Handshake that ended the Cold War

The Malta summit poured oil on stormy waters but the problems finessed 25 years ago are threatening stability today

The World Today Published 5 December 2014 Updated 19 February 2021 2 minute READ

Alan Philps

Former Editor, The World Today, Communications and Publishing

Throughout 1989, the White House was preparing the newly elected president, George H W Bush, for his fi rst summit with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Officials were concerned that Bush might be ambushed by Gorbachev into making strategic concessions. No one knew what to expect and there were conflicting signals coming out of Moscow. Bush reassured his aides he could sit with Gorbachev ‘without giving away the store.’

By the time the two men arrived in Malta in December, Gorbachev’s position appeared perilously weak. Only three weeks before, the Berlin Wall had fallen, raising the prospect of the two Germanys uniting and then joining NATO and bringing US-allied troops to the borders of Ukraine. As Condoleezza Rice, then a White House Soviet specialist, predicted, this was the Soviet leadership’s ‘worst nightmare’.

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