I’m here as a guest at a conference organised by an old friend of mine. For the first time since I’ve known him I got him to reminisce about his time in government in the early 1990s.
“Yes, I was the first Defence Minister. Actually when we set it up, we called it a Sub-Department for Defence Matters, not a ministry, and I was its General Secretary and special adviser to the President, not the minister, because we didn’t want to annoy the Soviets. This was just after we’d won the first multi-party elections as the Popular Front.
“Then came the August 1990 putsch in Moscow. A friend of mine called me up in the middle of the night and told me, turn on the television, see what’s happened, it’s all going to go back to former times, you need to get yourself to the other side of the Romanian border. I couldn’t leave my colleagues at a time like that – I managed to organise an armed citizen’s militia to defend the capital, we had it completely blocked off.
“The police were mostly on our side, and the local Soviet Army just wasn’t sure what to do, keeping lines open to us and to the Kremlin. We weren’t really sure what the end would be politically. Then the next day Yeltsin got up on the tank, and because everyone else was doing it, we realised it was time to go for sovereignty, and as you know the whole thing fizzled out. After that it was all right to have a ministry of defence.
“Yeah, I brokered the ceasefire that ended the Transdniestria conflict in 1992, but shortly after that they replaced me as defence minister with a career general. I’m out of all that now, prefer this NGO activity, working with the next generation.”
I hope he writes a book about it some time.