This month marks the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In 1988, I saw the surest sign the USSR was facing an earthquake when I became the first western journalist to be invited into KGB’s Moscow headquarters, the Lubyanka Prison.
Moscovites were so terrified of the KGB secret police, they avoided uttering its dreaded name, referring to it instead by the name of a nearby toy store, "Detsky Mir."
Two senior KGB generals explained to me how their organization was breaking with its murderous past, modernizing and reforming. What they really meant: KGB, which understood the USSR faced collapse, was preparing to abandon the Communist Party.
The Red Army’s 100 divisions and 50,000 tanks so frightened Europe that the Swiss and Dutch had even continued building border forts against Soviet attack until the mid 1980’s.
But three years later, in December 1991, the mighty, feared Soviet Union collapsed under its own rotten weight.
The Soviet Union’s disintegration could easily have ignited World War III with the US and NATO. That it did not was due to two remarkable men: Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and chief ally, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
They realized the USSR was crumbling and the Communist Party corrupt and brain dead, a labor union for the lazy. Gorbachev’s "glasnost and perestroika’ – openness and new thinking – sought to reanimate the party, open society and follow a peaceful, constructive foreign policy. He brought liberalization, freedom of speech and religion and partial democracy at home. Without Gorbachev, Germany would not have reunified.
Contrary to western myth, the Soviet Union was not brought down by President Ronald Reagan’s arms buildup, though Moscow’s ruinous military overspending played an important role.