At the End: 'For Me, They Have Poisoned the Air'

By David Remnick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 26, 1991

MOSCOW, DEC. 25 -- You may my glories and my state depose,

But not my griefs; still am I king of those. Shakespeare's King Richard II, Act IV

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, whose battle to reform socialism has ended with the collapse of Leninist ideology and the Soviet Union, left the Kremlin tonight an exhausted and bitter man.

In his final days, Gorbachev told aides that he felt "balanced" and "at peace" with his choices, his place in history. But as he sat in the eerie quiet of his office last weekend receiving visitors and watching news reports on television, he learned that the presidents of the former Soviet republics, who had met to form the new Commonwealth of Independent States, had discussed not only an end to the Soviet Union but, with unconcealed relish, the details of his pension. Down the hall, members of President Boris Yeltsin's Russian government were already taking measurements and inventory for their imminent move into the Kremlin.

"For me, they have poisoned the air," Gorbachev confided to one reporter. "They have humiliated me."

Gorbachev has tried hard to conceal his emotions, to cover them over with pride and the language of political euphemism. Yet his sense of rejection and betrayal from all sides seems no less profound for him than it was for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was ousted in 1964, or for Winston Churchill when he was summarily voted out of 10 Downing St. after leading Britain to victory in World War II. Four months ago, Gorbachev's closest aides in the Communist Party, the military and the KGB arrested him and made clear an implicit threat of murder. Once back in Moscow, Yeltsin and other republics' leaders leached him of all authority, making him look hollow and weak.

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© 1991 The Washington Post Company