The Ukrainian issue has intensified the tension that existed between the West and Russia: now, another Cold War is possibly lurking on the horizon. Are we to witness another stand-off – or will it be averted? The relations between Russia and the West seem to be stuck at dead-end, so is there hope common ground will emerge between the two? We ask these questions to the man who prides himself on ending the Cold War, the last leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevarnadze: Mr. Gorbachev, thank you very much for finding the time to talk to us today.
Mikhail Gorbachev:I haven’t gone public for 18 months now.
MG: I do not agree with those who say this – that the threat of nuclear destruction is no longer a sufficient deterrent. Today, we have much better knowledge of what nuclear weapons actually are and what they can do.
I’ll give you one example. Just one intercontinental ballistic missile, named Satan in the NATO classification (a very powerful missile of ours )… this one missile alone carries 100 ‘Chernobyls’ in it, and this is why I think everyone understands what an immensely destructive force it is, as we have had enough time to understand that. And now we need to be vigilant and careful to make sure it never gets into the hands of extremists of any kind.
SS:In your article, you wrote that Europe needs its own Security Council. However, Europe already has the OSCE. Does that mean that the OSCE has lost its purpose?
MG: I’ll give you my answer. As of today, the OSCE is – [sarcastic cough] – that is my answer. Although I wouldn’t say that it “lost its purpose.” To say that would be to imply they are completely useless. However, the OSCE is still trying to do something. They are flailing around in Ukraine, their observers are there, and so on.
It is all about a different thing. Whenever we talk about the nuclear arsenal, the levels of control and responsibility are the highest. We need to get back to it. We need to build a united Europe, a Europe that would be home for all. Whereas now, in this European home we only get squabbles and arguments.
NATO seeks to interfere with everything everywhere
SS:When the German reunification was negotiated, the US secretary of state pledged that NATO will not go an inch further east of Germany. Those talks were never translated into binding agreements. Now, when the emotions are running high, negotiating something like this in regard to Ukraine seems to be even less probable. Will NATO ever stop until it reaches Russia’s borders?
MG: That’s all because the US is trying hard to get here. And watching the US, Russia responds with some steps in return, sometimes these are unnecessary steps. That’s how all of this grows out of proportion. I gave an interview to Time magazine a couple of days ago. I told them: “I don’t really get you. A long time ago, Eisenhower told you to beware – beware of the military-industrial complex. NATO seeks to interfere with everything and everywhere, it wants to expand beyond its designated territory. Eisenhower was a very serious man, a warrior. He went through everything that our country went through. He is a man whose judgement you can trust, that’s what I told them.
So what is it that you’re doing? Can’t you just live without it? It’s like America cannot live without its military-industrial complex growing, weapons sales increasing and war costs soaring – can’t you live without it?.”
And they answered, “Yes, it looks like it.”
And I said, “Then look, in this case, this society is sick. It needs help.”
SS:So why do you think NATO would want to expand to the East? Why?
MG: That’s its political culture, its military culture. For example, in 1990, there was a summit for the European countries – a really great summit. So they adopt a development plan for Europe. And it all looks like Europe is becoming the world’s new driving force, it sets the new pace.
So President [George H.W.] Bush delivers one speech, another one, yet another one – about the new world order based on the experience of what is going on in Europe. And Gorbachev says something along the lines after him.
Pope John Paul II also says, “Yes, we do need a new world order, which would be more stable, more fair, more everything, and so on and so forth.”
So everyone realized then that we arrived at the moment where there was an opportunity to move in the peaceful direction; the direction that the best people from basically all countries have dreamt of. And one of them was a certain American by the name of John Kennedy, the man who went through the Caribbean [Cuban Missile] crisis and said:
“If you think that future peace should be Pax Americana you’re mistaken. It’s either peace for all people, or no peace.” That’s exactly true. It’s harsh, it’s cruel, but it’s the way it is.
The inventors of nuclear power also said that. One of them said that with the arrival of nuclear weapons, the world lost its immortality.
And it all started with the Americans all of a sudden wanting to assert themselves. Why did they do so?
The Cold War was over, we put an end to it together, it was in fact a common victory shared by all nations. And yet Americans said, “No way, we won it. We won. We won the Cold War. We did. Us.”
And it seems OK to say ‘Oh well, whatever. If you like saying that – just go ahead.’ But this leads to something. If the Americans indeed won, they can make a conclusion – and they did go on to make that conclusion and started to say publicly, “We don’t need to change anything. We won, the world is at our feet. Why should we have to change anything? We don’t need to change a thing. Our policy is right.’ And the most extreme thing they came up with – they began creating a new… superpower, a super empire. America wanted to rule the world.
The Americans lost their way. Any attempt to create a one-sided, mono-polar world is just complete and utter nonsense.
US needs its own Perestroika
SS:You suggested holding a Russia-US summit because these countries bear…
MG: Yes, I did.
SS: …particular responsibility.
MG: Neither Russia nor the US responded.
SS:But if they wanted to resolve the crisis, surely they would have held this summit long ago.
MG: They are going to want to resolve it only when they feel the pressure from the civil society – in the US, here in Russia, and everywhere. It’s clear that without civil society and its defined and organized nature, it’s difficult to keep the hawks at bay.
SS:We talked about Barack Obama just now. You were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and so was he. How do you feel about the fact that in this regard he’s your colleague in this sense, a member of the same club, so to speak?
MG: In his case it was kind of like an advance. Such things happen in politics, too. One time I was giving a lecture in St. Louis, and after I finished a young man stood up and asked, “Mr. President, what would you advise us Americans to do?” I asked what he meant by that. He said, “You see how bad things are here, and they are getting worse.” I said, “Well, that’s new. All this time it was America that doled out advice for everyone, even though no one asked for it. No, I will not give you any advice. You Americans have everything at your disposal to figure this out.”
A second young man stood up and said, “I would like to support my colleague. Please answer the question. You have gone through all of this. We need to do something about our situation, too.” I said, “Very well. I will not give you a plan or a recipe, I just think the US needs its own perestroika.” After that the audience of 10 or 15,000 people that were there gave me a standing ovation. Two years later Barack Obama was elected President. So for the most part, the people are changing. The main thing is that Americans don’t want to die. Why is it that the US opts for using planes, warships, missiles without deploying ground forces? That’s because the society won’t let them anymore, it will start putting pressure immediately
.America can’t live without old policy of pressure
SS:You also said in an interview that the US acts as the world’s policeman and thinks it alone can protect the world. But who is America’s enemy? Who are they protecting against?
MG: I don’t think they have anybody to protect against. They just need an enemy to come back to their old policy of pressure. They can’t live without it. They are still enslaved by their old policy. That’s why America has to be stopped. It should be stopped in a friendly manner, as a partner. Let’s be realistic. America is a phenomenon we can’t ignore, and it has certain rights. Its word carries weight, and America can make decisions that benefit the whole world. Yes, Americans can lead. Do they want to lead? Yes, they can lead. But they should do so in partnership with other nations, because the only kind of leadership that is possible today is leadership through partnership.
SS:If I get it right, you also said that Americans want troubles in Europe to continue. How does the US benefit from disagreement among European nations?
MG: Whenever tensions are high, whenever there’s instability in a certain country or throughout the region, it’s an opportunity for them to intervene. That’s my frank answer to your question. I am quite familiar with this policy from my own experience. This is bad for US itself in the first place. In my lectures, I ask a question: Do you really think you’ll be happy with the role of the world’s policeman? And I say, I’m pretty sure that you won’t. And the audience applauds. And in all of my public appearances I ask these questions, probing the public opinion. No, the Americans do not want war. But it is not easy for them, with the society that they have. It has developed certain powerful mechanisms… I’d say they need a Perestroika, I mean it. They can call it any name they want, the American way.
Shifting responsibility is American way, mass media backs it up
SS:The United States benefits from turmoil in Europe because it gives the US a great excuse to interfere – if that’s indeed so, why is the USA trying to shift the responsibility for resolving the Ukrainian crisis in its entirety to Russia? Why are the demanding that Russia…
MG: But of course they are!
SS:But why not share the responsibility?
MG: But that IS the American way – shifting the responsibility. Their mass media will provide all-round support, they will prove anything that’s needed, however improbable. If they need to prove that a devil incarnate appeared, they will, if that’s what it takes.
SS:I’d like to touch upon the sanctions and other current events. The South Stream [gas pipeline project] had to be shut down. The sale of Mistral ships is suspended. All of these issues have been causing a lot of damage to companies, including European ones. Why is the EU harming itself in its relationship with Russia?
MG: Well, just the other day 60 major figures spoke in Germany, including former presidents, as well as Mr. Genscher, Mr. Schroder, and Mr. Mangold, and so on – I knew most of them. Celebrities spoke as well. They all said unanimously that we shouldn’t be doing our business in such a way as to damage our relationship with Russia.
This is all happening because Chancellor Merkel finds herself in a very difficult situation for the reason of Germany’s dependence on the US; as for the rest of the European nations, Germany can handle them. At one point, Americans cut the oil prices, the oil prices plunge, and we lose dollars because of the measures that had already been taken by Americans according to their arrangements with Saudi Arabia. So this is yet another way of putting pressure.
Some time ago, I spoke at a conference in Passau, West Germany, which we held together with Mr. Kohl when he was still well. The theme of that conference was Individual in the United Europe. As it turned out, we both believed that without Russia, there cannot be a world order that would meet the interests of all nations, right. Then a guy stood up and said, “If that’s your opinion then you should accept Russia to the EU.” None of us was ready for that, especially my friend the chancellor. He leapt up, knocking the table over almost, and yelled, “What do you think you’re saying! This cannot be done, no way!” Why did he say ‘no way’? Because without Russia, Germany has a lot of weight in the EU, it’s got a very strong position. So when Russia shows up you’ll have to accommodate that. Russia will have enough arguments to defend sovereign, strong positions.
West declared Russia enemy
SS:President Putin has recently said, and you also confirmed it, that the Ukraine and Crimea issue was just a pretext to impose sanctions against Russia, and that the West would’ve come up with something to do that anyway.
MG: I tend to share that opinion.
SS:I will discuss Crimea separately in a moment. Now, if you do share this opinion it means that the US and the West want to be Russia’s enemies, and that they would’ve imposed sanctions anyway?
MG: It was them who declared us enemies. So whether they wanted it or not, they did. Not all of them did though. I’ve heard many of them, to the contrary, defending us saying that Russia is… right. In the course of Russia’s long history, all kinds of things have been done to Russia, but no one managed to bring this country to its knees – let’s recall Napoleon, or Hitler – and nobody will. But you know what can happen now? If the war begins, considering the kinds of weapons that exist now, then…
SS:Is there a threat of such war?
MG: I believe there’s no threat of war right now. But we see the escalation; we can basically say that Cold War has started, or resumed. That’s what is happening now. So we have to be alert.
SS:So let’s go back to Crimea now. Let me quote you saying, “Earlier Crimea was merged with Ukraine under Soviet laws, to be more exact by the [Communist] party’s laws, without asking the people, and now the people have decided to correct that mistake.” If that’s true, why doesn’t the West realize or accept it?
MG: Because it’s not to the advantage of the West. Historically, this position hasn’t been beneficial for the West. I am always trying to say what I know, to tell the truth in all of my articles, speeches and interviews. So in the times of the Russian Empire, before the Bolshevik Revolution, there was not such state as Ukraine. There was Malorossiya [Little Russia]. You would know that, right? Catherine the Great’s lovers used to rule it one after another. Oh, women are so cunning!
Under Lenin, the state of Ukraine was established. Regardless of anything that’s been said about Ukraine’s living at that time, Ukraine flourished as a state. It had powerful industry and culture; its leaders were represented in the Politburo as key figures. It produced General Secretaries, leaders of the Party and so on. But then passions started to run high; and when passions are revolving around women or having power it hard to get things right.
SS:But Mr. Gorbachev, when you were General Secretary, or the first President of the USSR, why didn’t you bring Crimea back as part of Russia? You could’ve done it.
MG: Why would I have done that, while the Soviet Union still existed? And the boundaries within the Soviet Union were the same as symbolic fences between two neighbors’ gardens. The biggest fight would’ve happened if your geese wandered into your neighbor’s garden; but from the state viewpoint, it wasn’t divided, or guarded. This is how it used to be.
General Secretary Khrushchev thought he would appease Ukraine. He used to be the First Secretary of Ukraine. So he did appease them, so to say, by handing Crimea over to them. But a lot later, in 1991, when we had the negotiations about the future of the USSR, the Belavezha Accords that were dissolving the Union were introduced, and there were all these meetings, and the signed accords were approved.
So the question is, how could they possibly have approved it in that way? Someone representing Russia tried to speak up, something along the lines of “well what about our people, they live across the Union, what happens to them, etc.”. And then cosmonaut Sevastyanov, he was a deputy, so the cosmonaut stood up and said, “Listen, what are you talking about? Gorbachev will be gone from the Kremlin tomorrow – that’s what the most important thing is!”
SS: Mr. Gorbachev, you’ve had such a long and intense political career. What would you now consider your greatest achievement of all?
MG: Perestroika, and everything that’s related to it, even though it was interrupted, was never completed. Let me count here, freedom, Glasnost – (freedom of speech), freedom to travel abroad, religious freedom, and so on, I won’t list all of them. And finally, disarmament: it made people sigh with relief. Across the globe, particularly in the developed countries, they were all digging shelters in case of nuclear war, which could’ve broken out any moment. So that has been done, and we completed that part.
People were granted freedom of choice in Central and Eastern Europe. Germany was reunited. The relationship with China was resumed. It was fascinating. That’s already enough for a good result. But I do regret that I never managed to lead this project to completion. What we should do now is roll back and resume from those positions. We should come to agreements, and keep moving forward. But all players should participate in this process. As I’ve written in the article, I suggest creating structures and institutions that would be in the hands of the people. That’s it.
SS:Thank you very much.
MG: How many questions did you write?