Gorbachev Applauds Putin's Achievements
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Dec. 4 -- Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Tuesday that President Vladimir Putin "has pulled Russia out of chaos" and is "assured a place in history," despite Western criticisms that he has throttled democracy.
Gorbachev's endorsement of Putin, who won broad support in a parliamentary election Sunday that was criticized by U.S. officials, comes despite Gorbachev's acknowledgment that the news media have been suppressed and that election rules run counter to the democratic ideals he has promoted.
Putin and other Russian leaders are often misunderstood in the West, said Gorbachev, who ruled the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991, overseeing its collapse and the end of the Cold War. He spoke to The Washington Post in an interview Tuesday at Harvard University, where he is attending a conference on nuclear arms.
"Major changes are underway, changes that are moving ahead in Russia. Not everyone understands those complexities," he said in response to a question about U.S. disputes with Moscow over missile defense, Russian troop strengths in Europe and a growing list of other issues.
"Russia needs its Western partners," he said. "But Russia will not be and doesn't want to be a junior partner, a kid brother, that is doing the West's bidding." Dressed casually in an open-collar shirt, Gorbachev was animated in his effort to explain his homeland, speaking rapidly through an interpreter.
Gorbachev has tipped his support for Putin before, though he also has criticized some of Putin's moves to consolidate power. Gorbachev said his respect for the former KGB officer has grown, and his comments Tuesday were unusually laudatory.
In Gorbachev's view, Putin salvaged the country from the ravages of Gorbachev's old rival, Boris Yeltsin, whose rule as president of Russia from 1991 to 1999 set the country careening toward capitalism at the cost of great economic and social turmoil.
"Now Russia is having a resurgence, not for the first time in its history," he said. "We need your understanding that we are halfway in our transition to a free and fully democratic state."
Since leaving office, Gorbachev, 76, has played an enigmatic public role. He gets little public notice in Russia: He ran for the Russian presidency in 1996 and got 0.5 percent of the vote. He lectures abroad, where he is hailed as a courageous man for his role in ending the Cold War.
He started the Gorbachev Foundation and embraced environmental concerns in 1993 by starting Green Cross International, a Geneva-based nonprofit organization that promotes action on global warming.
He lists threats to the environment as one of the three big challenges facing the world, along with security and the growing poverty gap, which he calls a "time bomb." In a speech Tuesday night at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Gorbachev lamented the lack of movement toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons since he and President Ronald Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty 20 years ago.
"In the next decade, thousands of nuclear weapons were destroyed. But most of them were destroyed as a result of previous agreements," Gorbachev said. "There were no new initiatives.
"During the 1990s, we witnessed the regressive movement from trust to mutual misunderstanding and suspicion," he added. The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty "was cast aside" by President Bush. "We see the remilitarization of thinking in nuclear policy. As of today, all nuclear states are basing their policy on the long-term preservation of nuclear weapons."
That is dangerous, he said.
"I believe that the arrogance of one great power that it is capable alone to solve any problems is something that is very costly. We are paying a big price, and I believe Americans, the U.S., is paying a very big price."