Soviet Negotiating Strategy

The East-West Gas Pipeline Deal, 1980-1984

by Thane Gustafson


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Because the East-West gas pipeline was an issue for the Soviets in the areas of domestic economic policy, East-West diplomacy, and foreign economic relations, and because of intense attention given to the pipeline affair in both East and West, it provides a rare window on Soviet decisionmaking. This report draws on the extensive coverage of pipeline negotiations and of Soviet energy policy in the Western and Soviet press, supplemented by the author's interviews with many of the West European executives and officials who participated in the bargaining with the Soviet side. It considers the Soviet strategy; their motives, and their actions when motives clashed; and the place of the pipeline in the context of internal and external Soviet policies. The analysis reveals that, while it seemed expertly crafted to take maximum advantage of the diplomatic and commercial opportunities available at the beginning of 1980, in fact Soviet negotiating behavior was frequently hesitant, contradictory, and improvised. Soviet actions were governed at least as much by internal objectives and constraints as by external ones.

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