Over the past five or six years, and particularly since the death of Leonid Brezhnev in November 1982, a wide-ranging reassessment has been taking place in elite Soviet policy circles concerning the Third World.
This reassessment has led to a distinct shift in the way the Soviets perceive and discuss developing countries, reflected in such documents as the new party program published in October 1985, and the report of General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to the recently concluded 27th Party Congress. Gone are the ringing offers of military and economic support for the "liberated countries." Instead the program says only that the Soviet party "has profound sympathy for the aspirations of peoples who have experienced the heavy and demeaning yoke of colonial servitude"—a tepid phrase used repeatedly by both Gorbachev and his patron and predecessor, Yuri Andropov, to signal the limits of Soviet support for Third World clients. The radical "socialist-oriented" states—regimes like Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Afghanistan that came to power with the help of the Soviet Union and its allies in the 1970s—must, according to the party program, develop their economies "mainly through their own efforts." The Soviet Union will provide economic aid, training and defense assistance (in that order), but only "to the extent of its abilities." The document then leaves the subject of Moscow’s Marxist-Leninist allies altogether and suggests that "real grounds exist for cooperation [between the Soviet Union and] young states which are traveling the capitalist road," that is, countries like Argentina, Brazil, and the oil-producing nations of the Persian Gulf with market-oriented economies and strong political ties with the West.
The significance of these unremarkable phrases is perfectly clear to anyone who has followed past Soviet pronouncements on the Third World. No more is heard the optimism of the previous party program (adopted in 1961) that "a mighty wave of national liberation revolutions is sweeping away the colonial system and undermining the foundations of imperialism," or that socialism is capable of transforming "a backward country
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