu prea au fost) care incita la dezordine, acte de violenta sau altfel de acte…” (13/01/90) and “Desi ne-am straduit nu am putut raporta col. Sima implicarea completa a vreunui cetatean strain in evolutia demonstratiilor. Cu toate eforturile facute nu a rezultat lucru pe linia mea de munca.” (25/06/91)

[75] In the original: “Ordinul col. Sima referitor la elementele straine era justificate pentru ca cu 2 luni mai inainte incepuse un exot de vizitatori din statele straine la locuinta pastorului Tokes. Deci exista banuiala implicarii cercurilor din alte state in declansarea evenimentele la Timisoara. Tin sa precizez ca in noiembrie aproximativ 1500 din unul si acelasi stat vecin au aparut in judetul Timis si orasul Timisoara, de regula barbate care nu i-am putut supraveghea, din [lipsa] de oameni (forte).” #1 Securitate Deny Foreign Instigation

[76] Regarding the United States, see John Lewis Gaddis, “Expanding the Data Base: Historians, Political Scientists, and the Enrichment of Security Studies,” International Security, vol. 12, no. 1 (1987): 7, 9

[77] AFP 19/12/89 reproduced in Hall

[78] In the original: Am dat, de altfel, indicatia sa se intrerupa orice activitate de turism. Nu trebuie sa mai vina niciun turist din strainatate, pentru ca toti s-au transformat in agenti de spionaj. De asemenea, sa se intrerupa micul trafic de frontiera imediat. Am dat ordin la Ministerul de Interne, dar trebuie chemati si cei de la turism imediat, iar locurile neocupate sa fie date la cetateni romani.  Nici din tarile socialiste sa nu mai vina, in afara de Coreea, de China si din Cuba. Pentru ca toate tarile socialiste vecine nu prezinta incredere. Cei din tarile socialiste vecine sunt trimisi ca agenti. Intrerupem orice activitate de turism. La toate judetele se va declara stare de alarma. Unitatile militare, ale Ministerului de Interne, ale Securitatii sunt in stare de alarma.  Sa dam la teleconferinta indicatia ca sa se ia toate masurile fata de orice incercare, pentru ca trebuie sa aparam independenta patriei si a socialismului impotriva oricaruia, indiferent cine este.  Acestea sunt problemele care se pun acum. Hall cites Mircea Bunea, Praf in ochi: Procesul celor 24-1-2 [Dust In Your Eyes: The Trial of the 24-1-2], Bucharest, Scripta, 1994, p. 34. Bunea accurately reproduced the original transcript, currently deposited in the Romanian Senate archives.

[79] ANR, Fond C.C. al P.C.R., Secţia Cancelarie, dosar 338/1989, f. 20/8.

[80] (

[81] The correspondence is reproduced in Dumitru Preda and Mihai Retegan, 1989 Principiul Dominoului: Prăbuşirea regimurilor comuniste europene [1989 The Domino Principal: The Collapse of the European Communist Regimes], Bucharest, Fundaţia Culturală Română, 2000, pp. 445-498; and partially translated in Mircea Munteanu, New Evidence on the 1989 Crisis in Romania, Cold War International History Project e-Dossier No. 5, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, July 2001, pp. 3-11,

[82] (

[83] See footnote 78; and ANR, Fond C.C. al P.C.R., Secţia Cancelarie, dosar 338/1989, f. 20/8.

[84] Document 258 in Preda and Retegan (2000); Document 1 in Munteanu (2001).

[85] Document 278 in Preda and Retegan (2000); Document 4 in Munteanu (2001).

[86] Document 276 in Preda and Retegan (2000).

[87] (

[88] (

[89] Document 5 in Munteanu (2001). Brackets added by Munteanu.

[90] Translated as Document 1 in Munteanu (2001).

[91] In the original: “In mod continuu, la Sectia consular s-au acordat vize de transit pentru evreii din URSS, care au aprobare sa se stabileasca in Israel, precum si pentru studentii straini care invata in URSS. Intrucat seful reprezentatei TAROM a primit orientara de a continua traficul de transit in mod normal, rugam sa ni se comunice clarificari asupra modului cum actionam in astfel de cazuri.” Document 258 in Preda and Retegan (2000).

[92] Document 1 in Munteanu (2001). Bracket added by Munteanu.

[93] “Travelers Say ‘Hundreds’ Dead, Wounded” in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, East Europe (FBIS-EEU-89-242), Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 19 December 1989, p. 85.

[94] France 24, December 22, 2009, available at

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