Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev revealed to a close friend in the weeks prior to his death that he was saddened to see his life’s work “destroyed” by Vladimir Putin while Russia descends into authoritarianism and military aggression.
Gorbachev was the last Soviet leader, who oversaw the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He died this evening at the age of 91, according to Russian news agencies citing hospitals.
Senior Russian journalist Alexei Venediktov had reportedly been in touch with the leader prior to his death and said at the end of July that the Nobel Peace Prize winner was “upset” that his reforms had been destroyed.
Gorbachev was responsible for the liberation of many Eastern European nations and the end of the nuclear confrontation with the West. By contrast, Putin has restarted war in Europe with the invasion of Ukraine, censoring the media and controlling the people of Russia who speak out against it, isolating the country from other nations.
Gorbachev never spoke of his frustrations publicly, but Venediktov said in an interview with Russian Forbes that, “I can tell you that he is upset. Of course, he understands that […] this was his life’s work.”
“Freedoms were brought by Gorbachev. Everyone forgot who gave freedom to the Russian Orthodox Church? Who was it?” The journalist asked before continuing, “Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. The freedom of press, the first media law, who brought it? Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. Private property? Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.”
Then, gesturing to show it had all been torn down, he asked, “So what would [Gorbachev] be able to say now?”
Gorbachev’s changes led to openness, setting up most ex-Soviet states into democracies and an easing of east-west tensions.
Now with Putin’s invasion, NATO is rapidly restoring its on-the-ground presence in Eastern Europe, and the West has imposed heavy sanctions on Moscow, damaging the already weakened relationship from Putin’s tenure as president.
“Gorbachev’s reforms – political, not economic – were all destroyed,” said Venediktov. “Nilch, zero, ashes. When Gorbachev was leaving, there were 4,000 NATO Response Forces in Europe. Four thousand. Now NATO has announced 300,000 people by the end of next year. So today there are 4,000 – and will be 300,000.”
This NATO boost indicates a rise in “level of threat” between East and West, and comes amid fears across eastern Europe that Putin’s ambitions won’t stop at Ukraine, but will continue to other former USSR states, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and Warsaw Pact nations such as Poland.
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