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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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13 January 2021

Mikhail Gorbachev: Trust has been destroyed globally, and many things will need to be started over. Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, RIA Novosti, January 11, 2021 January 12, 2021

Mr Gorbachev, how has the pandemic that plagued humanity over the past year affected your life? Did you have to limit your activities? Are you adopting the new formats of communication – videoconferencing and zoom conferencing? Has the coronavirus affected the way you communicate with your close ones?

Of course, the pandemic has changed a lot and affected many things. You can see that literally everyone has had to limit their activities. At my age, I need to be particularly focused on following the lockdown rules. It’s not a recommendation, it’s an imperative. At summer, I still could meet some people but now I can’t. I use the most tried and tested means of communication – the phone, including to get in touch with my family and close ones. I gave several interviews over the phone, and your news agency carried them, which is good. I also recorded several audio messages – on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Germany’s reunification, for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and others. I am in constant contact with staff at the Gorbachev Foundation, receiving materials from them and responding. We have published a report on the impact of the pandemic and have held video conferences. I am preparing a large article, i.e. I have been working.

How has the past year 2020 changed international relations, and what lies ahead for the world – what do you expect? Will states seek to scale down or intensify contacts in this environment?

There have certainly been major changes in the international arena, driven mostly by the pandemic but also due to other reasons. Some very deep analysis is required here. The main takeaway for me, however, is that cooperation is needed. There are vaccination problems, there are financial issues, and there is the issue of military spending. In the current circumstances, military expenses seem even more extravagant. Back in the spring, I urged for an agreement to cut them by 10% to 15%. Environmental issues are now more urgent than ever. All these issues cannot be addressed without increased contacts. I hope that states will now learn to use the Internet to step up and speed up their interactions. But of course, face-to-face meetings between leaders are also needed.

Last year was the 35th anniversary of your summit with Ronald Reagan in Geneva. This summit is commonly viewed as a turning point in U.S.-Soviet relations. Is a U-turn like this possible today? How will our relations with the United States and the global situation change when Joe Biden takes office as president? Is there any chance that the Strategic Arms Reduction (START) Treaty will survive?

This is a central theme overall. What happened 35 years ago is still relevant today, above all, the key outcome from our talks with the US President. It was set out in the relevant joint statement: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, “The sides … will not seek to achieve military superiority.” Russia, incidentally, recently suggested that the Americans reaffirm this commitment. Now, with the new administration taking office, it would be worth revisiting that idea.

I have met Joe Biden more than once, I remember him. In his time as a Senator, he supported all US-Soviet nuclear disarmament agreements, and during his vice-presidency he obviously supported the New START Treaty signed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev. During his election campaign, he said the treaty should be extended, but I see this only as a first step.

Further cuts need to be negotiated. We need to discuss and adjust military doctrines, and these changes should focus on no-first-use of nuclear weapons rather than lowering the threshold for using these weapons, as is the case now. And then other nuclear powers should be brought into talks. This is a very ambitious and very challenging agenda, but if the United States and Russia start to address it in earnest, it will benefit them and everyone else.

What’s your view on the situation in the post-Soviet space, including the crises in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan? Will the agreements reached on Nagorno-Karabakh become an enabler for resolving the conflict, and a step towards long-term regional stability?

Of course, I care very much about what is going on in our neighboring states – these developments are driven by the difficult democratic transition. If we had managed to keep the Union in some form or other, I am sure there would have been fewer difficulties. Still I believe the nations are capable of overcoming them. You know, I was interviewed by the Times in September. And I told them that I admire the Belarusians. They have endured so much hardship and suffered so many losses, and still they stood their ground and revived their country! And we should give this people the opportunity to determine their own path – they will be able to do it, I am sure. If constitutional amendments are required, Belarusians will agree them between themselves, no need for anyone to interfere in it. What is needed is a responsible attitude by all participants in the process. This is what I said three months ago, and I can reiterate it now.

As for Karabakh... It is a very difficult issue, a long-standing one and rooted in the past. When the conflict escalated, we tried to help the two republics, the two nations to find a solution, and Russia has continued these efforts since then. Now that the hostilities are over, it is important to make further steps. Not to leave the problem unresolved for decades. I hope Russia can help here, but the main role is to be played by the sides to the conflict. Armenia and Azerbaijan have committed to negotiate a settlement, and the solution needs to benefit both sides, with no winners or losers.

What has 2020 been like for Russia? What is your view of the economic situation – have the problems in the economy worsened due to the pandemic and falling oil prices? What do you think about the political processes in the country? What do you expect from this year's parliamentary election?

This was a difficult year for Russia, and not only for Russia. For everyone. The pandemic is, of course, a major factor, as Russia has coped with oil price declines before and can cope with them now.

There is an emerging hope for a vaccine, but there is a lot of work to be done and very important decisions to be taken. Economic processes will need to be restored, and assistance needs to be provided to small and medium-sized businesses for people not to leave them. And everyone must get involved in this effort, including, of course, the Parliament. I hope they will elect strong, independent people, capable of serious work.

Last year the world celebrated the anniversary of victory over fascism – 75 years since the end of World War II. Do you think the global differences have deepened today, or has the pandemic, on the contrary, brought countries closer together? Is there now a threat of a new major war? 75 years after its creation, what is the impact of the United Nations? Does the organisation need a reform?

I believe our country has celebrated the anniversary of Victory Day with dignity. Russia has reminded the world of the lessons of the war and the foundations of the postwar world order. But you rightly linked your question to the UN, as this organisation is the key outcome of the Victory. The UN needs to be safeguarded, developed, and of course, reformed, adapting it to the changes that have taken place globally. But to do this, trust needs to be restored between major powers. This trust has been destroyed.

Now there is renewed talk of confrontation between the East and the West, of the cold war and the arms race. And many things will need to be started over. I believe that Russia is in favour of dialogue. And I know that many in the West also think that the current state of affairs should not be allowed to continue for a few more years, or even longer. It will take political will to resume normal interactions, but there is no alternative to dialogue.