Saturday 2nd of December 2023

never meet your hero?…...

Actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined legions of world leaders in paying tribute to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was reported dead on Tuesday at age 91.

“There’s an old saying, ‘Never meet your heroes,’” the Terminator star wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of himself with Gorbachev. “I think that’s some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard.”





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Mikhail Gorbachev passed away Tuesday at the age of 91. Praised by some as a global visionary for his effort to end the Cold War and increase international cooperation on issues like climate change, the Soviet leader has taken criticism from others for the failure of his economic and political reforms, and for selling his country out to the West.

A flood of tributes has poured in from leaders from across the world for Mikhail Gorbachev, with his passing momentarily uniting disparate and even antagonistic nations and geopolitical blocs in an outpouring of sympathy for a man best remembered for his efforts to reduce East-West tensions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his “deep condolences” to Gorbachev’s family, and called the ex- Soviet leader a “politician and statesman who had a huge impact on the course of world history.” US President Joe Biden characterized Gorbachev as “a man of remarkable vision” who had the “courage to admit that things needed to change.” European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen described him as a leader who “opened the way to a free Europe,” while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Gorbachev “did more than any other individual” to end the Cold War.

Gorbachev came to power in March of 1985 after the back-to-back-to-back deaths of three elderly Soviet general secretaries in less than three years, becoming the leader of the world’s second military, economic, and technological superpower. Less than seven years later, in December 1991, the country which Russian czars and successive Soviet leaders forged over three centuries ceased to exist, disintegrating into 15 republics and plunging a sixth of the world’s land mass into an unprecedented social and economic crisis.

“Gorbachev’s role is highly controversial,” Dmitry Suslov, deputy director of the center for European and international studies at Russia’s Higher School of Economics, said in an interview.


“This is a great historical figure and, like any historical figure, had both achievements and miscalculations. Firstly, of course, Gorbachev is remembered both in Russia and abroad for his intentions, his good intentions. He was one of the greatest, and perhaps the greatest, idealist politician of the 20th century,” the academic, who also serves as deputy director of research at the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, explained.


Greatest Achievement

Suslov suggested that Gorbachev genuinely wanted the USSR to prosper, to “renew and strengthen” the country, and “to achieve world peace, not only to end the confrontation between the two superpowers, but to qualitatively eliminate in principle threats to international security, to overcome Europe’s divisions, create a common European home and get rid of nuclear weapons.”

There are few leaders in global history who could rival Gorbachev in such “grandiose idealism,” the academic said.

As far as concrete “achievements” are concerned, Suslov pointed to Gorbachev’s central role in securing a peaceful end to the Cold War, and reducing global stocks of nuclear weapons. It was Gorbachev, he recalled, who initiated talks on the elimination of ground-based nuclear missiles in the 500-5,500 km range via the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. That treaty lasted 31 years before the US unilaterally scrapped the agreement in 2019.

Gorbachev is also the initiator of the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the USSR (and then Russia) and the US, which dramatically reduced the two countries’ nuclear arsenals and paved the way for START-2 and START-3, Suslov noted.


The normalization of Moscow’s ties with Beijing after a bitter, decades-long dispute between the communist powers is also Gorbachev’s achievement, according to Suslov. “A lot of people forget that it was Gorbachev who took Moscow’s relations with the People’s Republic of China out of the hostile state they were in in the 1960s and 1970s, which even saw a conflict on Damansky Island, etc.”

Wu Fei, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Jinan University, agreed that Gorbachev played an important role in improving relations, but emphasized that the politician has a mixed legacy as far as China is concerned, given his “betrayal” of the cause of socialism and responsibility for the USSR’s collapse.


“At the end of the 1970s, the USSR’s diplomatic community really did seek peace talks with China, but this idea was rejected by the Soviet Communist Party’s leadership. After Gorbachev took office, he decided to restore ties with China and played an active role in promoting peaceful exchanges,” Wu said.


Ultimately, the professor believes that the “mistakes” made by Gorbachev in the late 1980s and early 1990s continue to bear their poisonous fruit today, “including in terms of the historical legacy which he left in relations between Russia and Ukraine.”

Biggest Mistake

Gorbachev’s biggest mistake in foreign policy was to place too much trust in the West, which did not see the USSR as an equal partner, but sought to defeat it, Suslov believes.


“Gorbachev proceeded from the possibility of an equal partnership and the transformation of the bipolar confrontation into a bipolar partnership, into bipolar cooperation. The West had a different view, so to speak, on the prospect of relations, and imposed its conditions,” he said.


The academic characterized Gorbachev’s handling of the matter of Germany’s unification as his “greatest foreign policy mistake,” with this event, and specifically the lack of written guarantees from NATO not to expand east, sowing the seeds for the current geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the West in Ukraine, according to Suslov.

“Firstly, the unification of Germany created the first precedent for the expansion of the West and its absorption of the ‘non-West.’ The German Democratic Republic was absorbed into the Federal Republic of Germany. This was not the reunification of Germany, but the expansion of the FRG onto the territory of the GDR. At the same, Germany remained within the framework of NATO and the European Community. The USSR received nothing at all for this,” Suslov emphasized.


Stefan Bollinger, a German political scientist and member of the Historical Commission of the Die Linke party, said that for East Germans, Gorbachev’s legacy is undoubtedly one of betrayal.

“Egon Krenz, the last communist leader of the GDR, sought support in Moscow for an East German version of perestroika, but got only warm words in return, which turned out to be a lie amid negotiations which had already begun on the idea of ending Germany’s division,” Bollinger recalled.


“Gorbachev knew that his capitulation in the Cold War in December of 1989 at Malta would have consequences. He abandoned the USSR’s allies, allied parties, socialist ideas, making one concession after another. Today, these are the ‘merits’ attributed to him in the obituaries of bourgeois parties from Berlin to London to Washington – in the context of the victorious market world order under US domination,” Bollinger said.


“In commemorating Mikhail Gorbachev's life, it should be appreciated that he was both a catalyst and consequence of his time,” said Dr. Samuel Hoff, George Washington Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science, Delaware State University.


“He was a change-agent for certain, but one who led a nonviolent transition for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, among other accolades.”


Hoff said that Gorbachev’s administration demonstrated what the US and Russia have in common, including that he wasn’t afraid to experiment with the country's economy, he worked with American leaders to “make the world safer,” and he “demonstrated that America and Russia could be successful military allies” during Operation Desert Storm.

Gorbachev’s Downfall

Gorbachev also carried out a “large number of mistakes” on the domestic front, Suslov noted.

“Gorbachev’s inability to hold onto the reins of power and prevent the uncontrolled strengthening of centrifugal tendencies within the country, his inability to discern in time where the threat would come from and what certain leaders whom he once supported might do (I mean here Boris Yeltsin). This, of course, was Gorbachev’s biggest mistake domestically,” he said.

Serbian-American publicist and historian Srdja Trifkovic expressed less of a rose-tinted opinion on Gorbachev and his role in history, telling Sputnik that while the late politician received some highly laudatory obituaries from Western officials and media, the factual outcome of his leadership turned out to be fatal for his own country.


“Gorbachev simultaneously sought to loosen political control and to reform the economy toward market mechanisms. However, the combination of these two ‘medicines’ – glasnost [‘openness’] and perestroika [‘restructuring’] ended up killing the patient. Glasnost gave birth to nationalist and separatist movements in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and later in the southern Caucasus, while perestroika led to chaos in the economy and the beginnings of the oligarchical plunder of the Soviet Union’s economic resources,” Trifkovic stressed.


“On the whole, we’re talking about a person who let the genie out of the bottle and opened Pandora’s box, and did not know how to deal with the consequences,” the historian suggested. Trifkovic believes that ultimately, history will remember Gorbachev as a leader who “perhaps, wanted the best in terms of reforming Soviet society, but who was not strong enough to cope with this task.”






revisiting an old toon….




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BY Ted Rall


Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union who died this week, was a member of that tribe of politicians who can diagnose a problem but don’t know how to treat it. As he grew up, he couldn’t understand why a nation blessed with extraordinary natural resources and an enviable geographically strategic position had so much trouble delivering economic prosperity to its people. “Mr. Gorbachev has said he finally realized, as regional party boss, that something much more serious was wrong with the Soviet system than just inefficiency, theft and poor planning. The deeper flaw was that no one could break out with new ideas,” The Washington Post wrote in his obituary.

It is, however, possible to be too open to new ideas. Arms reduction negotiations with the United States led to increasingly close ties between the Soviet leadership under Gorbachev and the Reagan and first Bush administrations. He took meetings with advisers and officials of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, capitalist institutions for which the socialist utopian vision represented by the existence of the USSR presented an existential threat, and listened to their countless entreaties to reform the socialist economy, privatize state enterprises and replace the social safety net with brutal austerity. Do these things, he was told, and we will help you.

Of the many mistakes he made, Gorbachev’s biggest was to trust his biggest enemy, the United States.

Socialism didn’t kill the Soviet Union; capitalism did. Privatization of small businesses and other of Gorby’s perestroika reforms tanked the Soviet economy toward the end of the 1980s. By late 1990, suppressed inflation, global recession and supply problems had sent the country into a tailspin. A desperate Gorbachev reached out to the Bush administration for assistance.

At first, President George H.W. Bush almost behaved like a human being, promising the USSR up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to buy American agricultural products. “Instability in the Soviet Union is very definitely not, in my view, in the interests of the United States,” said Secretary of State James A. Baker III. “I want perestroika to succeed,” Bush said. “The Soviet Union is facing tough times, difficult times, but I believe that this is a good reason to act now in order to help the Soviet Union stay the course of democratization and to undertake market reforms.”

Six months later, however, the tiny credits had expired and Bush refused to renew them. Bush also cooled to the suggestion that the U.S. should help bring the USSR in for a soft capitalist landing. “My only reservations are, will it help? Will it encourage reform?” Bush commented to Soviet requests for direct cash grants. “I think President Gorbachev knows we have understandable concerns about his creditworthiness and I hope he understands that I, and the other allied leaders, want to move forward.” Gorbachev was offered pennies on the dollar of the Marshall Plan-scale aid he needed to keep his country afloat.

As the Soviet Union dissolved, the United States dithered. “A shortage of foreign capital is not what plunged your economy into crisis, nor can your economic ills be cured by a simple infusion of cash,” Bush lectured Gorbachev in July 1991. Neither statement, of course, was true. Gorbachev glumly noted the “increasingly obvious discrepancy” between America’s supportive rhetoric and “and the nature of our economic relations.”

“Until Gorbachev’s resignation in December 1991, no American grants or loans would help the Soviet leaders in their struggle to turn 70 years of communist totalitarian rule into a Western-styled socialist democracy,” Diana Villiers Negroponte wrote in Wilson Quarterly.

Disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the decision of the Western policymakers to sit on the sidelines chewing popcorn rather than offering a helping hand led to dire economic and social consequences in the 15 former Soviet republics, including Russia. Life expectancy plunged, with up to five million excess adult deaths in Russia during the 1990s. Birth rates collapsed. There was out-of-control crime and human trafficking. Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev’s U.S.-backed replacement as president of Russia, was a fall-down-drunk alcoholic who once wandered out of the White House in his underwear to Pennsylvania Avenue, where he tried to hail a taxi to get some pizza.

Russia, a superpower that defeated Nazi Germany and terrified the United States with nightmare scenarios of communist dominoes falling all around the world, was looted, impoverished and humiliated. At bare minimum, the U.S. let it happen. At worst, they held the knife that plunged into Russia’s back — a scenario that seems more likely considering the zillions of times Republicans have given Reagan and Bush credit for defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

It is not hard to see why the Russian people wanted something different and better, or why they blamed Gorbachev for trusting the Americans. In 1996, when Gorbachev ran for president of Russia, he received less than 1% of the vote.

He’d been played for a fool by his American friends.



Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis.










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Many older Russians will not easily forgive Gorbachev for the fatal mistakes he made in his years in power. They bitterly remember the horrible decade of crime and starvation and national humiliation that followed, truly a second Time of Troubles for Russia in 1990-99.

I think Russian historians of the future may be kinder to him. He humanised the Soviet system as symbolised in his well-known rehabilitation of dissident Andrei Sakharov. He gave a younger generation of Russians hope for a more democratic future. Those seeds have flourished in the new Russia. 

He also presented to Russians a model of East-West detente that, for all its risks and dangers that we now better understand, held out hopes of a better more harmonious future for both East and West. It is not his fault that the Western power elite exploited his generosity of spirit.

It is a pity that Gorbachev never had President Vladimir Putin’s political shrewdness and understanding of the powerful forces arrayed against the Russian world, then and now.

Gorbachev and the much younger Putin might have found they had something in common, in their shared love and loyalty for the Russian world.









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