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The XXI century will be a сentury either of total all-embracing crisis or of moral and spiritual healing that will reinvigorate humankind. It is my conviction that all of us - all reasonable political leaders, all spiritual and ideological movements, all  faiths - must help in this transition to a triumph of humanism and justice, in making the XXI century a century of a new human renaissance.

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29 September 2020

Reach out to Vladimir Putin or risk a new arms race, Mikhail Gorbachev warns next US leader

Mikhail Gorbachev has urged the winner of the US election to hold an early meeting with Vladimir Putin amid fears that the nuclear arms race the then Soviet president helped to end three decades ago is again spiralling out of control.

"The situation is very worrying," Gorbachev said. "Whatever the result of the election, we need to resume a dialogue to get out of this frozen situation. We need a strong impetus from the presidents on both sides."

Gorbachev, 89, said the two countries should hold a "second Reykjavik" — a reference to his summit with Ronald Reagan in Iceland in 1986 that paved the way for a treaty eliminating 2,692 short, medium and intermediate range missiles. Donald Trump withdrew from it last year.

"The situation that existed between the Soviet Union and the US in the mid-1980s was much more complicated than it is now between the US and Russia," he said. "But we found a way out through trust, through understanding and building relationships with each other."

In a wide-ranging interview, Gorbachev called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis that has erupted in Belarus since last month's contested election and hailed the reunification of Germany, whose 30th anniversary is being marked on Saturday, as the result of the "wisdom" and "amazing maturity" of both Russians and Germans.

He also spoke movingly of his late wife, Raisa, to whom he was married for 46 years, calling her death "an irreplaceable loss". A prominent — and stylish — figure always at his side, she died in 1999, aged 67, of leukaemia. "Even now I cannot come to terms with it," Gorbachev said, his voice wavering. "She is still with me. It is not just that I remember her. It is always as if I am with her and she is with me."

The former Soviet leader, whose reforms, launched after he came to power in 1985, paved the way for the dismantling of the Iron Curtain and an end to the Cold War, has become increasingly alarmed about the subsequent deterioration of relations between Washington and Moscow.
His latest book, What Is at Stake Now, reads as a lament for the direction the world has taken in recent years, bemoaning the rise of "populists and demagogues".

Speaking by phone from Russia, Gorbachev was as forthright as he was in the late 1980s, when, as a correspondent in Moscow, I watched him struggle in vain to contain the democratic and separatist forces unleashed by his attempts to reform communism. Gorbachev praised Putin as "smart, strong-willed and hard-working" but urged him to reflect on what he had created, asking rhetorically: "Does it make sense for political processes and decisions to continue to be geared towards a single person?"

Like Putin, Gorbachev continues to regret the demise of the Soviet Union. "There are no ifs in history," he says when asked what would have happened if his own attempts to hold his country together had succeeded. "But I do believe that it would have been a better world — more stable, more secure, more just."

But he did not appear to approve of apparent attempts by Putin to take advantage of the chaos in Belarus that followed the re-election on August 9 of President Alexander Lukashenko — widely condemned as rigged — to press for the belated implementation of a "union treaty" signed in 1999 that in effect merges the two states.

"All countries must behave very carefully; you must not interfere from the outside," he said. "We must give the people of Belarus … the opportunity to find a way out of the current difficult situation on their own."

Gorbachev's main preoccupation, though, is the nuclear arms race between Russia and America, which he fears has accelerated since Trump's decision to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty, which bans both countries from deploying missiles with a range of 310-3,400 miles.

The treaty's signature by Gorbachev and Reagan was hailed as a key step by the two powers to reduce their nuclear arsenals and end the threat of nuclear war. The US administration said its withdrawal, formalised in August last year, was because of Russia deploying a new type of cruise missile. Moscow has denied the accusation.

Of particular concern, Gorbachev believes, are American plans to develop new, more flexible nuclear weapons, apparently intended to lower the threshold for their use. Putin has responded by announcing the development of a number of new weapons systems of his own.

"World politics is moving in an increasingly dangerous direction," Gorbachev writes in his book. "Today's military activities have come to resemble preparations for an actual war."
What Is at Stake Now by Mikhail Gorbachev is published by Polity Books