Mikhail GorbachevGeneral Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
I don't think that we need any new values. The most important thing is to try to revive the universally known values from which we have retreated.
If the Russian word "perestroika
" has easily entered the international lexicon, this is due to more than just interest in what is going on in the Soviet Union. Now the whole world needs restructuring, i.e.
progressive development, a fundamental change.
We are witnessing most profound social change.
In the name of Communism we abandoned basic human values. So when I came to power in Russia I started to restore those values; values of "openness" and freedom.
All of us are linked to the cosmos. Look at the sun. If there is no sun, then we cannot exist. So nature is my god.
To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.
Certain people in the United States are driving nails into this structure of our relationship, then cutting off the heads. So the Soviets must use their teeth to pull them out.
As quoted in TIME magazine (9 September 1985)
Democracy is the wholesome and pure air without which a socialist public organization cannot live a full-blooded life.
Speech to the 27th Party Congress, Moscow (25 February 1986)
If the Russian word "perestroika" has easily entered the international lexicon, this is due to more than just interest in what is going on in the Soviet Union. Now the whole world needs restructuring, i.e. progressive development, a fundamental change.
Perestroika: New Thinking For Our Country and the World (1987)
Our rockets can find Halley's comet, and fly to Venus with amazing accuracy, but side by side with these scientific and technical triumphs is an obvious lack of efficiency in using scientific achievements for economic needs, and many Soviet household appliances are of poor quality.
The Soviet people want full-blooded and unconditional democracy.
Speech (July 1988)
We are witnessing most profound social change. Whether in the East or the South, the West or the North, hundreds of millions of people, new nations and states, new public movements and ideologies have moved to the forefront of history. Broad-based and frequently turbulent popular movements have given expression, in a multidimensional and contradictory way, to a longing for independence, democracy and social justice. The idea of democratizing the entire world order has become a powerful socio-political force. At the same time, the scientific and technological revolution has turned many economic, food, energy, environmental, information and population problems, which only recently we treated as national or regional ones, into global problems. Thanks to the advances in mass media and means of transportation, the world seems to have become more visible and tangible. International communication has become easier than ever before.
Speech to the UN General Assembly (7 December 1988)
Dangers await only those who do not react to life.
Speech in East Berlin (7 October 1989), in German: Gefahren warten nur auf jene, die nicht auf das Leben reagieren
, but often cited as "Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben"
, hence the English translation: "He who comes too late is punished by life"
. (Frankfurter Allgemeine, 3 October 2004)
The market is not an invention of capitalism. It has existed for centuries. It is an invention of civilization.
I believe, as Lenin said, that this revolutionary chaos may yet crystallize into new forms of life.
As quoted in The Times [London] (18 May 1990)
For a new type of progress throughout the world to become a reality, everyone must change. Tolerance is the alpha and omega of a new world order.
My life’s work has been accomplished. I did all that I could.
The Observer [London] (15 December 1991)
Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.
As quoted in The London Daily Telegraph (16 June 1992)
We have retreated from the perennial values. I don't think that we need any new values. The most important thing is to try to revive the universally known values from which we have retreated.
As a young man, I really took to heart the Communist ideals. A young soul certainly cannot reject things like justice and equality. These were the goals proclaimed by the Communists. But in reality that terrible Communist experiment brought about repression of human dignity. Violence was used in order to impose that model on society. In the name of Communism we abandoned basic human values. So when I came to power in Russia I started to restore those values; values of "openness" and freedom.
"Nature Is My God" - interview with Fred Matser in Resurgence No. 184 (September-October 1997)
I believe in the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. Look at the sun. If there is no sun, then we cannot exist. So nature is my god. To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.
"Nature Is My God" - interview with Fred Matser in Resurgence No. 184 (September-October 1997)
Never before has the idea that peace is indivisible been so true as it is now.
Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences.
In our times, good relations benefit all. Any worsening of relations anywhere is a common loss.
All members of the world community should resolutely discard old stereotypes
and motivations nurtured by the Cold War, and give up the habit of seeking each other's weak spots and exploiting them in their own interests.
Progress towards the civilization of the 21st century will certainly not be simple or easy.
I am an optimist and I believe that together we shall be able now to make the right historical choice so as not to miss the great chance at the turn of centuries and millenia and make the current extremely difficult transition to a peaceful world order.
Has not the political thinking in the world changed substantially? Does not most of the world community already regard weapons of mass destruction as unacceptable for achieving political objectives?
Preparing for my address I found in an old Russian encyclopedia a definition of "peace" as a "commune" — the traditional cell of Russian peasant life. I saw in that definition the people's profound understanding of peace as harmony, concord, mutual help, and cooperation.
This understanding is embodied in the canons of world religions and in the works of philosophers from antiquity to our time.
Today, peace means the ascent from simple coexistence to cooperation and common creativity among countries and nations.
Peace is movement towards globality and universality of civilization. Never before has the idea that peace is indivisible been so true as it is now.
Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences.
And, ideally, peace means the absence of violence. It is an ethical value.
I see the decision to award me the Nobel Peace Prize also as an act of solidarity with the monumental undertaking which has already placed enormous demands on the Soviet people in terms of efforts, costs, hardships, willpower, and character. And solidarity is a universal value which is becoming indispensable for progress and for the survival of humankind.
But a modern state has to be worthy of solidarity, in other words, it should pursue, in both domestic and international affairs, policies that bring together the interests of its people and those of the world community. This task, however obvious, is not a simple one. Life is much richer and more complex than even the most perfect plans to make it better. It ultimately takes vengeance for attempts to impose abstract schemes, even with the best of intentions. Perestroika has made us understand this about our past, and the actual experience of recent years has taught us to reckon with the most general laws of civilization.
I began my book about perestroika and the new thinking with the following words: "We want to be understood". After a while I felt that it was already happening. But now I would like once again to repeat those words here, from this world rostrum. Because to understand us really — to understand so as to believe us — proved to be not at all easy, owing to the immensity of the changes under way in our country. Their magnitude and character are such as to require in-depth analysis. Applying conventional wisdom to perestroika is unproductive. It is also futile and dangerous to set conditions, to say: We'll understand and believe you, as soon as you, the Soviet Union, come completely to resemble "us", the West.
No one is in a position to describe in detail what perestroika will finally produce. But it would certainly be a self-delusion to expect that perestroika will produce "a copy" of anything.
A period of transition to a new quality in all spheres of society's life is accompanied by painful phenomena. When we were initiating perestroika we failed to properly assess and foresee everything. Our society turned out to be hard to move off the ground, not ready for major changes which affect people's vital interests and make them leave behind everything to which they had become accustomed over many years. In the beginning we imprudently generated great expectations, without taking into account the fact that it takes time for people to realize that all have to live and work differently, to stop expecting that new life would be given from above.
During the last six years we have discarded and destroyed much that stood in the way of a renewal and transformation of our society. But when society was given freedom it could not recognize itself, for it had lived too long, as it were, "beyond the looking glass". Contradictions and vices rose to the surface, and even blood has been shed, although we have been able to avoid a bloodbath. The logic of reform has clashed with the logic of rejection, and with the logic of impatience which breeds intolerance.
I have long ago made a final and irrevocable decision. Nothing and no one, no pressure, cither from the right or from the left, will make me abandon the positions of perestroika and new thinking. I do not intend to change my views or convictions. My choice is a final one.
It is my profound conviction that the problems arising in the course of our transformations can be solved solely by constitutional means. That is why I make every effort to keep this process within the confines of democracy and reforms.
Our democracy is being born in pain. A political culture is emerging — one that presupposes debate and pluralism, but also legal order and, if democracy is to work, strong government authority based on one law for all. This process is gaining strength.
Being resolute today means to act within the framework of political and social pluralism and the rule of law to provide conditions for continued reform and prevent a breakdown of the state and economic collapse, prevent the elements of chaos from becoming catastrophic.
All this requires taking certain tactical steps, to search for various ways of addressing both short- and long-term tasks. Such efforts and political and economic steps, agreements based on reasonable compromise, are there for everyone to see.
After a time of rampant separatism and euphoria, when almost every village proclaimed sovereignty, a centripetal force is beginning to gather momentum, based on a more sensible view of existing realities and the risks involved. And this is what counts most now. There is a growing will to achieve consensus, and a growing understanding that we have a State, a country, a common life. This is what must be preserved first of all.
The more I reflect on the current world developments, the more I become convinced that the world needs perestroika no less than the Soviet Union needs it.
To me, it is self-evident that if Soviet perestroika succeeds, there will be a real chance of building a new world order. And if perestroika fails, the prospect of entering a new peaceful period in history will vanish, at least for the foreseeable future.
I believe that the movement that we have launched towards that goal has fairly good prospects of success. After all, mankind has already benefited greatly in recent years, and this has created a certain positive momentum.
The new integrity of the world, in our view, can be built only on the principles of the freedom of choice and balance of interests. Every State, and now also a number of existing or emerging regional interstate groups, have their own interests. They are all equal and deserve respect.
We consider it dangerously outdated when suspicions are aroused by, for instance, improved Soviet-Chinese or Soviet-German, German-French, Soviet- US or US-Indian relations, etc. In our times, good relations benefit all. Any worsening of relations anywhere is a common loss.
Progress towards the civilization of the 21st century will certainly not be simple or easy. One cannot get rid overnight of the heavy legacy of the past or the dangers created in the post-war years. We are experiencing a turning point in international affairs and are only at the beginning of a new, and I hope mostly peaceful, lengthy period in the history of civilization.
With less East-West confrontation, or even none at all, old contradictions resurface, which seemed of secondary importance compared to the threat of nuclear war. The melting ice of the Cold War reveals old conflicts and claims, and entirely new problems accumulate rapidly.
All members of the world community should resolutely discard old stereotypes and motivations nurtured by the Cold War, and give up the habit of seeking each other's weak spots and exploiting them in their own interests.
We have to respect the peculiarities and differences which will always exist, even when human rights and freedoms are observed throughout the world. I keep repeating that with the end of confrontation differences can be made a source of healthy competition, an important factor for progress. This is an incentive to study each other, to engage in exchanges, a prerequisite for the growth of mutual trust.
For knowledge and trust are the foundations of a new world order.
I am an optimist and I believe that together we shall be able now to make the right historical choice so as not to miss the great chance at the turn of centuries and millenia and make the current extremely difficult transition to a peaceful world order. A balance of interests rather than a balance of power, a search for compromise and concord rather than a search for advantages at other people's expense, and respect for equality rather than claims to leadership — such are the elements which can provide the groundwork for world progress and which should be readily acceptable for reasonable people informed by the experience of the twentieth century.
The future prospect of truly peaceful global politics lies in the creation through joint efforts of a single international democratic space in which States shall be guided by the priority of human rights and welfare for their own citizens and the promotion of the same rights and similar welfare elsewhere. This is an imperative of the growing integrity of the modern world and of the interdependence of its components.
Have we not been able to cross the threshold of mistrust, though mistrust has not completely disappeared? Has not the political thinking in the world changed substantially? Does not most of the world community already regard weapons of mass destruction as unacceptable for achieving political objectives?
I view the award of the Nobel Prize to me as an expression of understanding of my intentions, my aspirations, the objectives of the profound transformation we have begun in our country, and the ideas of new thinking. I see it as your acknowledgment of my commitment to peaceful means of implementing the objectives of perestroika.
Resignation Address (1991)
I firmly came out in favor of the independence of nations and sovereignty for the republics. At the same time, I support the preservation of the union state and the integrity of this country. The developments took a different course. The policy prevailed of dismembering this country and disuniting the state, which is something I cannot subscribe to.
Destiny so ruled that when I found myself at the helm of this state it already was clear that something was wrong in this country. We had a lot of everything - land, oil and gas, other natural resources - and there was intellect and talent in abundance. However, we were living much worse than people in the industrialized countries were living and we were increasingly lagging behind them. The reason was obvious even then. This country was suffocating in the shackles of the bureaucratic command system. Doomed to cater to ideology, and suffer and carry the onerous burden of the arms race, it found itself at the breaking point.
All the half-hearted reforms - and there have been a lot of them - fell through, one after another. This country was going nowhere and we couldn't possibly live the way we did. We had to change everything radically. It is for this reason that I have never had any regrets that I did not use the capacity of General Secretary just to reign in this country for several years. I would have considered it an irresponsible and immoral decision.
We're now living in a new world. And end has been put to the cold war and to the arms race, as well as to the mad militarization of the country, which has crippled our economy, public attitudes and morals. The threat of nuclear war has been removed.
I consider it vitally important to preserve the democratic achievements which have been attained in the last few years. We have paid with all our history and tragic experience for these democratic achievements, and they are not to be abandoned, whatever the circumstances, and whatever the pretexts. Otherwise, all our hopes for the best will be buried.
The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station was graphic evidence, not only of how obsolete our technology was, but also of the failure of the old system. At the same time, and such is the irony of history, it severely affected our reforms by literally knocking the country off its tracks.
I absolutely reject the accusation that the Soviet leadership intentionally held back the truth about Chernobyl. We simply did not know the whole truth yet.
The reform of our enormous state indeed demanded decentralization and redistribution of powers between the centre and the regions. But the local elites tried to paint this need in the exaggerated colours of 'national survival'. It worked!
The Baltic republics, because of their history and other characteristics, could enjoy special status in the Union. However, the 'sovereignization' of Russia scuttled the search for a new formula for relations with the Baltic republics in a reformed Union. It caused a chain reaction, during which analogous enactments were passed by all of the Union republics and later autonomous republics. A 'parade of sovereignties' had begun. The only means of preventing the collapse of the Union was the preparation without delay of a new Union Treaty.
The Supreme Soviets of the Republics rejected the Treaty on the Union of Sovereign States
, drafted by the USSR State Council under the guidance of the country's President, and swallowed the poisoned fruit of the Belovezh scheme
instead. The intelligentsia remained silent. The media were thrown into disarray. My appeals to the deputies of the Supreme Soviet and to the people, my warning that the disintegration of the Soviet Union was fraught with dire consequences, went unheeded - society was bewildered and unable to appraise the crisis. Destructive forces in the country exploited the confusion, usurping the people's right to decide their own future. It was what I had feared most of all.
Frequently I have heard criticism and even accusations directed against me for my policy towards the countries of Eastern Europe. Some say that Gorbachev did not defend socialism in those countries, that he more or less 'betrayed his friends'. Others, on the contrary, accuse me for having been too patient with Ceaușescu
, who had brought their states to the brink of catastrophe. I firmly reject these accusations. They derive from outdated notions about the nature of relations between our countries. We had no right to interfere in the affairs of our 'satellites', to defend and preserve some and punish and 'excommunicate' others without reckoning with the people's will.
I find it difficult to say whether the leadership's 'second echelon' could have preserved the German Democratic Republic. Helmut Kohl
later told me he had never believed that Egon Krenz
was capable of getting the situation under control. I do not know - we are all wiser after the event, as the saying goes. For my part, I must admit I briefly had a faint hope that the new leaders would be able to change the course of events by establishing a new type of relations between the two
German states - based on radical domestic reforms in East Germany.
A German-Russian partnership is a key element in any serious pan-European integration process. It is my ardent wish that Russia and Germany may manage to preserve all the positive achievements of the late 1980s and early 1990s in today's difficult times.
Political blindness and a narrow-minded vision, fanned by mercenary self-interest, had provoked the actions of the [August Coup]
conspirators. The separatists and extreme radicals now possessed the most devastating argument in favour of the break-up of the Union. The leaders of the coup had dislodged the stone that started a landslide.
As I look back to the events of December 1991
, each time I come to the conclusion that I had no right to act differently. To act counter to the decisions made by eleven republics, whose Supreme Soviets approved the Minsk agreement, would have meant to unleash a bloody slaughter, which might have developed into a global catastrophe.
Perestroika did not give the people prosperity, something they expected of me, as head of state, based on an ingrained, traditional feeling of dependence. But I did not promise that. I urged people to use this new-found freedom to create prosperity, personal and social prosperity, with their own hands and minds, according to the abilities of each.
As long as... nuclear weapons [exist], the danger is colossal. All nations should declare... that nuclear weapons must be destroyed...to save ourselves and our planet
On My Country and the World (1999)
In the end, the “model” that came into existence in the USSR was not socialist but totalitarian. This is a serious matter to be reflected on by all who seriously aspire to progress for the benefit of the human race.
To demonize all Soviet "leaders" at all levels, to portray them as unqualified villains and evildoers, unprincipled self-seeking scoundrels who were indifferent to the interests and needs of the people — that is a shallow and frivolous approach. Of course there were villains, quite a few of them. But most of those who came to power had the intention of serving the "toiling masses" from which they themselves had come. That the system rendered their aspirations useless, reduced their efforts to nothing, and ultimately snuffed out their finer impulses — that is a separate question.
The aims and ideals of the Soviet revolution inspired the patriotic enthusiasm of millions of people in the 1930s, during World War II, and in the postwar reconstruction period. This explains the Soviet Union's great leap forward, the achievement of a high level of industrial capacity in a very short time, the transformation of the Soviet Union into a major power in terms of science and culture. The historic victory in the Great Patriotic War against Nazism, which was a surprise not only for Hitler but also for the Western democracies is also explained by what we have said above. All this is true. But the historical truth is also that the regime and the system abused the faith of the people in these high ideals, turning them to its own advantage. Rule by the people, equality, justice, and the promise of a happy future — all these ideas were utilized for the sake of maintaining and strengthening totalitarianism.
The reforms of the perestroika era were aimed at a qualitative renewal of society and at overcoming the totalitarian structure blocking the road to democracy. Fundamental reforms were begun under very complex conditions, but they were cut short by the August coup attempt and the Belovezh agreement that dissolved the Soviet Union.
The dissolution of the Union radically changed the situation in Europe and the world, disrupted the geopolitical balance, and undermined the possibility of carrying further many positive processes that were under way in world politics by the end of 1991. I am convinced that the world today would be living more peacefully if the Soviet Union - of course in a renewed and reformed version - had continued to exist.
Preservation, renewal, and reform of the Union was my main political and, if you will, moral task in my position as president of the USSR. I consider it my greatest sorrow and misfortune that I did not succeed in preserving the country as a single whole. All my efforts were focused on trying to preserve that unity. Incidentally, more and more statements are heard today, including some by participants in the Belovezh accord, that the "soft form of Union Gorbachev proposed" might have protected our nations and nationalities from painful experiences. But, as the saying goes, the train has already left the station.
I began to feel the desire for something more; I wanted to do something to make things better.
If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven't done much today.
101 Best Ways to Get Ahead: Solid Gold Advice from 101 of the World's Most Successful People (2004) by Michael E. Angier and Sarah Pond, p. 30
, the Soviet Union broke apart, the country was totally mismanaged, the constitution was not respected by the regions of Russia. The army, education and health systems collapsed. People in the West quietly applauded, dancing with and around Yeltsin. I conclude therefore that we should not pay too much attention to what the West is saying.
The Soviet Union could have been preserved and should have been preserved. ... I wanted to decentralize the Soviet Union and give the maximum amount of rights to the republics as guaranteed under the constitution, while preserving in the center the most important functions such as defense, diplomacy, coordination.
Initially, we were under illusions that we could make the system work. But as early as the fall of 1986, all of us had to start shedding those illusions. We had talked of perestroika (restructuring) but nothing was changing. ... But change was not easy. Even new politicians resisted change because they were used to central planning. By 1988 we decided we needed political reform: free elections, the separation of powers, a multiparty system, recognition of market economics as a necessary tool to modernize our society and to create incentives within the economic system.
The Chernobyl disaster
, more than anything else, opened the possibility of much greater freedom of expression, to the point that the system as we knew it could no longer continue. It made absolutely clear how important it was to continue the policy of glasnost
, and I must say that I started to think about time in terms of pre-Chernobyl and post-Chernobyl.
Americans have a severe disease — worse than AIDS. It's called the winner's complex.
ABC News (12 July 2006)
I express the very deepest condolences to the family of the deceased on whose shoulders rest major events for the good of the country and serious mistakes.
We had 10 years after the Cold War to build a new world order and yet we squandered them. The United States cannot tolerate anyone acting independently. Every US president has to have a war.
We desperately need to recognise that we are the guests, not the masters, of nature and adopt a new paradigm for development, based on the costs and benefits to all people, and bound by the limits of nature herself rather than the limits of technology and consumerism.
As quoted in Planet Savers : 301 Extraordinary Environmentalists (2008) by Kevin Desmond, p. 248
I was probably too liberal and democratic as regards Yeltsin. I should have sent him as ambassador to Great Britain or maybe a former British colony.
As long as weapons of mass destruction exist, primarily nuclear weapons, the danger is colossal. All nations should declare... that nuclear weapons must be destroyed. This is to save ourselves and our planet.
My ambition was to liquidate communism, the dictatorship over all the people. Supporting me and urging me on in this mission was my wife, who was of this opinion long before I was. I knew that I could only do this if I was the leading functionary. In this my wife urged me to climb to the top post. While I actually became acquainted with the West, my mind was made up forever. I decided that I must destroy the whole apparatus of the CPSU and the USSR. Also, I must do this in all of the other socialist countries. My ideal is the path of social democracy. Only this system shall benefit all the people. This quest I decided I must fulfil.
Quotes about Gorbachev
We came to the conclusion that we could no longer continue to live the way we were. We needed major changes in every department of life.
- And now, the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control. Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without actually changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
- Although Mikhail Gorbachev is a man of quite outstanding talent and ability, he insisted recently that the story of his own family is actually history itself or in other words the history of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev is in fact a child of the revolution and the world war, of Lenin's, Stalin's, Khrushchev's and Breshnev's Soviet Union. And like most people in this world he is a product of the society in which he grew up. Today, this Soviet society is a historical experiment which is being shaken to its foundations, and this is so not least because Mikhail Gorbachev was also capable of breaking the mould of the society from which he sprang. Or as he personally expressed it in the televised interview, in which he spoke of the perestroika which he symbolises: "We came to the conclusion that we could no longer continue to live the way we were. We needed major changes in every department of life."
Increased openness, was perhaps the most profound change inaugurated by Mr. Gorbachev. The buried secrets of past regimes and the foibles of the present one were exposed to public scrutiny by a press given freedom to reverse decades of organized disinformation and report honestly about Soviet history and life. By permitting increased openness in the press and in cultural endeavors, he also freed the minds of the Soviet people, who began to voice their long-suppressed thoughts.
He clearly did not foresee (nor did any of us) how quickly and dangerously things would fall apart in Russia once the strong disciplinary hand of the Party was relaxed. What he did in destroying the old system was a great historic service to Russia and the world. And nobody else could have done it. But he is not a good politician in the democratic sense. He has no adequate inter-action with the people at large. Yeltsin, not an intellectual but quite intelligent, is far ahead of him in these respects.
George F. Kennan
, The Kennan Diaries
(edited by Frank Costigliola, published in 2014), En route to London, October 8, 1990
The U.S.S.R. is at a crossroads. If pressing economic and social problems are not alleviated in the near future, further erosion in its economic system is inevitable, thus endangering, in the long term, its very survival. . . . Gorbachev has definitely initiated a new style . . . But whether his stewardship will open a new era for the U.S.S.R. remains to be seen. . . . He faces problems that are almost insurmountable.
By the time Reagan entered the White House, the Soviet economy had sunk into such a state of stagnation that it was obvious that communism had failed and a radically new approach was required. No one realized this more than Mikhail Gorbachev. Even though there never was much likelihood that SDI would render Soviet missiles ineffective, he nevertheless was obliged to take seriously America's technological potential and the strategic impact of even an imperfect defense. He also realized that the Soviet Union had insufficient economic strength to compete with the United States in another technological arms race. Nor could the Soviet Union continue to expend its resources competing with the United States in the Third World. Pressed by his country's economic weakness and alarmed by the increasing risks of a nuclear war, Gorbachev was more than willing to attempt to end the Cold War. Its resolution would enable him to reduce his country's expensive military establishment as well as obtain badly needed economic assistance from the West. Accordingly, Gorbachev changed the ideological content and declared goals of Soviet foreign policy and moved away from the concept of international class war toward a vision of peace and cooperation with the West.
Ronald Powaski, The Cold War: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1917-1991 (1998), p. 260-261
Mr. President, you did a great thing. You gave up your post as general secretary of the Soviet Union, but now you have become the president of peace. Because of your wisdom and courage, we now have the possibility to bring world peace. You did the most important, eternal, and beautiful thing for the world. You are the hero of peace who did God's work. The name that will be remembered forever in the history of Russia will not be "Marx
," or "Lenin," or "Stalin." it will be "Mikhail Gorbachev."
President Gorbachev’s achievements were truly great and historic. Not only did he dissolve the Soviet Union more or less peacefully, but he also prevented a major civil war that could have escalated into a nuclear conﬂict. I sincerely hope that historians in the future will honor the major achievements and statesmanship of President Gorbachev and of the other leading Soviet politicians of that time.
After his arrival in Moscow from Stavropol in 1978, Mikhail Gorbachev quickly became one of the Politburo's most active members and caught the eye of Andropov as a fellow reformer and likely successor. In nominating him to succeed the Brezhnev loyalist Chernenko, Gromyko praised the new leader's "unquenchable energy" and commitment to "put the interests of the Party, society, and people before his own." Young, well-educated, articulate, and backed by the party and military chiefs, Gorbachev accepted a mandate in March 1985 to reform and strengthen the Soviet Union and to "realize our shining future." Nevertheless, during his first two years Gorbachev's domestic policies were erratic and largely ineffective. Without challenging the centerpiece of the Soviet regime- the planned economy- or its outsized military budget, the new general secretary and his political allies launched the politically damaging anticorruption and antialcoholism campaigns and also made futile attempts to boost industrial production and labor discipline. On February 25, 1986, thirty years after Krushchev had exposed Stalin's misdeeds, Gorbachev promoted his perestroika (reconstruction) policy before the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress. Unlike the mix of reforms occurring concurrently in China, which allowed decentralization and focused on agriculture and light industry as the motors of modernization, Gorbachev's was a top-down centralized program emphasizing heavy industry and maintaining many of the macroeconomic aspects of the Stalinist command system. It failed to alleviate the bottlenecks and shortages of the Soviet economy.
Carole C. Fink, Cold War: An International History (2017), p. 225
Gorbachev's political views were more audacious. Unlike Deng Xiaoping, who, after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, was obsessed with stability and ruled out democratic reforms, Gorbachev linked perestroika with a policy of glasnost (openness). Taking aim at the USSR's encrusted ruling party and bureaucracy, Gorbachev adopted a stillborn project of Andropov's to reduce their power by introducing new- even Western- ideas into the Soviet environment and engaging the Soviet population in modernizing the country. He went so far as to authorize the opening of the records of Soviet history, including its darkest moments, which ignited an explosion of criticism reaching back to Lenin's rule. To be sure, Gorbachev's purpose was to preserve the communist system by revitalizing it from above, but by combining perestroika with glasnost the Soviet leader risked unleashing forces he was ultimately unable to control. Gorbachev was even more daring in his foreign policy because he believed that the relaxation of international tensions was indispensable to his political reforms at home. Convinced that the Soviet Union's greatest threat was nuclear war but that its huge military budget was unsupportable, he intended to achieve security by scaling down the global rivalry between Moscow and Washington and reviving détente. After assembling a group of like-minded liberal internationalists, among them the new foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, and his foreign policy adviser, Anatoly Chernyaev, Gorbachev boldly embarked on a step-by-step program of reducing the USSR's isolation and reaching out to the other side, which included Western Europe, Japan, and China as well as the United States.
Carole C. Fink, Cold War: An International History (2017), p. 225-226
Gorbachev faced a wary Western audience, which he had hoped to woo with vows to end the arms race. Before taking office, during his December 1984 visit to Britain, he had referred to Europe as "a common home... and not a theater of military operations" and had convinced Thatcher that he was a man with whom the West could "do business." But the Reagan administration, facing unexpectedly strong congressional opposition to its military budget, was unreceptive to the new leader's message and intensified its charges of the Soviets' untrustworthiness and deplorable human rights record. Nonetheless, in a private message Reagan expressed interest in a summit meeting and assured Gorbachev of his hope to resume the search for "mutual understanding and peaceful development." The US and Soviet leaders met in Geneva in November 1985. At this first Superpower summit in six years, no treaty was signed, but the two-day meeting gave Reagan and Gorbachev an opportunity to evaluate each other and air their differences. Although they jointly declared that "a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought" and agreed to accelerate work on nuclear arms control, Reagan defended SDI and Gorbachev refused to expand the agenda to include Afghanistan and human rights.
Carole C. Fink, Cold War: An International History (2017), p. 226
Refusing to abandon his peace offensive, Gorbachev produced more surprises. Intent on rehabilitating the Soviet Union's reputation in world public opinion, he initiated major breakthroughs in human rights, beginning with the February 1986 freeing of the famed Jewish political prisoner Natan Sharansky. On December 19, 1986, Gorbachev personally phoned the dissident Andrei Sakharov to inform him of his release from his Gorki exile. One month later the Soviets ceased jamming the BBC, the Voice of America, and West Germany's Deutsche Welle broadcasts and lifted the censorship of banned books, such as Boris Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago
. The KGB reduced the number of arrests for political crimes, and the government released almost all political dissidents and allowed greater religious freedom and freedom of expression. In 1987 the number of Jews granted exit visas rose to almost eight thousand from fewer than one thousand the year before. Still, Reagan was skeptical over the Soviet leader and hammered away at the "evil empire." During his June 1987 visit to celebrate Berlin's 750th anniversary, the president, standing in front of the Brandeburg Gate, urged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" that surrounded West Berlin. Both leaders continued to express support for arms control, but it was Gorbachev, by suspending his objections to SDI and removing strategic-weapon reductions from the negotiations, who made a breakthrough treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) possible. In 1981 Reagan had overridden NATO
's Double-Track Decision by proposing the "zero option" (removing all
missiles from Europe) which Moscow, predictably, had refused. The talks, suspended by Andropov in 1983, now resumed.
Carole C. Fink, Cold War: An International History (2017), p. 228
Gorbachev's most impressive moment was still to come. On December 7, 1988, in his address to the UN general assembly, he declared the end of the Cold War, renouncing not only the 1945 Yalta settlement but also the ideological struggle between the Soviet Union and the West since November 1917. According to the Soviet leader, the Bolshevik revolution had entered the realm of history, and class conflict would no longer dominate global politics. "We are entering an era in which progress will be based on the common interests of the whole of mankind... The common values of humanity must be the determining priority in international politics, [requiring] the freeing of international relations from ideology." Gorbachev also repudiated the Brezhnev doctrine: "Force or the threat of force neither can nor should be the instruments of foreign policy... To deny a nation freedom of choice, regardless of the pretext or the verbal guise in which it is cloaked, is to upset the unstable balance that has been achieved... Freedom of choice is a universal principal, which knows no exception." Gorbachev's third point was to pronounce a new reality in the arms race: given the unlikelihood of a Superpower conflict, the principle of stockpiling arms was to be replaced with one of "reasonable sufficiency." To make this clear, he announced a unilateral cut of five hundred thousand men from the Soviet army and a withdrawal of fifty thousand soldiers and five thousand tanks from the Soviet forces in Eastern Europe, and he proposed negotiations on even greater reductions. One day later, during his private New York meeting with the outgoing Reagan and the new US president George H.W. Bush, Gorbachev pressed for rapid progress in arms control leading to the complete abolition of nuclear weapons.
Carole C. Fink, Cold War: An International History (2017), p. 230-231
Thus within three years the former Andropov protege had totally transformed Soviet foreign policy, replacing its messianic Marxist creed with a radical internationalism. Among the strongest reactions was the New York Times, whose December 8 editorial stated: "Perhaps not since Woodrow Wilson presented his Fourteen Points in 1918 or since Franklin Roosevelt has a world figure demonstrated the vision Mikhail Gorbachev displayed yesterday at the United Nations." A number of scholars believe that the Cold War ended in December 1988 with neither a winner nor a loser. According to this view, one of the Superpowers simply called off the ideological rivalry that had begun in 1917, withdrew from the post-1945 arms race, and relinquished control over regimes dependent on Soviet force and economic subsidies for their survival. Although not everyone agrees, it is certainly reasonable to assert that without Gorbachev's bold international agenda the world may well have remained divided into two armed camps, and the events that followed would have had entirely different outcomes.
Carole C. Fink, Cold War: An International History (2017), p. 231
The story goes back more than three decades to the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual re-unification of Germany. At the time, the Soviet Union had some 380,000 troops in what was then the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. Those forces were there as part of the treaty ending World War II, and the Soviets were concerned that removing them could end up threatening the USSR’s borders. The Russians have been invaded — at terrible cost — three times in a little more than a century. So in the early 1990s, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev cut a deal. The Soviets agreed to withdraw troops from Eastern Europe as long as NATO didn’t fill the vacuum, or recruit members of the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact. Baker promised Gorbachev that NATO would not move “one inch east.” The agreement... was followed in practice. NATO stayed west of the Oder and Neisse rivers separating Germany and Poland, and Soviet troops returned to Russia... But President Bill Clinton blew that all up in 1999, when the U.S. and NATO intervened in the civil war between Serbs and Albanians over the Serbian province of Kosovo.
Behind the new American doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” NATO opened a massive 11-week bombing campaign against Serbia... From Moscow’s point of view, the war was unnecessary. The Serbs were willing to withdraw their troops and restore Kosovo’s autonomous status. But NATO demanded a large occupation force that would be immune from Serbian law, something the nationalist-minded Serbs would never agree to. It was virtually the same provocative language the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had presented to the Serbs in 1914, language that set off World War I... But NATO didn’t stop there...
The crucial question...what is NATO
for? ...From the beginning.. we had drilled into our heads that the purpose of NATO was to defend us from the Russian hordes... OK, 1991, no more Russian hordes. There were negotiations, between George Bush, the first; James Baker, secretary of state; Mikhail Gorbachev; Genscher and Kohl, the Germans, on how to deal... after the fall of the Berlin Wall
and the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev... agreed to allow Germany, now unified, to join NATO... There was a quid pro quo, namely that... NATO means basically U.S. forces—not expand to East Berlin, to East Germany... the phrase that was used was “not one inch to the east.”
NATO immediately moved to East Germany. Under Clinton, other countries, former Russian satellites, were introduced into NATO. Finally, NATO went so far, as I mentioned before... to suggest that even Ukraine, right at the heartland of Russian strategic concerns...join NATO. So, what’s NATO doing altogether? Well, actually, its mission was changed. The official mission of NATO was changed to become to be—to control and safeguard the global energy system, sea lanes, pipelines and so on. And, of course, on the side, it’s acting as a intervention force for the United States. Is that a legitimate reason for us to maintain NATO, to be an instrument for U.S. global domination? I think that’s a rather serious question. That’s not the question that’s asked.
The promises given to President Mikhail Gorbachev by President George H. W. Bush, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President Francois Mitterand, Chancellor Helmuth Kohl and their foreign ministers in 1990—not to expand NATO eastward; not to extend membership in the NATO alliance to former member states of the Warsaw Pact—were ignored...
In the 1990s, the Russian threat was nonexistent and there was no reason to suppose it would return. In addition, President Clinton
and the Senators who were nominally in charge of overseeing the conduct of U.S. Foreign and Security Policy were mesmerized by the prospects of being on the right side of history and campaign donations. Given the voracious appetite for cash in Congress the defense industriess
were clearly interested in NATO expansion and found ways to advocate for it. Weapons sales to East European nations invited to join NATO promised huge profits. Bruce Jackson, a Lockheed
vice president from 1993–2002, rushed to set up the Committee to Expand NATO and reportedly used contributions from defense companies to lobby Congress for NATO expansion.
- The wall had come down...Germany was reunifying. The question became ‘where would a united Germany be?’ The West wanted Germany in NATO. For Gorbachev, this was an impossible sell. Twenty-seven point five million Soviet citizens had died in the war against Germany in the Second World War on the eastern front. Contrary to the bunk we’re told, the United States didn’t land on Normandy and defeat Nazi Germany. The defeat of Nazi Germany was done primarily by the Soviet army.
- How could Gorbachev go home and say, ‘Germany is reunited. Great. And it’s going to be in NATO.’ It was impossible. They told Gorbachev, ‘We promise if you agree to a reunited Germany in NATO, NATO will not move—this was Secretary of State James Baker—one inch to the east. In other words, NATO would not move from Germany toward Russia. And it did... As we speak today, NATO is on Russia’s borders,' Every Western leader promised Gorbachev NATO would not move eastward.”
The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that current tension between Russia and the West is putting the world in "colossal danger" due to the threat from nuclear weapons. In an interview with the BBC's Steve Rosenberg, former President Gorbachev called for all countries to declare that nuclear weapons should be destroyed.
Last edited on 2 May 2021, at 01:58
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