Gorbachev armed with good intentions, but a sorcerer’s apprentice in the face of the impossible mission of reforming the Soviet communist system. And we are still paying for the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR today with the war in Ukraine. Aldo Ferrari has clear ideas about the legacy of the last Soviet leader. Lecturer at the Ca ‘Foscari University of Venice, he is also director of research at the Institute of International Political Studies for Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia. In Il Giornale he explains the role of Gorbachev, which, for better or for worse, will remain in history.
Was Mikhail Gorbachev a great man or a character between light and shadow?
“Even great men have lights and shadows. He was not a strong personality in Russian history like Peter the Great or Ivan IV, whom we call the Terrible or Stalin and Lenin. He was a classic Soviet official, but his historical role was immense, positively or negatively depending on the point of view. I don’t think there are other cases of a character who in just six years managed to impress epochal changes such as those caused by Gorbachev in the history of his own country and universally ”.
Is there anything we do not know or little is known about the rise and fall of Gorbachev?
“There are no dark sides or secrets to reveal. Gorbachev was no outsider and had followed his career disciplined, albeit brilliantly, within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In the West, perhaps we forget it but he did not want to destroy the USSR and the communist system, but rather reform it by making it more efficient and humane ”.
He definitely failed …
“His actions have had a very important weight. Well-intentioned and correct reforms have failed by clashing with the sclerotic reality of the Soviet system. But it seems unfair to me to blame the failure of Gorbachev’s own attempt. The reforms were valid and necessary from the economy to glasnost to be translated rather than with the term “transparency” as freedom of speech and conscience. Unfortunately, however, they destroyed a country or rather killed the sick person instead of treating him ”.
Was it the best “ally” of the West?
“The way it turned out, yes, but that was definitely not his will. In fact, however, a great power has imploded that collapsed from within without a war or invasion. The responsibility or the merit is attributed to Gorbachev ”.
Did he really want the fall of the Berlin Wall?
“It’s a bit journalistic and reductive, but the image of the sorcerer’s apprentice is quite fitting for Gorbachev. He has set in motion some mechanisms that he has not been able to control ”.
It ended the cold war …
“He wanted to end the Cold War, but on an equal footing between the USSR and the United States. Faced with the difficulties of perestroika, the US and the West felt they had won the game and treated first the USSR and then Russia as defeated enemies who did not need to heed. An attitude that unfortunately is still current and at the basis of the subsequent disasters in which we are stuck today ”.
The failed coup, the collapse of the USSR in 1991. What went wrong?
“He did a lot of things wrong, but I believe he embarked on a humanly impossible political operation. The USSR was a union of 15 republics with histories and traditions often conflicting with the central Muscovite power. Gorbachev was not an unprepared schoolboy, but the mistake was made from the start: wanting to reform an unreformable system ”.
Is it true that many Russians consider him a traitor?
“It is very difficult to find in Russia someone who has esteem and sympathy for Gorbachev other than a small elite of intellectuals oriented towards the West. The overwhelming majority of the population sees him as a clueless, a traitor or both at the same time. He perceives this man as the main culprit of the collapse of the USSR which, not surprisingly, the current Russian President Putin has defined “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century”.
Putin in Gorbachev’s time was a KGB officer in East Germany. Today the Kremlin speaks of a historical figure, but what does the new Tsar really think of him?
“I think he thinks all the possible evil. In Putin’s eyes, Gorbachev bears primary responsibility for the Soviet dissolution. The statement of neutral and cold condolence, even in the choice of words, shows that according to Putin, Gorbachev’s choices were completely wrong because they dismantled the great Soviet power, plunging all the space of the former USSR into a chaos from which he struggles to recover ” .
Is Putin a reaction to the collapse of the USSR?
“It can be considered a reaction not only to Gorbachev, but also to Yeltsin (in power immediately afterwards). Putin wanted to pursue a policy that would heal previous disasters. In his statist perspective, they are both responsible for the decline of Russian power ”.
War in Yugoslavia, on the doorstep, bombs on the Serbs, interventions in Iraq and Libya. Was it better when it was worse?
“The bipolar world was more stable, but with harsh repressive regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet communist penetration in half the world from Afghanistan to Angola. The US reacted by financing dictatorial regimes everywhere to counter the advance of the USSR. It is not a world to regret ”.
Gorbachev criticized the invasion of Ukraine, but isn’t it the long-standing daughter of the collapse of the USSR?
“Indirectly, but definitely. The conflict in Ukraine began in 2014, long after the end of the USSR, but it was not inevitable. It was badly handled mainly due to the strengthening of nationalist positions in Ukraine, the neo-imperialism in Moscow and also due to the reckless Western interventionism. We got to war because of wicked choices, which could have been avoided ”.