Mikhail Gorbachev: Between Glorification and Criticism


Whatever your position on it, the former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who passed away a few days ago, is the most important global leader in the last half-century

Those who praise or critics him, agree on this, who see him as a champion of peace, who ended the Cold War between Moscow and Washington and began reducing the threat of nuclear war between East and West, and who see him as a hero of the West only dismantled the second superpower in the world and plunged his country into the chaos that reached its summit with the first president of Russia (after the end of the Soviet Union Behind him is, Boris Yeltsin).

This was evident from the world’s reaction to his death at the age of ninety, after years of illness. However, this did not prevent some overly demagogic Western media from saying that he could not bear President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and died, especially as he is emotionally linked to his Ukrainian origins from his mother’s side.

On the other hand, you find in Russia, the West, and the Arab world those who say that he was the most dangerous agent of the US and the West at all, as he dismantled his country, eliminated its capabilities and followed the railing of the US and the EU.

There is some excuse for these, despite the extreme exaggeration of their statements. Rarely has history witnessed a leader of a great power writing off the structure of power that made him a world leader, only to lose his authority and even the components of his country piece by piece and a source of strength after one another. Also, the admiration of the Western political and media at the time (from the mid-eighties until the beginning of the nineties of the last century) was unprecedented, which may explain the perception of some that he is an American or Western “spy”.

For comparison purposes only, taking into account the great difference between the two cases, the position of Gorbachev is similar to that of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was praised by the world because he was the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel on the one hand, and he led a transformation in his country from the central economy that State-controlled market economy to a free market system on the other hand. At the same time, many Egyptians criticized him after calling him the hero of war and peace because he shocked society with the policy of economic openness.

As for outside Egypt, many excused him for the results of that transformation, praising his vision and blaming the Egyptian bureaucracy that resisted development and the shift towards an open economy.

And now one can find those lamenting the former Soviet leader Gorbachev who blames the West and acknowledged that his only problem was that he believed Western promises to help his country transform and open up and that the West failed and did not support him to make his project successful and satisfy his people. One can also find those who reconsider Gorbachev’s legacy on the basis of “late wisdom” and excuse him that he did not want his great country to disintegrate, but his shock treatment of its deteriorating conditions made things slip out of his hands – this is a much more logical explanation.

However, perhaps the closest description of rationality is what the veteran British journalist John Simpson wrote that Gorbachev was “a good man but without a vision”. When Gorbachev was elected, after 3 leaders of the Soviet Union, not all of them spent much in power due to old age and disease, the country was in economic decline and in a state of political and social stalemate.

The man wanted a movement to restore the union to its vitality, and his conviction was that the problem was in the structure of power and the rule of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and that was what made the country lag behind in development in the world. Since assuming power in 1985, he began to put forward initiatives such as ‘Perestroika’ and ‘Glasnost’ and change the political system to expand the base of participation in state. The result was that this encouraged the constituent states of the union to seek secession and with each of them a part of the strength of the union. Gorbachev could not stop this disintegration, which he neither expected nor wanted. Undoubtedly, the US and the West had hand in it. The Cold War mentality did not end, of course, as Gorbachev imagined, perhaps with strategic naivety.

But the dark spot that severely stained Gorbachev’s legacy was the status of what was left of the Union, Russia, and his successor, Boris Yeltsin, as the first president of the Russian Federation. The intent is not to blame Yeltsin for cleaning up Gorbachev’s reputation, but for the corruption and plundering of the country’s wealth, the exodus of billions of ‘thieves’ from the country to the West, and the selling of everything (including Soviet nuclear capabilities in the broken states) on the black market, the Russians blamed Gorbachev is the one who started the process of collapse from their point of view.

All of this makes Gorbachev’s legacy the most important and controversial in modern history. Whether he was an optimist with an idea, a visionary that could not be achieved, an adventurer with little political wisdom, or a loyalist who wanted good for his country and faced difficulties that he could not overcome..etc. In the end, his short reign marked the beginning of the end of bipolarity in the global system and the entry of the world into the stage of searching for a new world order that is yet to be reached.

Amer Ababakr
Amer Ababakr
Amer Ababakr holds Ph.D. degree, Cyprus International University. His major is in Politics in the Middle East. His fields of interests include international relations, international security, foreign policy, and ethnic conflict.


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