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Continuing Debate: Ceauşescu’s Appeal for Joint Warsaw Pact Action on 19 August 1989

Continuing Debate: Ceauşescu’s Appeal for Joint Warsaw Pact Action on 19 August 1989
Continuing Debate: Ceauşescu’s Appeal for Joint Warsaw Pact Action on 19 August 1989


CWIHP e-Dossier No. 61


Note: See also CWIHP e-Dossier No. 60 to which this is a response


List of Documents

Translated by Mark Kramer

Document 1

19 August 1989 - Soviet Ambassador to Romania E. M. Tyazhel'nikov, Record of a Conversation with N. Ceauşescu and Message for Gorbachev

Source: Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Noveishei Istorii (RGANI), Fond 5, Opis’ 102, Delo 80, Listy 107-110.

Document 2

21 August 1989 - Resolution of the CPSU CC Politburo 132, 'Regarding the Appeal of Cde. Ceauşescu'

Source: RGANI, F. 3, Op. 103, D. 180, L. 63, and RGANI, F. 3, Op. 103, D. 181, Ll. 140-141. 

 Realities versus Obfuscations

Mark Kramer

In several articles I have published over the past 15-20 years I have cited declassified Polish and Hungarian documents from August 1989 indicating that the leader of the Romanian Communist Party (RCP), Nicolae Ceauşescu, was so alarmed by the prospect of a Solidarity-led government in Poland that on 19 August 1989 he secretly urged the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries to embark on joint action against Poland, including military intervention if all other attempts to prevent the emergence of a Solidarity-led government proved of no avail.[1]  In December 2010 I obtained crucial Soviet documents pertaining to the same topic and cited them in an article I published in 2011, “The Demise of the Soviet Bloc,” which has since been republished in several anthologies.[2]  The Soviet documents dispel any doubt that what Ceauşescu wanted on 19 August 1989 was joint Warsaw Pact action, including military intervention if other options failed, to keep the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) in power and prevent Solidarity from gaining control of the Polish government.

In late July 2014 I discovered, to my surprise, that a videotape of a lecture given by Larry Watts in Romanian at a conference in Bucharest in June 2014 had been posted on the youtube website under the title “Larry Watts explica de ce a fost impuscat Ceausescu la lansarea ‘Exorting [sic] Peace.’”[3]  I was particularly intrigued to see that around 37 minutes into the lecture Watts insisted that Ceauşescu in August 1989 was not in fact calling for joint Warsaw Pact action vis-à-vis Poland.  Watts cited me by name as someone who had supposedly been duped by Polish and Hungarian “disinformation.”  Watts offered no evidence to back up his contention that the Polish and Hungarian documents were merely part of a Soviet-led disinformation campaign against Ceauşescu, nor did he evince any familiarity with the Soviet documents I cited in “The Demise of the Soviet Bloc.”

In e-Dossier No. 60 for the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP), Watts provides translations of four Romanian documents, three of which have already been published.  Two were published fifteen years ago in an anthology put out by two well-known Romanian scholars who, unlike Watts, believe that Ceauşescu was calling for joint Warsaw Pact intervention in Poland, including military intervention if necessary.[4]   Another was published in 2005 on the website of the Parallel History Project, and an English translation of it (albeit a slightly earlier version) appeared in a book edited by Vojtech Mastny and Malcolm Byrne.[5]  The only document translated by Watts that has not yet been published — the notes from a meeting of the RCP Executive Political Bureau on 21 August 1989 — has long been familiar to scholars who know Romanian.  The document corroborates rather than refutes the notion that Ceauşescu on 19 August 1989 was calling for joint Warsaw Pact action in Poland to prevent a Solidarity-led government from taking power.  Watts claims that his translations shed new light on the events of August 1989, but this is simply untrue.  He presents no new evidence and is still unaware of the Soviet documents I used in “The Demise of the Soviet Bloc.”  Hence, I am publishing my translations of the two most important of those Soviet documents here.

The first of these, a cable sent by the Soviet ambassador in Bucharest, Evgenii Tyazhel’nikov, to the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Mikhail Gorbachev, late in the evening on 19 August 1989, reproduces Ceauşescu’s appeal to the USSR in full [Document 1].  Anyone who is familiar with the internal deliberations of Soviet and East European leaders before their invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 will quickly see the similarity of the phrasing used by Ceauşescu here with regard to Poland, including his mention of the Soviet military forces in Poland.  In the appeal, Ceauşescu stresses the urgent need for joint Warsaw Pact action, including military intervention if other options prove futile, to keep Solidarity from gaining control of the Polish government.  Speaking in “an extremely agitated state,” he warns that the advent of a Solidarity-led government will mean “the death of socialism in Poland” and will “deal a savage blow to the Warsaw Pact.”  Such a development, he repeatedly emphasizes, will pose “a mortal danger to the entire cause of socialism” worldwide and be “an immense victory for the forces of reaction and imperialism,” thus “playing into the hands of the USA and NATO.”  This impending “subversion of the Warsaw Pact from within,” he argues, compels the alliance’s other member-states to act:

At this moment of severe tribulation for the fate of socialism, the RCP, the fraternal parties of allied states, and all socialist countries cannot remain mere observers on the sidelines.  What is happening in Poland is not just an internal matter for the Poles themselves (emphasis added).

Over and over, Ceauşescu calls for “vigorous joint measures [by the Warsaw Pact member-states] to prevent the ‘death of socialism’ in Poland and to prevent world socialism from being undermined.”  He repeatedly conveys his “extraordinary alarm” about the “catastrophic deterioration of the situation” and warns that “‘history will not forgive’ the fraternal parties of allied states if the PZPR is wrenched from power and if socialism is destroyed in Poland.”  He stakes all his hopes on the Soviet Union, which “bears enormous internationalist responsibility for the fate of socialism, including in Poland,” and “has its troops deployed in Poland.”  Calling on Gorbachev to act immediately, Ceauşescu expresses his “firmest certainty that the CPSU and the USSR will take the most urgent measures possible to prevent the removal of the PZPR from power and the destruction of socialism in Poland.”

The second document I have translated here, a resolution of the CPSU Politburo from 21 August 1989, authorizes Ambassador Tyazhel’nikov to transmit a formal response to Ceauşescu’s appeal [Document 2].  The response pointedly turns down Ceauşescu’s calls for urgent action and warns that if the Romanian leader’s advice is heeded, it will “undoubtedly be exploited by ‘Solidarity’ and other opposition circles as grounds for depicting the PZPR as a force that represents the interests of foreign parties and states rather than the interests of Poland.”  Rebuffing’s Ceauşescu’s desperate appeal for intervention in Poland, the CPSU Politburo emphasizes that it will not condone any measures that “are in violation of Poland’s sovereignty.”  This response from the Soviet authorities was read aloud by Romanian Foreign Minister Ioan Totu at the meeting of the RCP Executive Political Bureau on 21 August.  Even before the document was read out, Ceauşescu himself was obviously aware that his appeal had been rejected, and he was therefore trying his best to find a way of salvaging the situation and to keep from losing face completely.

These documents should put to rest the notion that Ceauşescu on 19 August 1989 was merely calling for a benign meeting to discuss general problems of socialism, as Watts would have us believe.  At a session of the Warsaw Pact’s Political Consultative in July 1989, the Soviet Union and its allies had agreed to convene a meeting at some future date that would analyze “current issues of socialist construction.”  In the response to Ceauşescu’s appeal, the Soviet authorities made clear that they were still willing to take part in such a meeting.  But they realized that Ceauşescu on 19 August was referring to something entirely different.  The Romanian leader was exhorting the Soviet Union to undertake “the most urgent measures possible to prevent the removal of the PZPR from power and the destruction of socialism in Poland.”  Reversing his long-standing support of “non-interference in internal affairs,” Ceauşescu insisted that the makeup of the Polish government was “not just an internal matter for the Poles themselves” and had to be determined by the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact member-states.  In an ironic reversal of roles, Soviet leaders by this point had abandoned and buried the Brezhnev Doctrine, whereas Ceauşescu was trying urgently to resurrect and enforce it.

In short, the allegations made by the Polish authorities in August 1989 about Ceauşescu’s appeal were fully accurate, contrary to what Watts asserts.  Watts expresses concern about the risk of “simply replacing one set of myths with another.”  The greater risk, at least in his case, is in disregarding evidence and sticking to hoary myths. 

Mark Kramer is Director of the Cold War Studies Program at Harvard University and a Senior Fellow of Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies

[1] See, for example, Mark Kramer, “Realism, Ideology, and the End of the Cold War,” Review of International Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1 (January 2001), pp. 119-130; Mark Kramer, “The Demise of East European Communism and the Repercussions within the Soviet Union (Part 1),” Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Fall 2003), pp. 178-256; and Mark Kramer, “Gorbachev and the Demise of East European Communism,” in Silvio Pons and Federico Romero, eds., Reinterpreting the End of the Cold War:  Issues, Interpretations, Periodizations (New York:  Routledge, 2004), pp. 179-200.

[2] Mark Kramer, “The Demise of the Soviet Bloc,” Journal of Modern History, Vol. 83, No. 4 (December 2011), pp. 788-854.  Expanded versions of the essay were published in Vladimir Tismaneanu with Bogdan C. Iacob, eds., The End and the Beginning:  The Revolutions of 1989 and the Resurgence of History (Budapest:  Central European University Press, 2012), pp. 171-255; Terry Cox, ed., Reflections on 1989 in Eastern Europe (London:  Routledge, 2013), pp. 7-62; and Mark Kramer and Vít Smetana, eds., Imposing, Maintaining, and Tearing Open the Iron Curtain:  The Cold War and East-Central Europe, 1945-1990 (Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield, 2013), pp. 369-436.

[3] The video can be viewed online at <>.

[4] Dumitru Preda and Mihai Retegan, eds., 1989 principiul dominoului:  Prăbuşirea regimurilor comuniste europene (Bucharest:  Fundaţia Culturală Română, 2000).

[5] Vojtech Mastny and Malcolm Byrne, eds., A Cardboard Castle?  An Inside History of the Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991 (Budapest:  Central European University Press, 2005), pp. 600-601.

 A Rejoinder

Larry Watts

There are three related but separate issues here. The first pertains to the degree to which all doubt as to one’s intentions can be dispelled using only third-party sources. It is worth underscoring that the case made by Prof. Kramer is based on non-Romanian sources. I would argue that the internal Romanian transcripts and reports – none of which even hint at the possibility of considering military intervention – constitute the “best evidence” for assessing Romanian intent.

The second issue pertains to the degree to which Soviet and other bloc sources accurately reported Romanian behavior and intent. This is a central theme in two of my books about Romania in the Cold War and several of my other writings.[1] Examples of Soviet bloc misrepresentation are also documented in this e-dossier, including the oddly coincident campaign to portray Romania as harboring aggressive military intentions against Hungary during May-July 1989, which was summarily debunked by U.S. authorities and analysts at the time.

Along similar lines, Soviet bloc sources reported after the December 1989 Pact meeting in Moscow that Ceausescu refused to condemn the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, and that the main Romanian-Soviet dispute had been over liberalization. These themes reappeared in Western media and intelligence reports.[2] However, according to the transcript of the RCP Political Executive Committee meeting convened immediately afterwards, and confirmed by the other two delegates, the dispute erupted first because Ceausescu refused to accept joint responsibility for something Romania had always condemned and then because he insisted that Soviet troops be withdrawn not only from Czechoslovakia but from all of Eastern Europe.[3] In short, Soviet bloc sources on Romania are often unreliable.

The third and most important issue regards the substance of the evidence allegedly proving Romanian advocacy of military intervention, and in particular joint Warsaw Pact military intervention. I present in the e-dossier Romania’s continuing insistence on no use of force and non-intervention, which strongly argues against any “about-face” in security policy. It is also worth emphasizing that Ceausescu advocated urgent action not only of Warsaw Pact members but of “all socialist countries” as well.

According to Hungarian documents from 1989, which I cite in the e-dossier, this included Yugoslavia and Albania, which, like Romania, had strategies of homeland defense designed primarily to deter and repel invaders. Neither supported foreign military intervention and their inclusion makes no sense if military action was contemplated.

It is also worth recalling that the Romanian Armed Forces had been structured, trained, deployed and equipped solely for the purpose of homeland defense since the mid-1960s. Constitutional and legal barriers had been raised specifically to render their deployment abroad virtually impossible. And Romania continued to refuse to allow their troops to participate in joint Pact training or exercises. None of these military realities had been modified, or was undergoing modification, in 1989.

The Soviet response of August 21, 1989 provided by Prof. Kramer appears to confirm that the Romanians were requesting a meeting. The document shows that Soviet officials were rejecting a “proposal by the Romanian leadership to convene a meeting of the leaders of the Communist and workers’ parties,” and denying any “need to hold a multilateral meeting.”

In conclusion, several clarifications are necessary. The two documents from the volume by Dumitru Preda and Mihai Retegan are indeed published in English translation in this e-dossier for the first time. I duly cited the Parallel History Project as source for the Romanian original of the 1988 reform proposal. The English translation in the Mastny-Byrne volume, although very close to that presented here, is in fact a translation from the German version and not from the Romanian original.

And finally, in their 1999 book “1989 – The Domino Principle,” the Romanian historians Preda and Retegan neither suggest nor imply that Ceausescu called for military intervention in Poland. On the contrary, they report that on 19 August, “Nicolae Ceausescu sent a letter to the Central Committees of the communist parties in which he requested the urgent discussion of the situation in Poland and offered support to Jaruzelski and the PUWP for the ‘victory of socialism.’” (page 26) Professors Dumitru and Retegan recently confirmed to this author via email that, according to his research, Ceausescu “never approved military intervention,” neither within nor outside of the Warsaw Pact. I am authorized to provide their contact information to anyone interested in checking this independently.

Larry L. Watts is associate professor at the National School for Political Studies and Public Administration and teaches Cold War History at the University of Bucharest. He served as security sector reform advisor to Romania’s Presidential Counselor for National Security and the Romanian Defense Ministry during 1991-2004, and to Romania’s Senate Committee for Defense, Internal Order and National Security during 2005-2009. He is the author of With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc’s Clandestine War Against Romania (2010); Extorting Peace: Romania and the End of the Cold War 1978-1989 (2013), and Incompatible Allies: Romania, Finland, Hungary And The Third Reich (2014). His books have been translated and published in Romanian. He is currently working on Romanian Mediation In The Vietnam War, which will be published in 2015.

[1] Larry L. Watts, With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc’s Clandestine War Against Romania (2010) and Larry L. Watts, Extorting Peace: Romania And The End Of The Cold War, 1978-1989 (2013). See also Larry L. Watts, “Romania and the Wartime Statute,” 5 April 2011,

[2] AFP in English, 23 December 1989, 1500 GMT, in FBIS-SOV-89-246, 26 December 1989:13; and “Warsaw Pact: Condemning Invasion of Czechoslovakia” in U.S. Central Intelligence Directorate, National Intelligence Daily, Tuesday, 5 December 1989: 10.

[3] Transcript of the Meeting of the RCP CC Political Executive Committee Permanent Bureau, December 5, 1989, Romanian National Archive, Fond CC al PCR, Sectia Cancelarie, dosar 68/1989: 1-4. Foreign Minister Ion Stoian’s account is in Costache Codrescu, coordinator, Armata Română în revoluţia din decembrie 1989: Studiu documentar [The Romanian Army in the Revolution of December 1989: A Documentary Study], revised 2nd ed, (Bucharest: Editura Militară, 1998), 41-42. The account of the CC International Department secretary (and former defense minister) is at Constantin Olteanu, O viaţă de om: Dialog cu jurnalistul Dan Constantin [A Man’s Life: Dialogue with Journalist Dan Constantinescu], (Bucharest: Niculescu, 2013), 540-550.

A Brief Reply to Larry Watts

Mark Kramer

Normally when scholars try to understand and reassess historical events, they propose an argument, weigh all the available evidence, and attempt to falsify their argument.  Only if the argument holds up after rigorous tests have been conducted can scholars have confidence that the argument is well-founded.  This is standard procedure in the social sciences.  Larry Watts, however, has a different approach.  He sticks doggedly to a preconceived argument, selectively chooses evidence, and thus makes his argument unfalsifiable.  Whenever crucial disconfirming evidence comes along, he dismisses it as part of a grand anti-Ceaușescu conspiracy.  His argument thus cannot be falsified, no matter how convincing the evidence is against it.

The Soviet officials who prepared the documents I translated here (from 19 and 21 August 1989) never dreamed that the materials would someday become public.  They had been brought up in a culture of official secrecy, and they knew that Soviet archives were off-limits to scholars.  They expected that these highly sensitive documents, like other classified materials, would be kept sealed.  Hence, Ambassador Evgenii Tyazhel’nikov had no reason to misrepresent what Nicolae Ceaușescu said.  On the contrary, Tyazhel’nikov would have felt obliged to reproduce it exactly as it was conveyed.

Watts cites practices in the Warsaw Pact dating back to the era of Leonid Brezhnev to explain what was going on under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989.  As I demonstrate at length in “The Demise of the Soviet Bloc,” Gorbachev in 1988-1989 fundamentally changed Soviet policy toward the Warsaw Pact.  The crucial changes were all in place well before August 1989, and events from August through December underscored the magnitude of those changes.  Hence, Watts’s references to Brezhnev-era practices are irrelevant in judging the Gorbachev era.

Watts gives the impression that Soviet officials “reported after the December 1989 Pact meeting in Moscow that Ceauşescu refused to condemn the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.”  This is nonsense.  In late 2010, I obtained the full declassified transcripts from the Warsaw Pact’s December 1989 meeting (including the transcript of Ceauşescu’s remarks there), and I also obtained the detailed notes taken by the chief aide to Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who took part in the meeting.[1]  These documents very clearly indicate that the plan all along was to have the condemnation of the 1968 invasion issued only by the five countries that sent troops into Czechoslovakia in 1968.  Neither Gorbachev nor Ceauşescu nor anyone else there ever expected that Romania and Czechoslovakia would also join in condemning the invasion.

One final small point:  Watts would have us believe that Gorbachev’s uneasy relationship with Ceauşescu was a sign of unique hostility and malevolence toward Romania.  Actually, Gorbachev had uneasy ties with several of the aging East European leaders, particularly Erich Honecker (whom he privately derided as a “jackass”) and Todor Zhivkov as well as Ceauşescu.  The Soviet leader was promoting a liberalized form of socialism, and he saw the old-line dictators as nettlesome obstacles to his goals.  Gorbachev’s often testy relationship with Ceauşescu was hardly a secret, but the strains in the relationship were by no means unique to Romania, which in that sense was no different from East Germany, Bulgaria, or Czechoslovakia.

Mark Kramer is Director of the Cold War Studies Program at Harvard University and a Senior Fellow of Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies

[1] “Vstrecha rukovoditeleeigosudarstv-uchastikov Varshavskogo dogovora 4 dekabrya 1989 g., Moskva:  Stenogramma, in Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Noveishei Istorii, Fond (F.) 10, Opis’ (Op.) 3, Dela (Dd.) 163-165; “Vystupleniya rukovoditelei gosudarstv:  Bolgarii, Vengrii, GDR, Pol’shi, Rumynii, Chekhoslovakii – uchastnikov Varshavskogo dogovora, 4.122.1989 g.,” in RGANI, F. 10, Op. 3, D. 166, Listy (Ll.) 1-13; and “Vstrecha Varshavskogo dogovora,” in “Tetrad’  No. 10 (4 avg. 89 – 10 apr. 90),” Notebook No. 10 of Teimuraz Stepanov-Mamaladze, 4 December 1990, in Hoover Institution Archives (Stanford University), T. G. Stepanov-Mamaladze Diaries and Notes, 1985-1998, Box 3, Folder 1, esp. pp. 12-14.


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