Economic Woes for the Warsaw Pact
The Warsaw Pact was based around the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance for its member states, including both military agreement and economic cooperation. In reality, the Soviet Union decided both the military and economic policies for all of the Warsaw Pact's member states. Disagreement with Soviet policies had resulted in the invasion of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. By 1980, however, the situation was changing. The Soviet Union's economic problems, including a decline in oil production, had undermined Soviet strength. To resolve the Soviet Union's economic shortages, Brezhnev's state planned a drastic reduction of the oil supplied to Eastern Europe. In this report to the Soviet Politburo about a recent Warsaw Pact meeting, Brezhnev's willingness to compromise with Erich Honecker, East Germany's Party Secretary, suggests the reality of Soviet weakness. Brezhnev's reaction also suggests the Soviet Union can no longer make unilateral decisions for all of Eastern Europe.
Leonid Brezhnev, "On the Results of Cde. K. V. Rusakov's Trip to the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria," 29 October 1981, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
RUSAKOV: During the negotiations, the leaders of the fraternal countries also raised economic questions. Chief among these was the question about reducing supplies of energy, above all oil. Although [our friends] said that this would be difficult for them, all of them reacted with understanding to our proposal and our request, and said that they will find a way to cope with the situation....
My conversation with Comrade Honecker, though, was different. He immediately said that [East Germany] could not accept such a reduction in the supply of oil, that this would cause serious damage to the[ir] national economy..., and that we shouldn't proceed with it. He even declared that they simply cannot put up with it, and requested a written response from Comrade Brezhnev to two letters that they sent. Thus, the question proved to be very contentious, and it essentially was left unresolved....
BREZHNEV. As you know, we decided to reduce the supply of oil to our friends. All of them believed this would be onerous for them, ... but deep down they naturally are hoping that we will somehow change our decision.
Perhaps it would be worthwhile at the next meeting with our friends to say, somehow, on this matter that we will be taking all measures needed to fulfill and overfulfill the plan on oil, and that we hope we will succeed. If so, we could make adjustments in the planned deliveries of energy supplies, though we should say this of course without letting them think that we are now backing away from our decision.