21 December 2016
Jack F. Matlock: "Mikhail Gorbachev «The New Russia»"
translated by Arch Tait (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2016)
When the Soviet Union came apart at the end of 1991, the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and USSR had ended, a negotiated peace that benefitted all parties had replaced the Cold War, and the iron curtain that divided Europe had vanished. We seemed to be on the threshold of a new Europe. President George Herbert Walker Bush called it “a Europe whole and free.” President Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev called it “our common European home.” Bush went further as he assembled a coalition to oppose Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, proposing nothing less than “a new world order.”
Now, a quarter-century later, rhetoric emanating from Moscow and Washington resembles that of the Cold War. Government officials and armchair strategists in both capitals speak of geopolitical competition in terms that were once reserved for the struggle between “Communist slavery” and the “Free World.” They seem to ignore the fact that Russia is no longer Communist and is, in most respects, a totally different state than was the Soviet Union.
Anyone puzzled by the way the unity and hope of the early 1990s has morphed to the division and fear we are experiencing today will benefit from reading and pondering Mikhail Gorbachev’s latest book, The New Russia. Its contents cover more than its English title suggests: while it does give the reader a running account of events in Russia after it shed the other fourteen republics of the Soviet Union, it contains much more. The Russian title, Posle Kremlya (After the Kremlin), is more apt since the book presents important thoughts regarding history, democracy, international relations, and the external events that influenced Russia’s revival of authoritarianism.