Photo: Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-2022) Source: Meer - Photo: 2022

On Gorbachev, The World’s Last Great Statesman

Viewpoint by Roberto Savio*

This article was issued by Meer and is being re-published with the author’s permission.

ROME (IDN) — With the death of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last great statesman, an entire epoch has ended.

I had the privilege of working with him as deputy director of the World Political Forum, which ‘Gorbi’ had founded in Turin in 2003, with a headquarters agreement with the Piedmont Region.

The Forum brought together personalities from all over the world to discuss what was happening. The most significant international protagonists would frankly discuss their roles and mistakes, from Helmut Kohl to Francois Mitterrand and Wojciech Jaruzelski to Oscar Arias.

< Roberto Savio, July 2016

I will never forget a WPF in 2007, in which Gorbachev reminded those present that he had agreed in a meeting with Kohl to withdraw support for the East German regime in return for an assurance that NATO borders would not be moved beyond reunified Germany. And Kohl replied, pointing to Giulio Andreotti, who was present, that some were not so enthusiastic about a return to creating Europe’s greatest power, a position shared by Thatcher.

Andreotti had said: “I love Germany so much that I prefer to have two”. And the American delegation acknowledged this commitment but complained that the US Secretary of State James Baker had been overwhelmed by the hawks, who wanted to continue to enlarge NATO and squeeze Russia into a straitjacket.

Gorbi’s comment was lapidary: “Instead of cooperating with a Russia that wanted to continue on a northern-style socialist path, you hastened to bring it down and had Boris Yeltsin first, who was conditionally yours”.

But Boris Yeltsin was followed by Vladimir Putin, who began seeing things differently.

Gorbachev cooperated with Ronald Reagan to eliminate the Cold War. It is amusing to see American historiography attributing the historic victory over communism and the end of the Cold War to Reagan. But without Gorbachev, the powerful but dull Soviet bureaucracy would have continued to resist and undoubtedly lost power. Though the Berlin Wall would not have fallen, the wave of freedom in socialist Europe would unquestionably have come after Reagan’s term.

Even more than Reagan, how much Gorbachev was intent on advancing on the path of peace and disarmament became apparent after the 1986 meeting in Reykjavík. Gorbachev proposed to Reagan the total elimination of atomic weaponry, and Reagan said that, because of the time difference, he would consult Washington later.

When the two met the following day, Reagan told him that the US proposed the elimination of 40 per cent of the nuclear warheads. And Gorbachev replied: “If you can do no more, let’s start like this. But I remind you that we can now destroy the planet and humanity hundreds of times over”. Time would prove that disarming nuclear Russia was undoubtedly in the American interest if Defence Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, who went so far as to threaten resignation, had been able to look far ahead.

Yeltsin did everything he could to humiliate Gorbachev, to replace him. He stripped him of every pension, every perk: bodyguard, state car, and made him vacate the Kremlin in hours. But in the view of Putin, Gorbachev became practically an enemy of the people.

The propaganda against him was crude but effective. Gorbachev had presided over the end of the Soviet Union’s great tragedy and had believed the West. Now the USSR was encircled by NATO, and Putin saw himself obliged, in the name of history, to recover at least part of the great power that Gorbachev had squandered.

Those who had stood by Gorbachev since Yeltsin’s arrival saw how the elder statesman, who had changed the course of history, suffered deeply to witness what was happening. Of course, the press preferred to ignore the deep corruption of the Yeltsin era, which cost the Russian people terrible sacrifices.

Under Yeltsin, a team of American economists issued decrees privatising the entire Russian economy, with an immediate collapse in the value of the rouble and social services. The average life expectancy fell back ten years in one fell swoop. I had a great impression to discover that my breakfast in the morning in the hotel cost as much as an average monthly pension. It was deeply saddening to see so many old ladies dressed in black selling their few poor belongings on the street.

At the same time, a few party officials, friends of Yeltsin, were buying up at bargain prices the large state enterprises put up for sale.

But how did they do it in a society which did not have rich people? Giulietta Chiesa documented this in an investigation in Turin’s ‘La Stampa’.

Under American pressure, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted an emergency loan of five billion dollars (in 1990) to stabilise the dollar. These dollars never reached the Russian Central Bank, nor did the IMF raise any questions. The future oligarchs shared these and suddenly discovered that they had become millionaires.

When Yeltsin had to leave power, he sought a successor who would guarantee him and his cronies impunity.

One of his advisers introduced him to Putin, saying he could tame the uprising in Chechnya. And Putin agreed on one condition: that the oligarchs would never get involved in politics. One of them, Khodorkovsky, did not respect the pact and opened a front in opposition to Yeltsin. We know his fate: stripped of all property and imprisoned, which was the only appearance of an oligarch in politics.

Gorbachev is the last statesman. With the arrival of the Lega Nord in Turin, the agreement to host the World Political Forum was, to his amazement, cancelled. The Forum moved to Luxembourg, and then the Italians in Rome Foundation took over some of its activities (very presciently) on environmental issues.

Gorbachev’s right-hand man, Andrei Grachev, Gorbi’s spokesman in the PCUS (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and the transition to democracy, a brilliant analyst, moved to Paris, where he is the point of reference for debates on Russia. Gorbi, suffering from diabetes, experienced the war in Ukraine as a personal drama: his mother was Ukrainian. He retreated to a hospital under close supervision, where he finally died. The era of statesmen is over, also the era of debates by great protagonists of history.

After Gorbachev, politicians lost the dimension of statesmen. They have gradually fallen back to the demands of electoral success, to short-time politics, to the shelving of debates of ideas, and instead, turn not to reason but to the voters’ instincts. Instincts to be aroused and conquered, even by a relentless fake news campaign.

This is a school of thinking Trump has managed to export to the world, from the constitutional vote in Chile on September 4, to Jair Bolsonaro, to Bongbong Marcos, to Putin and, consequently, to Volodymyr Zelensky.

And I find myself penning down my bitterness, my disappointment. Not only over the death of one of my mentors (as Aldo Moro was) but over an era that now seems to have definitively come to an end: that of Politics with a capital P, capable of shaking up the world it encountered, with significant risks and with the great goals of Peace and International Cooperation.

And to continue writing: Uncomfortable truths that few are aware of will be immediately buried by hostile interventions and ridicule. Andrei was right when he told me a short while ago on the phone: “Roberto, my mistake and yours is to have survived our era. Let us also be careful because we will end up becoming a nuisance…” [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 September 2022]

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*Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, social and climate justice activist and advocate of anti-neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development. Adviser to INPS-IDN. He co-founded Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and is meanwhile its President Emeritus.

Photo: Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-2022) Source: Meer

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