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Armageddon Averted

By Taylor Marvin

I’m currently reading Stephen Kotkin’s Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000, which is short, highly-readable, and recommended. Kotkin has a flair for drily understating the farcical:

“Glasnost remained mostly a slogan right through 1986. Even geographical locations that could be indicated on Soviet maps were still being shown inaccurately, to foil foreign spies, as if satellite imaging had not been invented, while many cities were entirely missing… Widespread fictitious economic accounting was foiling planners to the point where the KGB employed its own satellites to ascertain the size of Uzbek cotton harvest.”

Kotkin also relays this gem from the Gorbachev-Yeltsin transition:

“On 27 December, four days prior to the date Gorbachev was supposed to vacate his Kremlin office, the receptionist called him at home to report that Yeltsin and two associates were already squatting in the coveted space, where they had downed a celebratory bottle of whisky. It was 8:30 am.”

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