Tuesday 22 June 2021

“Good evening. This is the news. The USSR no longer exists…”

Q24N – Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has accused the West of “provoking Russia” and said the USSR collapsed in 1991 because of “treachery”.

The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow was given a rare interview with him, 25 years after the USSR’s demise.

Mikhail Gorbachev, 85, has been having health problems. But his sense of humour is indestructible.
When we meet he points to his walking stick. “Look”, he says, “now I need three legs to get around!”
Mr Gorbachev agreed to talk to me about the moment the world changed: the day the Soviet superpower fell apart.

- Advertisement -

“What happened to the USSR was my drama,” he tells me. “And a drama for everyone who lived in the Soviet Union.”

‘It was a coup’

On 21 December 1991, the evening news bulletin on Russian TV began with a dramatic announcement: “Good evening. This is the news. The USSR no longer exists…”

August 1991: Boris Yeltsin (c) led protesters who defied a coup by Soviet hardliners

- Advertisement -

A few days earlier, the leaders of Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine had met to dissolve the Soviet Union and form a Commonwealth of Independent States. Now, eight other Soviet republics had decided to join them.

Together they had defied Mikhail Gorbachev: the Soviet leader had been struggling to keep the republics together in a single state.

“Behind our backs there was treachery. Behind my back,” Mr Gorbachev tells me. “They were burning down the whole house just to light a cigarette. Just to get power. They couldn’t get it through democratic means. So they committed a crime. It was a coup.”

25 Dec 1991: Mikhail Gorbachev resigns dramatically on state TV – and the USSR is no more

On 25 December 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation as Soviet president. At the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time.

“We were well on the way to a civil war and I wanted to avoid that,” Mr Gorbachev recalls.

- Advertisement -

“A split in society and a struggle in a country like ours, overflowing with weapons, including nuclear ones, could have left so many people dead and caused such destruction. I could not let that happen just to cling on to power. Stepping down was my victory.”

What about Putin?

In his resignation speech, Mr Gorbachev claimed that, as a result of his perestroika reform programme, society “had acquired freedom”. Twenty-five years on, I ask him whether he thinks that freedom is under threat in today’s Russia.

“This process hasn’t been completed,” he replies. “We need to speak frankly about this. There are some people for whom freedom is an annoyance. They don’t feel good with it.”

“Do you mean Vladimir Putin?” I ask.

President Putin (L) counts Rosneft oil boss Igor Sechin (R) as one of his closest allies

“You’ll have to guess who I mean,” he replies. “This is one question I’ll leave you to answer.”

In our conversation, Mikhail Gorbachev avoids direct criticism of Vladimir Putin. But he drops several hints that he and President Putin have their differences.

“Does Putin ever ask your advice?” I ask.

“He knows everything already,” replies Mr Gorbachev. “Everybody likes to do things their own way. C’est la vie, as the French say.”

Western ‘provocation’
The former Soviet president is scathing of modern Russia. “Bureaucrats,” he tells me, “stole the nation’s riches and began to create corporations”.

He criticises one of President Putin’s closest associates, Igor Sechin, head of the oil giant Rosneft, accusing him of trying to influence affairs of state.

He attacks the West, too, accusing it of “provoking Russia”.

“I’m sure that the Western press – and that includes you – has been given special instructions to discredit Putin and get rid of him. Not physically. Just to make sure he steps aside. But, as a result, his popularity rating here has reached 86%. Soon, it will be 120%!”

In 1987 Mr Gorbachev and then-US President Reagan signed a key nuclear disarmament treaty

It was Mikhail Gorbachev’s warm relationship with the late US President Ronald Reagan that paved the way for the end of the Cold War. So what does Mr Gorbachev think about the new man heading for the White House? Has he ever met Donald Trump?

“I’ve seen his high-rise buildings, but I haven’t had the chance to meet him in person, so I cannot judge his views and policies,” Mr Gorbachev tells me. “But it’s an interesting situation. In Russia everyone thought the Democrats would win – me included, although I didn’t say it.”

In the West, many people view Mikhail Gorbachev as a hero: as the man who gave freedom to Eastern Europe and allowed the reunification of Germany. But to many in his homeland, Mr Gorbachev is the leader who lost their empire.

Mikhail Gorbachev – key dates:
1931 – Born in Privolye, a rural area in Stavropol, southern Russia
1955 – Graduates from Moscow State University law school, member of Communist Party (CP)
1970 – CP First Secretary in Stavropol
1980 – Full member of Soviet CP Politburo
1985 – Politburo elects him General Secretary of CP
1987-1989 – Pushes through far-reaching reforms, called “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring)
1987 – Signs major nuclear disarmament treaty with US
1990 – Agrees to reunification of Germany after fall of Berlin Wall in 1989
1991 – Detained during abortive coup by Soviet hardliners in August, then resigns in December

Soviet sing-along
“Do you accept any responsibility for the fall of the USSR?” I ask him.

“What upsets me is that, in Russia, people don’t sufficiently understand what I set out to achieve and what I actually did,” he says.

“For the country, and for the world, perestroika opened the way to co-operation and peace. I’m only sorry I was unable to see it through to the end.”

A sign in Stavropol says “our life”. There are many echoes of the USSR in ex-Soviet republics

At the end of the interview, Mikhail Gorbachev and I move over to his piano. I play and Mr Gorbachev sings some of his favourite Soviet hits.

These impromptu singsongs have become a curious but lovely tradition after a Gorbachev interview. The man who changed the world with perestroika loves to croon.

“Between the past and the future is the blink of an eye,” he sings, “and that instant is what we call life.”

The Soviet Union passed in the blink of an eye. What are 70 years compared to the Roman or Ottoman empires?

But I believe it is unfair to blame Mr Gorbachev – or the breakaway republics – for destroying the Soviet empire.

The USSR may have been flawed from the start: economically, politically and ideologically. Perhaps this was fated to be a short-lived superpower.

This article originally appeared on BBC.com

- Advertisement -

We strive for accuracy in its reports. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, send us an email. The Q reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it’s accuracy.

Q24N is an aggregator of news for Latin America. Reports from Mexico to the tip of Chile and Caribbean are sourced for our readers to find all their Latin America news in one place.

Related Articles

The Cunning Hippie Killer Who Eluded Authorities With Victims’ Passports

Q ENTERTAINMENT - In the 1970s, a wave of murders perpetrated...

Netflix to premiere Attenborough documentary filmed in Costa Rica

TODAY COSTA RICA - Neither the coronavirus nor the global confinement...


New trends in coffee consumption challenge sector

QCOSTARICA - Changes in consumption habits in terms of times, types of preparation and specialties challenge the coffee sector. Most of the consumers in Costa...

Treasury threatens to close doors to Sinpe Móvil to avoid tax evasion

QCOSTARICA - What had been a good tool as a payment mechanism for sellers and businesses, the Ministry of Finance (Treasury) has in its...

Informants assisted OIJ in corruption investigations, says the minister

QCOSTARICA - The investigation into alleged bribery of public officials in exchange for contracts for road works, received help from informants within the Consejo...

Vaccination commission endorses J & J vaccine, says no to Sinovac

QCOSTARICA - The Comisión Nacional de Vacunación y Epidemiología (CNVE)  - National Vaccination and Epidemiology Commission - endorsed the use of Johnson and Johnson...

Today’s Vehicle Restriction June 19: only “ODDS” can circulate

Today, Saturday, June 19, only vehicles with "ODD" ending plates CAN circulate The measure is countrywide and applied between 5:00 am and 9:00 pm, save...

13 Powerful Home Remedies for Acne

Acne is considered to be one of the most common skin ailments on the planet, with a record 60 million people being afflicted by...

Despite investigation, construction of road works by H. Solís will continue

QCOSTARICA - Five major road works under the responsibility of the H. Solís company will continue in development despite investigations for alleged corruption involving...

College of Physicians negotiates donation of a million and a half vaccines against covid-19

QCOSTARICA - This week there could be very good news for the country in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic if the College of...

Will that be Cash or Sinpe Móvil?

QCOSTARICA - Sinpe Móvil is easy to use. From your phone, you can send money to friends, family and pay for things. Or receive...


Get our daily newsletter with the latest posts directly in your mailbox. Click on the subscribe and fill out the form. It's that simple!

Log In

Forgot password?

Forgot password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

Log in

Privacy Policy

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.