Mikhail Gorbachev: A Divisive Figure Loved Abroad, Criticized at Home

September 1st, 2022 - by Pjotr Sauer / Guardian UK & Paul Craig Roberts / Institute for Political Economy

Celebrated across Liberal Democracies,
Gorbachec Was Reviled in Russia

Pjotr Sauer / Guardian UK

(August 31, 2022) — Until his very last day, Mikhail Gorbachev lived in a dual reality — loved and celebrated in Washington, Paris and London, but reviled by large numbers of Russians who never forgave him for the turbulence that his reforms unleashed.

His policy of ‘glasnost’, or openness, gave Russians previously unthinkable levels of freedom, but for many, his rule will be remembered by the dramatic plunge in living standards that followed.

Others, haunted by Soviet nostalgia, saw Gorbachev as the destroyer of their empire and blame his policies for emboldening nationalists who successfully pushed for independence in the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and elsewhere across the former Soviet bloc.

In a 2021 poll, more than 70% of Russians said their country had moved in a negative direction during his rule, while he was previously ranked as the most unpopular Russian leader of the past century, a state-run pollster said.

Gorbachev was never blind to the criticism, and while he always defended democratic credentials, he came to realise that many in the country were looking for a different type of leadership.

“A czar must conduct himself like a czar. And that I don’t know how to do,” he once said.

His relationship with Vladimir Putin always remained complicated. In an essay published in Time magazine in 2016, Gorbachev attacked Putin’s decision to run for a third presidency, calling his policies “an obstacle to progress”.

Putin in turn, famously referred to the end of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”.

On Tuesday night, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader deeply regretted the death of Gorbachev and would send a condolence telegram to the family in the morning.

Gorbachev will, however, be mourned among Russia’s increasingly suppressed liberal circles, many of whom have fled the country since the start of the war in Ukraine.

“Gorbachev is a monumental politician … There has never been such freedom in Russia as in the late 80s and early 90s. This is his merit,” wrote the veteran Russian journalist Mikhail Fishman, in one of many tributes that quickly started to pour in following the news of his death.

“We have all become orphans. But not everyone has understood it yet,” said Alexei Venediktov, a friend and the former head of the Ekho Moskvy radio station which was forced off air over its coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Gorbachev had himself helped kickstart independent Russian journalism, using part of his 1993 Nobel peace prize money to help set up the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, a paper which went on to become the country’s most praised independent newspaper, shedding light on some of Russia’s darkest chapters. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Novaya Gazeta was also forced to cease its operations.

Few knew Gorbachev better than his biographer, William Taubman, who in 2017 wrote that Gorbachev’s main issue was that Russia simply had no real experience with the freedom it was being offered.

One of the last to visit Gorbachev in hospital on 30 June was the liberal economist Ruslan Grinberg. “He gave us all freedom — but we don’t know what to do with it,” Grinberg said, after his visit to his old friend.

Mikhail Gorbachev R.I.P.

Paul Craig Roberts / Institute for Political Economy

(August 30, 2022) ‑ Mikhail Gorbachev was the first President of the Soviet Union and the last Soviet leader. He was the best of the younger generation of Communist Party members who understood, like US President Ronald Reagan, the futility of the Cold War and the needless threat of nuclear Armageddon.

Gorbachev also understood that the repressions and hardships of the Soviet years were unnecessary, and he with advisors, some of whom I met and engaged in discussion, attempted to reform the Soviet system. There is no question that he was a great man and a sincere leader of the Soviet peoples.

President Reagan realized Gorbachev’s greatness. Reagan also realized that Gorbachev was limited in his ability to end the Cold War by distrustful elements in the Politburo. President Reagan’s plan, in which I was a participant, was to rescue the US economy from “stagflation” and then to put pressure of a threatened arms race — Star Wars — on the Soviet Union in order to enhance Gorbachev’s position in favor of ending the Cold War than to subject the struggling Soviet economy to an arms race with a revitalized US economy.

Reagan, despite the CIA’s opposition and that of the US military/security complex, carried out his plan not in order to win the cold war but as Reagan repeatedly stressed to all of us involved to end the Cold War. None of us, Reagan included, had any idea of Soviet collapse. Our purpose was to halt a gratuitous conflict that threatened humanity with nuclear Armageddon.

What we did not realize was that hard-line elements of the Soviet Communist Party thought that Gorbachev was making too many concessions to the West too soon without sufficient reciprocal concessions and guarantees. Apparently, Gorbachev himself did not realize it.

Reagan proceeded with care. He invited Gorbachev to the White House. Reagan convinced the distinguished American pianist, Van Cliburn, to come out of retirement and perform for Gorbachev in the White House. Van Cliburn had won, with Khrushchev’s approval, the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.

In addition to classics of Russian composers, Van Cliburn regaled Gorbachev with Russian folk songs. President Reagan absolutely forbade any derogatory reference to the Soviet Union. Nothing, not even the CIA, was to prevent the end of the Cold War.

After Reagan’s second term ended, I had less connection with his successor, his former vice president, George H. W. Bush, but I know for an absolute fact that Secretary of State James Baker gave assurances to Gorbachev that if Gorbachev permitted the unification of Germany, NATO would not move one inch to the East. There is no doubt about this, despite the denials by American neoconservatives and Clinton regime officials.

The Soviet Union collapsed, not because of Reagan, but because the hardline Communists, disturbed, as is understandable, by Gorbachev’s trust in Washington’s word, attempted a coup and placed Gorbachev under house arrest. It was this miscalculation that brought about the collapse of the Soviet government and the rise of Yeltsin, who, intentionally or not, essentially was under Washington’s control.

Gorbachev, believing as did Reagan, in the futility of the Cold War, trusted that the conflict was over. Gorbachev’s mistake was that he did not understand Washington. An American President can make an agreement that can be rescinded by a successor. This is the case even if there are signed documents, but in the absence of signed documents, the corrupt Clinton regime was able to claim no such agreement as NATO not moving to Russia’s borders ever existed.

In view of the Democrat Clinton regime’s overthrowing the Reagan-Gorbachev ending of the Cold War with a New Cold War, now greatly expanded under the Democrat Biden, the Kremlin’s toleration of the West’s declared aggressive intentions against Russia is puzzling. How can anyone in the Kremlin ever again believe a word that Washington says?

In Russia Gorbachev is not seen as the great leader that he was. In America ignorant flag-waving patriots mistakenly base their pride on Reagan winning the Cold War.

As far as I, a participant, can tell, neither side understands what has happened.




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