From Washington to Moscow

US-Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR

From Washington to Moscow

Book Pages: 416 Illustrations: Published: August 2016

Author: Louis Sell

History > European History, U.S. History, Politics > International Relations

When the United States and the Soviet Union signed the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks accords in 1972 it was generally seen as the point at which the USSR achieved parity with the United States. Less than twenty years later the Soviet Union had collapsed, confounding experts who never expected it to happen during their lifetimes. In From Washington to Moscow veteran US Foreign Service officer Louis Sell traces the history of US–Soviet relations between 1972 and 1991 and explains why the Cold War came to an abrupt end. Drawing heavily on archival sources and memoirs—many in Russian—as well as his own experiences, Sell vividly describes events from the perspectives of American and Soviet participants. He attributes the USSR's fall not to one specific cause but to a combination of the Soviet system's inherent weaknesses, mistakes by Mikhail Gorbachev, and challenges by Ronald Reagan and other US leaders. He shows how the USSR's rapid and humiliating collapse and the inability of the West and Russia to find a way to cooperate respectfully and collegially helped set the foundation for Vladimir Putin’s rise.


"Sell uses his person[al] experience and copious primary source material to tell the story of the US and the USSR in a very readable form." — Joseph Spuckler, Evilcyclist's Blog

"A masterfully written book, From Washington to Moscow offers a comprehensive, magnificent, and primarily chronological narrative of the USSR—the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—under the leadership of its General Secretaries—Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko, and Mikhail Gorbachev—up to its stupendous collapse, and the ascent of Boris Yeltsin, the First President of the Russian Federation." — Sapphire Ng, Impeccable Business blog

"[A] rich and readable history.... A rare and intimate look at Gorbachev and the events leading up to his presidency...." — Kirkus Reviews

"Books on the era abound, but Sell’s account helps remind us what really happened, and in some cases fills in some important gaps. His book combines meticulous use of archival and other sources with telling personal reminiscences and nuanced observations. A particular strength is his grasp of the personalities involved." — Edward Lucas, Center for European Policy Analysis

"Sell is obviously a talented writer who is able to simplify complicated issues without removing their important subtleties. He also breaks down Cold War arms negotiations to a point where any reader can clearly understand which games each side was playing and who really won or lost despite the final number of missiles. The fact that he was present at many of the negotiations lends a sense of clarity to his writing that is rarely seen on this issue."
  — April Curtis, LSE Review of Books

"Methodologically rigorous and qualitative, Sell deploys thorough archival research aided by personal observation, which makes the book a fluid and enjoyable, but serious, read. It is also a welcome departure from contemporary political scholarship, which tends to be mostly quantitative in nature and is often devoid of the historical ‘long views.’"
  — Sumantra Maitra, International Affairs

"[A] modest and sensible account of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its aftermath. . . ." — Robert Cottrell, New York Review of Books

"[T]his is a story that is extremely vivid, lively in its detail and persuasive in its assessments, that engagingly recreates what is now a bygone era for many readers and so a world they have difficulty imagining through dry, academic analysis."  — Robert D. English, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews

"Sell’s book provides an important overview of the Cold War for those who missed it (the current generation), for those who forgot it (most of the rest), and for a new administration of State Department and other government officials (who may be living in one)." — Norman E. Saul, Russian Review

"An engaging, detailed narrative of Soviet developments and U.S.-Soviet relations that draws principally on a highly impressive range of memoir and documentary sources, especially Soviet and many unavailable in English, that have appeared since 1991.... I can testify to the meticulous care with which he has constructed his narrative, and to how successfully it weaves together data from those sources and his own lived experience."
  — Thomas W. Simons, Jr, Journal of Cold War Studies

"... very worthwhile, offering much interesting insight and detail, not least from Russian sources, into the last twenty years of the Cold War."
  — Richard Dowling, History

"There are lovely moments in this book, especially when Sell recounts his personal experiences as a diplomat who served for decades in the Soviet Union. His memories of interactions with members of the dissident moment, with Soviet leaders, and with regular citizens lend a sense of urgency and presence that is often missing in histories of this era.... Sell’s writing is clear and accessible and at times his voice is remarkably compelling. — Margaret Peacock, Canadian Journal of History

"The breakup of the USSR in 1991 changed the political map of the world. Misunderstanding what happened then has exacerbated many of the problems facing the United States today. Louis Sell’s From Washington to Moscow takes us back to those turbulent days when Russia cast off most of its empire and gives us a corrective, insider’s view of worldchanging events. This is an important book, an exciting read that is also destined to be an important source for historians of the period."  — Jack Matlock, former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union

"This memoir is a fascinating account of the final two decades of Soviet politics and a convincing analysis of the role of US-Soviet relations in the disintegration of the USSR in late 1991. Louis Sell’s book is a wonderful guide for readers who remember the Soviet Union and want a better understanding of why it collapsed, but it is at least as valuable for today’s undergraduates and graduate students, who have no direct memory of the USSR and need to learn about it from those who witnessed it firsthand." — Mark Kramer, Director, Cold War Studies, Harvard University


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Price: $29.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Louis Sell is a retired Foreign Service officer who served twentyseven years with the US Department of State, specializing in Soviet and Balkan affairs. He is the author of Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Prologue. Two Treaties, Two Eras  1

1. First Visit to the USSR: Things Are Not as They Seem  5

2. Leonid Brezhnev: Power and Stagnation  9

3. Repression and Resistance  22

4. The Nixon Years  41

5. A Tale of Two Cities: Vladivostok and Helsinki  63

6. The Unhappy Presidency of Jimmy Carter  76

7. Two Crises and an Olympiad  96

8. Interregnum: Andropov in Power  114

9. Ronald Reagan's First Administration  128

10. Eagle vs. Bear: US and Soviet Approaches to Strategic Arms Control  145

11. Mikhail Gorbachev  165

12. Gorbachev Ascendant  184

13. New Kid on the Block: Gorbachev Emerges in US-Soviet Relations  196

14. "I Guess I Should Say Michael": The Turn in US-Soviet Relations  213

15. 1989: Year of Miracles or Time of Troubles?  242

16. Stumbling toward Collapse: Gorbachev's Final Eighteen Months  270

17. The August Coup  294

18. Red Star Falling  312

19. Why Did the USSR Collapse?  322

Postscript  339

Notes  351

Bibliography  383

Index  399
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