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The New Russia by Mikhail Gorbachev Book

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Overview: After years of rapprochement, the relationship between Russia and the West is more strained now than it has ever been in the past 25 years. Putin's motives, his reasons for seeking confrontation with the West, remain for many a mystery. Not for Mikhail Gorbachev. In this new work, Russia's elder statesman draws on his wealth of knowledge and experience to reveal the development of Putin's regime and the intentions behind it. He argues that in order to further his own personal power, Putin has corrupted the achievements of perestroika and created a system which offers no future for Russia. Faced with this, Gorbachev advocates a radical reform of politics and new fostering of pluralism and social democracy.

Gorbachev's insightful analysis moves beyond internal politics to address wider problems in the region, including the Ukraine conflict, as well as the global challenges of poverty and climate change. Above all else, he insists that solutions are to be found by returning to the atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation which was so instrumental in ending the Cold War.

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The New Russia by Mikhail Gorbachev Book

The New Russia by Mikhail Gorbachev Book Read Online Chapter One

Trying To Bury Me

On 8 August 2013 the newswires of many agencies and media reported: ‘Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and last Soviet president, has died, according to a message on the Twitter account of RIA Novosti. He was 82 years old. There is as yet no official confirmation of this information.’

The phone rang. It was Andrey Karplyuk. He reports now for the ITAR-TASS news agency but used to work for Interfax, and we have kept in touch for several years now.

‘Mikhail Sergeyevich, I phone you quite often, but this call is not altogether routine.’ I sensed he was smiling. ‘What I mean is, the reason is a bit unusual.’

‘Go on,’ I said.

‘Well, RIA Novosti is reporting that Gorbachev died during a visit to St Petersburg and I didn’t believe it.’

‘Neither do I’, I said, and we burst out laughing.

The ‘news’ was taken off the wire within nine minutes, and the following day I had a letter from the agency staff:

Dear Mikhail Sergeyevich,

We are desperately sorry that hackers have exploited your name in their latest publicity-seeking attempt to discredit the media. Please accept our profound apologies for the shameful sensation caused by the hacking of our agency’s accounts on social networks and the posting of hoax information about you.

We do not regard this as a straightforward practical joke or mere act of hooliganism but believe it is a crime that must be investigated. RIA Novosti is sending a statement to the law-enforcement agencies about this hacking of our Twitter channels and we will do everything in our power to ensure that the incident and all the previous hoax reports are thoroughly investigated.

This is not the first time mainstream media have been abused to spread false information, but the latest incident is just too serious, cynical and immoral to be ignored.

Mikhail Sergeyevich, you know how profoundly we respect you and we are deeply distressed that this attack on Novosti has involved you. No doubt attempts to falsify the news and hoax attempts will continue, but we wish to assure you and all our readers that we will do everything we can to quash them promptly.

My relationship with RIA Novosti goes back a long time, and in spring 2013 I gave a talk in their offices to a large number of young people, with the title, ‘Does the individual change politics, or does politics change the individual?’ I talked about my life, current concerns, and all the obstacles on the road to democracy that Russia has yet to travel. My audience listened attentively and asked plenty of questions. Meeting the young people left me with a good feeling. It always does. A day to remember.

And then this hoax. What was behind it? This was not the first time: Gorbachev has been ‘buried’ many times, and I know why.

Someone out there has a grudge against Perestroika, and lies are their weapon of choice. Libel, inexcusable fabrications and distortion of the facts. That is how it was all those years ago, and the same weapon is still being used today.

There is no shortage of examples. In December 1990, at the Congress of People’s Deputies, Anatoly Lukianov, the speaker of the USSR Supreme Soviet, for some reason almost immediately gave the floor to a certain Sazha Umalatova, who called for a vote of no confidence in President Gorbachev to be put on the agenda. The delegates declined the invitation. In 1991, at the April plenum of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, I was subjected to such venomous ‘psychological warfare’ that I said, ‘I give up! How can anyone be the general secretary of two, three or even five Communist Parties at the same time?’ The Politburo persuaded me to stay on.

Next, under the pretext of a meeting of representatives of Hero Cities of World War II, a whole gaggle of Party bosses of different levels decided to discuss the ‘unresolved problem’ of how to topple Gorbachev. In the summer of 1991, as I was meeting with leaders of the Soviet republics to finalize a draft new Union Treaty, three hardline ministers in charge of security and law-enforcement put a proposal to the USSR Supreme Soviet to reassign powers from the president to the prime minister and security ministries. Never a day passed without the warbling of ‘anti-Perestroika nightingales’ like Alexander Prokhanov.

To this day, insane rumours are spread, hoaxes manufactured for release onto the Internet, and ‘documentaries’ shown on TV which are a pack of lies and malign invention from start to finish.

From the Gorbachev Foundation website:

In late August 2008 an interview appeared in Komsomolskaya Pravda [Young Communist League Pravda] in which Pavel Borodin, who holds high office in the Union State of Russia and Belarus, made blatantly libellous allegations against M. S. Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl, former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

After contacting Helmut Kohl, M. S. Gorbachev has received confirmation from him that Borodin’s allegations were ‘a complete fabrication’. The Gorbachev Foundation contacted its lawyers, who took necessary action, and Komsomolskaya Pravda has published the following:


In Issue No. 127 (24154) of Komsomolskaya Pravda, dated 29 August 2008, and on the Internet at URL, an interview with P. P. Borodin, Secretary of State of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, was published under the title ‘Pavel Borodin: “If South Ossetia and Abkhazia join the Union of Russia and Belarus, I too will down three litres of wine.”’ P. P. Borodin alleged that the former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Helmut Kohl, had told him that ‘for Eastern Europe’ Mikhail Gorbachev asked for $100 million ‘for his own foundation, 100 million for Shevardnadze’s fund, and 100 million for the fund of another comrade’.

This information, as well as the claim that it was communicated to P. P. Borodin by Helmut Kohl, is at variance with the truth. Its intention was to impugn the integrity and reputation of M. S. Gorbachev.

Komsomolskaya Pravda, 28 January 2009

The authorities of the Russian state find me a hindrance. Today’s political elite have set their sights on consolidating their right to govern in perpetuity, giving them material wealth and power without accountability. The media subservient to them defame Perestroika, vilifying those who undertook the huge and perilous task of bringing reform and elections to a country weighed down by problems that had not been addressed for decades.

Freedom of speech can be, and is, used not only by people who seek and want to report the truth, but by others who are ill-intentioned and whose consciences are unclean.

To this day I am stunned by the treachery of people I placed in positions of trust, with whom I was bound by years of joint endeavour. The most striking instance of that was the coup by the ‘State Emergency Committee’ that paved the way for the destruction of the Soviet Union.

By August 1991, after months of severe crises in the USSR, a plan had been devised and agreed by all parties, including the Baltic republics. We had completed work on a new Union Treaty, which was to be signed by the leaders of the republics on 20 August. In the autumn, an extraordinary congress was to move the Communist Party in the direction of reform and social democracy. We anticipated difficulties in the future, but I have no doubt that, but for the coup, the subsequent orgy of destruction could have been avoided.

Democracy is a hard taskmaster, and the free elections to the Congress of People’s Deputies in 1989 produced unexpected results. On the one hand, 84 per cent of those elected were members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), but, on the other, the voters withheld their trust from dozens of Party officials, who found themselves out on their ear. The reactionaries in the Party establishment initiated a campaign of furious resistance to Perestroika. Unable to achieve their goals in an open political fight, my opponents resorted to a coup d’état.

Their putsch failed, but gave the green light to separatists, radicals and extremists, with a string of disastrous consequences. The collapse of the Soviet Union; the rolling back of democracy in almost all the republics; chaos in the economy, exploited by the greediest and most unscrupulous, who succeeded in plunging almost everyone else into poverty; ethnic conflicts and bloodshed in Russia and other republics; and, finally, the shelling of the Supreme Soviet of Russia in October 1993.

People often ask me if I feel all this was my fault. They say that in late 1991, after the Belovezha collusion between Yeltsin and the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine to undermine the USSR and replace it with a ‘Commonwealth of Independent States’, I should have acted more decisively. My answer is that I fought for a Union State until the last, but it would have been unforgivable to allow a slide into civil conflict, and possibly civil war. We can imagine what that could have meant in a country bristling with weapons, not only conventional but also nuclear. That is why, after long deliberation, I took the decision that I still believe today was the only right one in the circumstances: I announced that I would cease to perform the duties of president of the USSR.

To the Citizens of the Soviet Union

A Broadcast by the President of the USSR, M. S. Gorbachev

25 December 1991

Dear fellow countrymen and fellow citizens,

In view of the situation that has developed with the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, I am terminating my work as president of the USSR. I am taking this decision for reasons of principle.

I have strongly supported the autonomy and independence of our peoples and the sovereignty of their republics, but also retention of the Union State and integrity of our country. Events have taken a different course. A policy of dismembering the country and disuniting the state has prevailed, which I cannot accept.

After the Alma-Ata meeting and the decisions taken there, my principles remain unaltered.

I am convinced that a decision of this magnitude should have been based on an expression of the will of the Soviet people. Nevertheless, I will do everything in my power to ensure that the agreements signed there bring about genuine harmony in society and facilitate the finding of a way out of the crisis and continuation of the reform process.

Addressing you now for the last time as president of the USSR, I consider it incumbent upon me to give an assessment of the path we have taken since 1985. This is all the more necessary in view of the many contradictory, superficial and biased judgements that have been heard.

Fate decreed that by the time I found myself in charge of the state it was already clear that something was wrong with our country. In terms of land, oil, gas and other natural resources, we had so much wealth, and no cause to complain as far as intelligence and talent were concerned, and yet our standard of living was far below that of developed countries and we were in the process of falling further behind.

The cause was already clear: society was suffocating in the clutches of a bureaucratic command system. Doomed to serve ideology while bearing the terrible burden of the arms race, it was close to breaking point.

All attempts at piecemeal reform, of which there were many, failed one after the other. The country was heading nowhere. It was impossible to go on like that. Everything was in need of radical change.

That is why I have never regretted that I did not take advantage of the position of general secretary of the CPSU merely to preside for a few years. I would have considered that irresponsible and immoral.

I understood that beginning reform on such a scale and in a society like ours was a difficult, and even dangerous, undertaking, but to this day remain convinced that to institute the democratic reforms that began in spring 1985 was historically the right thing to do.

The process of renewing the USSR and fundamental changes in the international community proved far more complex than could have been foreseen, but what was done should be judged fairly.•Society has gained its freedom and been emancipated politically and spiritually. That has been the greatest achievement, and it is one we do not yet fully appreciate because we have yet to learn how to use our freedom. For all that, what has been achieved is of historic significance.•The totalitarian system that for many years had been preventing our country from prospering and thriving has been eliminated.•We have made a breakthrough on the road to democratic reform. Free elections, freedom of the press, religious freedoms, representative institutions of government and a multi-party system have become a reality. Human rights have been recognized as wholly fundamental.•We are moving towards a mixed economy, with acceptance that all forms of ownership are equally valid. As a result of land reform, the peasantry is beginning to revive, farming has appeared, millions of acres of land are being given to country-dwellers and townspeople. The economic freedom of manufacturers has been recognized in law and we are seeing the growth of private enterprise, corporatization and privatization.

In introducing a market economy, it is important to remember that this is being done for the benefit of our people. At this difficult time, everything must be done to provide a social welfare safety net, particularly for children and the elderly.

We are living in a new world.•The Cold War has been ended. The arms race has been halted and with it the lunatic militarization of the USSR which distorted our economy, national consciousness and morality.

The threat of world war is over.

I want to emphasize once again that during the transitional period I have done everything I could to ensure that nuclear weapons remained securely under control.•We have opened up to the world, repudiated interference in other countries’ affairs and the use of troops outside our own territory, and in return we have been rewarded with trust, solidarity and respect.•We have become one of the main bulwarks for rebuilding contemporary civilization on peaceful, democratic principles.•Our peoples and nations have gained real freedom to choose their own form of government through self-determination. The search for democratic reform of our multinational state brought us to the threshold of concluding a new Union Treaty.

All these changes have called for great concentration of effort and have been pushed through in the face of fierce opposition and increasing resistance by forces clinging to all that is old, obsolete and reactionary, both in the former institutions of the Party and state, the economic bureaucracy, and indeed in our own habits, ideological prejudices and traditions of psychological dependency and levelling down. They have clashed with our intolerance, our low level of political culture and fear of change and that is why so much time has been lost. The old system collapsed before the new system could start functioning and that made the crisis in our society even more acute.

I know how much discontent there is over our current difficulties, how critical people are of the authorities at all levels and of my own record, but let me stress once again that fundamental change in such a vast country and with such a legacy is inevitably going to be difficult, disruptive and painful.

The coup attempt in August this year pushed the overall state of crisis to extremes. The most disastrous aspect of that is the collapse of our state institutions. I am deeply concerned that today our people are being deprived of their status as citizens of a great country. The consequences may be very severe for all of us.

I believe it is vitally important to hold on to the democratic achievements of recent years. We have paid a heavy price for them through our history and tragic experiences as a nation. Under no circumstances, under no pretext, must we allow them to be abandoned, since otherwise all hope of anything better will be lost.

I am telling you all this directly and truthfully, as is my moral duty. Today I want also to express my gratitude to all those citizens who have supported the policy of renewal and participated in implementing democratic reforms.

I am grateful to those servants of the state, politicians and public figures, to the millions of people abroad, who have understood our intentions, supported them, and joined with us in sincere cooperation.

I am standing down from my position with concern but also with hope, with faith in you, your wisdom and steadfastness. We are the heirs of a great civilization and today it depends on each of us individually and all of us together whether it will be reborn to a new, modern and worthy way of life.

My heartfelt thanks go to all those who have stood beside me in these years for what is right and good. No doubt there were errors we could have avoided and much we could have done better, but I have no doubt that sooner or later our joint efforts will bear fruit and our peoples will live in a flourishing and democratic society.

I wish you all the very best.

The Belovezha plot is a history of deceit and, moreover, of selfdeception on the part of those who connived at it, especially on the Russian side. They hoped that the ‘Commonwealth of Independent States’ they had invented would be a Union without Gorbachev, but that was not what happened. The provisions included for appearances’ sake in the Belovezha document about coordinating foreign and defence policy were promptly forgotten. I appealed again and again to the sense of responsibility of our parliamentary deputies to serve those who elect them, to be answerable to them and not subservient to political opportunists. At that time it was they, the Supreme Soviets of Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia, who almost unanimously, including the communists who today lament the disintegration of the USSR, ratified the Belovezha Accord and deceived the people. Why do we overlook that?

The very thing I was doing my utmost to prevent duly happened. The unity of our state was destroyed. In those final days of my presidency, I saw my role as being to try to ensure this did not lead to a further splintering of society, rupturing of economic and human ties, and acceleration of the trend towards disintegration. I used my international contacts to appeal to Western leaders to help Russia, phoning George Bush Senior, François Mitterrand, John Major and Helmut Kohl. I urged them to forget the standard ways of doing things and support the Commonwealth, especially Russia. It was crucial that they assisted our efforts to reform.

I forget when it was that I read an article in Komsomolskaya Pravda giving statistics about the ascent of Everest. The numbers were startling: of 1,500 people who have successfully climbed the mountain, some 200 have died. Most of them perish shortly after making it to the top, on the first section after their successful ascent. Those who reach the summit are not always able to find their way back down.

A new phase was beginning in the life of our country, and in mine too. I had no illusions and knew it was going to be grim. A deluge of lies and libels rained down on me. As the economy’s problems worsened, it was wholly predictable that the politicians now in power would be looking for a scapegoat. Gorbachev was the obvious candidate.

What kept me afloat during those first months after the Kremlin? Why did I not buckle under the strain? I was firmly committed to my principles, I was tough, and in the course of my life I had learned to fight. In addition, I had the support of those close to me, Raisa and the rest of my family. I had the support too of friends and allies from the Perestroika project, and of others who became friends in later years, who helped in my work and new projects for love, not money.

Above all, what kept me going was the certainty that Perestroika had been and remained historically essential and that, having taken on a far from light burden, we were bearing it with the dignity it deserved. For all the mistakes and failures, we had led our country out of a historical impasse, given it a first taste of freedom, liberated our people and given them back the right to think for themselves. And we had ended the Cold War and nuclear arms race.

It was important to me at that time, and still is today, that many of my compatriots recognized that; and so I would like to publish just a few of the letters I received from people I never knew, but to whom I am immensely grateful.

You have a great many supporters

Responses to the resignation broadcast of the president of the USSR, 1991

Thank you for telling us the truth, and for your courage.

Captain Filimonov

on behalf of the White Sea fishermen, Belomorsk

This New Year will be very sad for us. We have always been on your side, admired you, sent telegrams of support and given what help we could. May all the other presidents find work worthy of you. We wish you and your family good health and happiness.

A. P. Valikova

Artist, Moscow

We have learned with regret but understanding of your resignation. The seed of democracy, freedom and Glasnost sown five years ago has already sprouted, and we are confident that, as the years pass, it will mature and yield good fruit. We hope you have a good holiday, recharge your batteries, and continue the work you have begun.

V. S. Goncharov

The Farm, Kantemirovka, Voronezh Province

We are grateful to you for the freedom with which you think, reflect and speak. Everything else will follow.

Staff of the Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences

G. Glukhomanyuk and P. Logvenchev, Vladivostok

Forgive us if you can. I wish you health, spiritual strength and happiness. God Bless you!


Adamovka, Orenburg Province

Dear Mikhail Sergeyevich,

At what must be a difficult time, I want to express my gratitude to you. Please believe that not everybody sees what you have done only in terms of the difficulties that followed. It has been hard but it will pass. ‘Bad times pass, good people remain’, our pastor said in one of his sermons. Your resignation is a courageous and highly moral act. Personally, I am saddened by it, but hope our difficulties can be overcome and that time will put things right again.

You are a true leader. You have a great many supporters.

I wish you new strength, new success in your work, and new accomplishments

Yelena Georgievna Shadurskaya

Minsk, 27 December 1991

Greetings for New Year, 1992

Dear Mikhail Sergeyevich,

My best wishes for a Happy New Year!

You have done so much for our country, for Russia and the world. Thank you for that. You are our first President and were the first to start out on the road to Democracy, but as yet there is no Democracy in our country, no respect for Man, and it is going to be hard for you.

I wish you courage. God grant you and your family good health. I wish you all the best in the New Year.

I am only an ‘ordinary’ person, but if you need help, I will do my best to be useful to you.

N. A. Trifonova


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