If Gorbachev ushered in an era of de-escalation in relations between Washington and Moscow, Vladimir Putin replaced it with bloody war, ruining the entire work and legacy of the former Soviet leader, according to an editorial in The Guardian.
Mikhail Gorbachev lived long enough to see everything he tried to build torn apart or destroyed altogether, writes Julian Borger in The Guardian.
The era of détente and arms control between Washington and Moscow has given way to a bloody war in Ukraine in which U.S. and NATO weapons are being used against Russian forces, with the risk of a direct clash between the nuclear superpowers due to an accident or miscalculation.
When Gorbachev stepped down as head of state in late 1991, the border between NATO and the Soviet Union was no longer a flashpoint. As a result, NATO withdrew almost all troops from its eastern flank, leaving only a few thousand soldiers, while the terror of the Cold War seemed banished forever to the history books and museums.
After the invasion of Ukraine in February, NATO rushed to send troops east, mobilizing 40,000 troops under his direct command and planning to put 300,000 troops on high alert.
Days after Russia launched its major offensive in Ukraine, Gorbachev – who was 91 years old and in poor health – issued a statement through his foundation calling for “a speedy end to hostilities and the immediate opening of peace negotiations.”
“There is nothing more precious in the world than human lives,” his statement said.
A journalist who maintained close ties with Gorbachev revealed in July that the former head of state was “shaken” by what had happened.
“Gorbachev’s reforms – the political ones, not the economic ones – were pulverized. Nothing, zero, ashes,” journalist Alecsei Venediktov, editor of radio station Eho Moskvi, told the Russian edition of Forbes.
Gorbachev’s former interpreter, Pavel Palaychenko of the Gorbachev Center, revealed to Fox News just two days before the invasion, “He always warned that there could be very dangerous clashes between Russia and Ukraine, but he always did his best to bring these two nations together and prevent a development of this rift that we see getting deeper and deeper. So as far as he’s concerned, emotionally, it’s very tragic.”
Gorbachev was a proponent of arms control and even discussed the possible elimination of nuclear weapons with Ronald Reagan at the 1986 Reykjavik Summit. Currently, Russia’s suspension of mutual inspections is eroding the only remaining Russian-U.S. agreement limiting nuclear weapons. Both countries are modernizing their arsenals, and Putin has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons. This year, the number of nuclear warheads worldwide will increase for the first time since the Cold War.
Putin’s Russia has reversed Gorbachev’s democratic opening
Gorbachev hoped to fundamentally change the mentality of a country that had never experienced democracy, having gone straight from the Romanov Imperial House to Bolshevik dictatorship.
The last days of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost (openness) were far more favorable to free expression than Putin’s Russia ever was, where – with the war (ed.) – any critical remark can result in a prison sentence.
People have been jailed simply for the ironic gesture of protesting with a blank sign. Venediktov’s radio station Eho Moskvi was shut down, and the Jewish journalist found a pig’s head and anti-Semitic slurs on the door.
Gorbachev closed the gulags; Putin’s main opponent, Alecsei Navalnyi, is in a penal colony after surviving poisoning and was put in solitary confinement for the third time in a month.
Over the years, Gorbachev became increasingly cautious in his public statements about Putin. He was praised for consolidating the Russian state after the chaotic period of Boris Yeltsin’s rule. In 2011, he reassessed the country’s situation when he felt compelled to issue a warning for the future.
“It seems understandable that in the first phase he resorted to certain authoritarian methods in managing the state, but to make a policy for the future out of these methods I think is wrong. I think it is deeply wrong,” he said at a public event in the United States.
“All over the world … you see that in countries where heads of state have been in power for 20 years or more … the only thing that matters in these situations for these leaders and the people around them is to stay in power. I think that is what is happening in our country now,” said the first and last Soviet president.