The 20 years since the Soviet collapse have been a gold mine for historians -- gold because of the valuable discoveries in archives and memoirs, and a mine because of the intense, frustrating labor that's often required to bring them to light. In many ways, we've still only scratched the surface of Soviet history; what we've found so far has made for engrossing accounts taken from records and testimony about once-secret events. But there's so much we still don't know.
Consider a hefty and valuable new volume, Masterpieces of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe. The book is like a secret vault that lays out the most fascinating top-secret documents about the revolutions of 1989. Vladislav Zubok, one of the volume's editors, compared it to the observable side of the moon -- there is still a far side that has not been seen.
In that spirit, here is my entirely arbitrary list of 10 Soviet mysteries waiting for us on the far side of the moon.
1. What happened to the billions of dollars' worth of gold and cash supposedly held by the Communist Party after the Soviet collapse? Some foreign press reports at the time suggested it was swiftly spirited away to foreign bank accounts, but there has never been any evidence. Yegor Gaidar, Boris Yeltsin's prime minister, once hired the international private detective firm Kroll Associates to help find it, but to no avail. How much was involved, and where did it go?
2. Did the Soviet Union ever develop a portable "suitcase" nuclear weapon? There has been lots of wild speculation, but never any proof. The Russian general Alexander Lebed said in 1997 that there were 100 Soviet-era suitcase nukes built and that about half were missing. But Lebed's account was vague and inconsistent, and others denied it or claimed he may have confused them with nuclear land mines. Who was right?
3. In the first weeks after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in late April 1986, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was strangely silent. He didn't speak out about it until May 14, more than two weeks later. What was said and done at the highest levels in those early days of the emergency? Why did this man of action seem so paralyzed?
4. From the early 1970s, Soviet leaders approved a secret biological weapons program. We know broad outlines of the research, but there is almost nothing known about the military side. Was there a "concept of use," or a military doctrine, for germ warfare, against whom, and on what battlefield? Were special-purpose weapons created for it? What happened to all of it after the Soviet collapse?
5. We're still missing key information about the Cuban missile crisis, like just what was said during visits to the Soviet Union by Cuban revolutionaries such as Raúl Castro and Che Guevara before the 1962 crisis, and Fidel Castro afterward. Although records have emerged of Politburo meetings and cables during the crisis, their talks with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev before and after could shed new light on why they deployed the nuclear weapons and what lessons they drew from it.