Interview with Mikhail
Mikhail Gorbachev was the final president of the Soviet Union,
serving from 1985 to 1991. His policies of perestroika (restructuring)
and glasnost (openness) led to the end of communism in the USSR and the
birth of a new, democratic Russia.
Currently, he heads the Gorbachev Foundation, an international
think tank. He sat down with Deal W. Hudson in his office in Moscow,
underneath a large portrait of his late, beloved wife, Raisa.
Deal W. Hudson: The United States and its allies are now at
war with terrorism. How do you see that proceeding?
Mikhail Gorbachev: Even as we're witnessing a new
euphoria from the victory over the Taliban, we have to state firmly
that resorting to bombing of entire countries and peoples each time we
battle with terrorism is absolutely unacceptable. We need to decide
this on a case-by-case basis. There are economic, financial, and other
means to go about combating this threat.
Do you think, in some cases, the same objective can be
achieved through nonviolent methods?
Yes, of course. I was talking to Margaret Thatcher when she
called for NATO strikes against Serbs in Bosnia. I asked her why she
didn't use this method of bombing in Belfast with all the problems with
the IRA in northern Ireland-even when she narrowly escaped the bombing
in a hotel. Why was it all right to bomb the Serbs? I saw her on the TV
screen, and she was saying, "Bomb them, bomb them." My answer was very
harsh: I told her not to resort to violence.
What would you suggest?
Recently, I did an interview with a German newspaper in which I
pointed out that there are many other nonmilitary options available. I
was one of the first to suggest going the financial route. My proposal
was to take ten banks that offer support to terrorist groups and revoke
their licenses. You can be sure the next day 120 percent of the other
banks would change their practices. When the newspaper ran the article,
the headline said, "Gorbachev wants to revoke licenses of German
I understand you met with former President Clinton recently?
Yes, I met President Clinton in Madrid. My relationship with
President Clinton was quite strained, if not downright tense. Of
course, it was not because of Monica Lewinsky. I was highly critical of
his foreign policy. He is guilty for the fact that the U.S. has wasted
those ten years following the end of the Cold War.
What should he have done? How did he waste those years? Do
you mean against terrorism?
I think he missed out on opportunities to develop a new world
order. I discussed this at length with the president of the United
States, George W. Bush. I think [the United States and Russia] should
have worked more on the NATO issues and the issues of European
security. Following the end of the Cold War, little had been done. I
think Mr. Clinton, as a freshman in foreign politics, was spending too
much time on the little details, and as a result, none of us was ready
for the challenges of globalization.
So [Mr. Clinton and I] were the two principal speakers at the
Madrid conference, and Mr. Clinton delivered a very interesting
address. Put bluntly, he was rather self-critical. I asked, "Why bother
with self-criticism? You're interested in the poverty issue, and
something must be done about it." He said, "It wasn't really me who
caused the growth of poverty, but I didn't do very much to address it."
Are you encouraged by the strong relationship between
President Bush and President Putin?
Very much so. It would be good if no one paid attention to those
who criticize Bush in the United States or those who tend to criticize
Mr. Putin in Russia. Mr. Putin has great support among the ordinary
people, but some scholars and intellectuals who cater to the party
interests of ruling elites try to criticize him. We shouldn't only talk
about the need for new relations and cooperation, but we should also
work to create the mechanism for these new relations.
What kind of mechanisms do you have in mind?
Take NATO, for example. Russia, together with NATO, is addressing
some of the really critical problems of today, and Russia's
contribution to this process is much bigger than that of all those
aspiring states who want to join NATO. And it's going to be this way in
the future. If we consolidate this strength, I think we will all
benefit. It's not necessary that Russia join NATO; the main thing is to
have a mechanism of cooperation between Russia and NATO. This mechanism
should give Russia equal footing not only in the decision-making
process but also in discussing all those issues.
Recently, my old acquaintance and friend, Mr. Colin Powell, came
to Moscow and said yes, we should give Russia a bigger role with NATO,
but we shouldn't give it the right of veto. I told the secretary of
state that he's moving too fast and that he should warn his allies not
to give in. The president should know that if Russia will participate
more in decision-making in NATO, then NATO would be guaranteed not to
make mistakes in the future.
Putin has the same stance that we had in Malta during our meeting
with Mr. Bush: We don't consider our countries to be enemies. But
America does have to understand that just as you have interests-vital
interests-that we understand, we have ours as well. If there's
dialogue, if there's a mechanism, we'll discuss issues and find
mutually beneficial solutions. If NATO is really ready for a
partnership, it couldn't find a better partner than Russia.
Some people say that the United States and Russia are natural
allies. Do you agree?
Yes. Objectively speaking, they should be allies. It's
significant that today we can speak of a partnership between the
two-that we could be allies. We see both the Russian and American sides
working in this direction. So, you are correct.
But there's work to be done right now. If we don't consider
seriously all Mr. Putin's proposals regarding domestic and foreign
policy, we may miss another chance-because, you know, these proposals
are really far-reaching.
Right now, we see new challenges, new problems. We were
discussing the problems concerning the antiterrorist coalition-the war
on the Taliban. Of course we're sure the United States will win this
war. Following this victory, there will be euphoria, and we will forget
about everything we've just gone through. We'll forget about the main
challenges, about what we should really be doing.
You speak of the changes between Russia and the West. What
are some of the changes you've seen in Russia itself? What were some of
the challenges you faced as president?
I've often been invited to speak about the transition from
totalitarianism to democracy. I think it's a very interesting subject.
In our case, we were all learning to pronounce this term "private
property," and it was almost like a second revolution. In each of my
speeches, the members of the Politburo would look for words that in
some way or another might be understood as critical of socialism.
Those, they tried to replace. You must understand, by 1985, 90 percent
of all the Soviet population was born under socialist rule after the
October Revolution. They knew nothing of power, private property, and
so on. So the main obstacle for Russian progress is our set of
preconceptions. Our friends in the West wanted to think that because
Gorbachev declared freedom, democracy, pluralism, glasnost, and so on
that everything would change overnight.
But for now, without an efficient legal system which is truly
able to enforce federal law, Russia will not be able to get back on
track with democratic reforms.
How do you see your legacy? What will the history books say
about your leadership of the Soviet Union?
There was a very interesting poll conducted by the All-Russian
Poll Center. The results of this poll were wonderful. Everyone is for
reform now, but they're arguing about whether we ever needed to start
perestroika at all. Forty-two percent of the people think that we
needed to start perestroika and 45 percent say we shouldn't have. This
45 percent who say that we shouldn't have are mainly senior citizens.
So the most active, young, middle-class part of the population say that
it was worthwhile.
Another peculiar feature was that even those respondents who said
that it wasn't worth starting perestroika at all say that they are for
pluralism-pluralism of ideas, pluralism of parties, pluralism of
ideology, and religious confession. So even if they didn't think
perestroika was a great idea, 60 to 80 percent say they're happy with
the changes it brought. Even those who voted against perestroika in
this poll-they say that those benefits are good. They support those
I'm especially encouraged by the fact that 80 to 82 percent of
all those respondents, when asked what kind of Russia they'd like to
see in the future, say that they want a free, democratic country. So I
think I'll live to see that day. Mine is the usual fate of reformers:
Either we get killed or our contribution is acknowledged only 50 years
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