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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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5 September 2014

Mikhail Gorbachev: Act Now to Solve the Ukrainian Crisis

The following is an abridged version, published in Novaya Gazeta on September 5, of the Afterword from Mikhail Gorbachev’s book ‘After the Kremlin’, to be released in October.


Frankly, I never thought I would live to see the events that would put to a hard test not just relations between Russia and Ukraine, but the future of international politics in general, pushing the world to the edge of disaster.

It is with great pain that I have been following these developments. There is too much at stake and the risks and threats are too great. I therefore feel the need to offer my view of the situation and ideas as to the way out of this crisis.

For every Russian Ukraine and relations with it have a special meaning. Historical, cultural, and family ties between our two countries, which for a long time had been one state, are so long-standing and close that we take developments in the neighboring state close to heart.


I see the root cause of the developments in Ukraine in the disruption of Perestroika and the reckless, adventurous “dissolution” of the Soviet Union. The blame lies mostly with the then leadership of Russia, whose actions had accelerated the centrifugal processes in the union state. At the same time, I have to remind my readers that the leaders of Ukraine had been undermining the process of transforming the Union – both before the August 1991 coup and afterwards, despite the fact that the text of the proposed Union Treaty had been agreed upon with most of the republics.

I fought for the survival of the common union state using all political means – and I emphasize, political means – available to me. I proposed talks with Ukraine on an economic union and common defence and foreign policy. All outstanding issues, including the status of Sevastopol and Crimea, and the Black Sea Fleet, could have been resolved during such talks.

Both before and after the leaders of the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus conspired in Belovezhskaya Pushcha I warned our society of the threats posed by their destructive actions.

However, my proposals and warnings went unheeded. Having forgotten the need to exercise utmost caution when dealing with relations between peoples and ponder the consequences of every step, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation, to the applause of its members, endorsed the destruction of the Soviet Union. Some would say it's water under the bridges. I disagree: the past is tied by a multitude of links to the present and it keeps reminding us of the mistakes made by politicians.

We now have to seek solutions to the conflict in Ukraine and ways to overcome the international fallout from the crisis triggered by the events there.

There is only one option to pursue – dialogue and a search for consensus.

We need an interconnected, constructive dialogue both at the international level and between the political forces in Ukraine.
Actions of external players throughout the Ukrainian crisis invite serious criticism. Indeed, the country was put to a “tear test.” Now it needs our help. EU member states, and above all Germany and France, seem to have learned some lessons and are now trying, alongside Russia and Ukraine, to find ways to de-escalate the conflict. It is a positive development. Still I re-iterate that the revival of dialogue between Russia and the United States is essential to peace in Ukraine, in Europe, and the entire world. The two countries have a special role to play and a special responsibility.

They are permanent and most powerful members of the U.N. Security Council and they should realize their responsibility and cast aside expediency-driven agendas, restoring the required level of understanding and trust. Ministers should meet for a serious discussion and together, in consultation with other members of the Security Council, prepare a joint draft resolution. Such a document would become a major step toward reversing the negative scenario that we have been witnessing.

We also need a broad-based dialogue between responsible Ukrainian forces to discuss ways to save the country and build national accord. After what happened, after mutual accusations, enmity, and bloodshed, it would be an uphill task – there must be no illusions about that. However, there is no alternative. They must step forward and act.
In May 2014, Ukrainian people elected a new president, who assumed a great responsibility. I think elections of a new parliament should also take place as soon as possible. But even before that, real, broad-based Round Table talks should be launched.

I remember well how in 1988 I discussed the idea of a Round Table with the Polish president Wojciech Jaruzelski. I told General Jaruzelski then that they could count on our full support and understanding. By that time, a lot of distrust and even animosity had built up between the government and the opposition. However, both sides proved able to put national interests above all else.

What Ukraine needs most today is nationwide accord on the constitutional order and the fundamentals of the country’s domestic and foreign policies. This accord can only be reached by Ukrainians themselves. However, a necessary prerequisite is to make sure that the interests of all ethnic groups, population groups and regions are taken into account.
As for the Ukrainian state’s foreign policy, ameliorating relations with Russia should become a top priority. I am convinced that most Ukrainians not only understand but support this. The West, too, should understand it. Its leaders must stop trying to draw Ukraine into NATO, because such attempts have not brought and will not bring anything but discord between Ukraine and Russia.

I very much hope that Ukraine will recover and finally find its way to reconciliation and better life for all its citizens and that relations between Ukraine and Russia will again become the ties between two truly brotherly nations.

The Ukrainian crisis provoked a serious and dangerous deterioration of relations between Russia and the West. US President Barack Obama has said that Russia should be isolated; he and other Western leaders have refused to talk to the Russian president within the G8. Economic sanctions against Russia have been imposed, with cooperation curtailed in many areas; decisions are now being taken to build up NATO’s military presence in the countries neighboring Russia. All this reminds one of the Cold War era. We hear statements that the Cold War has been resumed, and some are arguing that it had never ended.

Are we condemned to a new round of global confrontation? What can and should be done to reverse the dangerous trend and prevent a new division of Europe and the world?

I note that both sides, Russia and Western countries, have said they do not want a new cold war. Not all is lost and a certain level of interaction has been maintained. Certain symbolic steps have been taken to show that Russia and the West are not enemies. I refer in particular to Vladimir Putin’s participation in the celebrations in France to mark the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing in Normandy.

Nevertheless, attempts to break the downward spiral in relations have failed so far. The dialogue has virtually frozen and mutual sanctions have escalated, damaging the economies of both Russia and the West and, most importantly, thwarting political cooperation.

It is very important now to take a sober and balanced look at the situation, to be conscious of the existence of global challenges and universal human values, as well as the numerous issues that cannot be resolved without cooperation between the world’s leading powers.

It means that we have to return to the basic tenets of the new thinking, which we proposed to the world when relations between the East and the West were severely strained.

The main challenge then was to avert a global nuclear conflict. We succeeded in warding off that threat; however, the threat of a new arms race has not disappeared. Other threats are also looming large, above all the danger of global warming. Scientists give increasingly alarming forecasts year after year, with the most recent one, presented in a report by the United Nations Environment Program, projecting an increase in the global average temperature by 5°C by 2050, with the Arctic Ocean icecap completely melted. Humankind has never lived in such conditions!

On top of it, there are other global issues such as the growing shortage of fresh water, food shortages, international terrorism, cybersecurity, pandemics, and so on. Are we really going to let cooperation in all these areas fall victim to the current crisis in relations between the great powers?

Some say the current crisis is in large part due to bad ‘personal chemistry’ between Presidents Putin and Obama and that we should not hope for a meaningful improvement of the situation as long as the current world leaders are in office. I believe such an approach is totally erroneous. We do not choose our counterparts, and even if the rapport between them is not working as it should, it is the leaders’ duty to their citizens and to the world to rise above their personal discontents for the sake of real national interests.

What is needed today is a dialogue based on the awareness of our common destiny rather than on grievances, mutual complaints and frustrations. Rebuilding trust will be difficult but let us try to revive the atmosphere of a search for mutually acceptable solutions. We should use every channel available – both open, public channels and private channels, quiet diplomacy. Let us try to refrain from demonizing one another, or making allegations about the other side, accusing it of ‘shadowy dealings.’

I am confident that the revival of new thinking in international affairs will ulti-mately take place. There is no other way if we are to save the world in which we live. So my appeal is to act now, urgently. Time is of the essence.