Mikhail Gorbachev: We Should Have Preserved the Soviet Union

Article excerpt

On the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union's collapse, former President Mikhail Gorbachev says the US should have backed his promotion of perestroika, or political and economic reforms. He says that Vladimir Putin is dragging Russia backward.

Twenty years on, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev still "deeply regrets" the demise of the USSR, blames the United States for not being more supportive of his efforts to reform the Communist system, believes US global power is on the decline and worries that Vladimir Putin - who aims to become president again next March -- is dragging Russia backward.

In a video interview with Liliya Shevtsova, of the Moscow Carnegie Center, and timed for the 20th anniversary of the USSR's collapse, Mr. Gorbachev admits that the Communist system was tainted by dictatorship and violations of human rights, but insists that the Soviet Union had many positive aspects that were worth saving.

"I have always thought that preserving the USSR was possible, and I still think so today," he says. "We were too late with our reforms.... The Soviet Union offered lots of prospects to those who lived there, and it could have had a future if it had modernized and adapted to new challenges. Yes, I regret [its collapse] very much."

In a dizzying six years of intensive reforms after coming to power in 1985, Gorbachev opened up the Soviet media to open debate, allowed free speech, loosened controls on political organization, and replaced Communist Party fiat with elected legislatures at every level of power.

Stymied by economic collapse

But his efforts foundered amid the economic chaos that resulted from his attempts to tinker with Communist central planning, and met growing opposition from national elites in non-Russian republics, who used their new freedoms to press for independence. He also suffered from the mass defections of liberal supporters who accused him of moving too slowly and threw their backing behind his more radical-sounding rival, Boris Yeltsin.

One of those liberals who criticized Gorbachev fiercely in the late 1980's was Ms. Shevtsova, who says she has long since grown to appreciate Gorbachev's democratic instincts, personal openness, and the peaceful manner that he relinquished power when his options ran out in late 1991. …