NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, celebrated in the West for championing democracy and helping end the Cold War, sees little chance Russia will turn from czarist-reminiscent, strongman government anytime in coming decades, the U.S. author of a new biography said on Monday.
Pulitzer Prize-winning William Taubman interviewed Gorbachev, now 86, eight times for his “Gorbachev: His Life and Times” and said in the Reuters Global Markets Forum online chat room that Gorbachev was widely disliked in Russia.
Here are edited excerpts:
Question: How do Russians now see Gorbachev, who was popular in the 1980s?
Answer: He is widely despised in Russia. People blame him for the collapse of the USSR, loss of its empire, the economic crash that accompanied the collapse, and also for seeming to be (to them, at any rate) a weak, indecisive leader.
Q: Why does Russian President Vladimir Putin ignore Gorbachev, even as he memorializes much Russian history?
A: Putin has only gained by ignoring or criticizing Gorbachev. In many ways, Putin’s program is the opposite of Gorbachev’s. It is as if Gorbachev has bequeathed the program, namely, the reverse of his own. As for Russia’s dissatisfaction today, it is apparently growing as economic conditions worsen. But Putin has rallied support by annexing the Crimea, by depicting the West as Russia’s enemy, by invoking the old czarist Trinity of principles: autocracy, nationality, and Orthodox religion.
Q: Does Gorbachev have much hope of seeing a more democratic government?
A: Gorbachev himself says it might take decades to democratize Russia, “even the whole 21st century.” This from a man who had hoped to see democracy come to the USSR in a few short years.
Q: Is Gorbachev content in his late life?
A: He insists he is. But I can’t imagine he really is. His innate optimism may sustain him. But in addition to all the political attacks on him that continue, he now lives largely alone (except for bodyguards, chefs and chauffeurs) in a big house in the suburbs.
((This interview was conducted in the Reuters Global Markets Forum, a chat room hosted on the Eikon platform.))
Reporting by Michael Connor in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney