Gorbachev died of shock and confusion over the Ukraine conflict

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev attends a Victory Day parade, marking the 73rd anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at Red Square in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2018 REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov / File Photo

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, was shocked and bewildered by the Ukraine conflict in the months before his death and suffered a psychological breakdown in recent years due to his ties to Ukraine. Moscow’s worsening relationship with Kyiv, his interpreter said on Thursday.

Pavel Palazhchenko, who worked with the late Soviet president for 37 years and was by his side at many US-Soviet summits, spoke to Gorbachev a few weeks ago by phone and said he and others how others were traumatized by the events that occurred. Ukraine.

“It’s not just the (special military) operation that started on February 24, but the whole evolution of relations between Russia and Ukraine over the years has really, really been a big blow for us. It really crushed him emotionally and psychologically,” Palazhchenko told Reuters in an interview.

“We were very clear in our conversations with him that he was shocked and bewildered by what was happening (after Russian troops entered Ukraine in February) for all sorts of reasons. He wasn’t just believes in the closeness of the people of Russia and Ukraine. , he believes that the two countries have intermingled.”

President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24 in what he called a “special military operation” that he said was necessary to ensure Russia’s security against a military alliance. NATO is expanding and protecting Russian speakers.

Kyiv says it poses no threat and is now defending itself against a gratuitous war of imperialist aggression. The West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow to try to get Putin to pull back his forces, which he shows no sign of doing.

In photographs of the 1980s summit with US President Ronald Reagan, Palazhchenko’s bald, shaggy beard can be seen at Gorbachev’s side, leaning forward to capture and convey each one. speech.

Now 73 years old, he was well aware of the late politician’s state of mind in the period before his death, having met him in recent months and was in contact with Gorbachev’s daughter Irina.

Mr. Palazhchenko said Mr. Gorbachev, 91, died on Tuesday of an unspecified illness, with a family connection to Ukraine. He was speaking at the Moscow headquarters of the Gorbachev Foundation where he worked, and where Gorbachev kept an office with a giant portrait of his late wife Raisa, whose father was Ukrainian.


While in office, Gorbachev tried to keep the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, together but was unsuccessful after the reforms he instituted encouraged many of them to seek independence. .

Soviet forces used deadly force on a number of occasions during the waning days of the Soviet Union against civilians. Politicians in Lithuania and Latvia recall those events with horror after Gorbachev’s death, saying they still blame him for the bloodshed.

Palazhchenko said Gorbachev, who he says believes only in solving problems through political means, did not know in advance about some of those bloody incidents or was “extremely reluctant” to allow the use of weapons. force to prevent chaos.

Palazhchenko said Gorbachev’s views on Ukraine were complex and contradictory in his thinking, because the late politician still believed in the idea of ​​the Soviet Union.

“Of course in his heart, the kind of mental map for him and for most of his political generation is still some kind of imaginary country comprising much of the Soviet Union,” says Palazhchenko. old”.

But Gorbachev will not wage war to restore the now-defunct country he led from 1985-1991, he suggested.

“Of course I can’t imagine him saying ‘this is it, and I’ll do anything to impose it.’ No.”

While Gorbachev believes it is his duty to show Putin’s respect and support, his former interpreter said he has publicly spoken out when disagreeing with him, for example, over his treatment of media. But he decided not to “make a running comment” on Ukraine beyond passing a statement in February calling for an early end to hostilities and addressing humanitarian concerns.

Gorbachev’s relationship with Ukraine was at times troubled. Kyiv banned him in 2016 after he told Britain’s Sunday Times he would act the same way Putin did in 2014 in annexing Crimea.

“I have always supported the free will of the people and most people in Crimea want to be reunited with Russia,” Gorbachev said at the time, referring to the outcome of the referendum that Kyiv and the West called illegal.

Some Ukrainians also blamed him for the initial Soviet cover-up of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster.


While acknowledging that some Russians and people across the former Soviet empire held extremely negative views of Gorbachev because of the economic and geopolitical ups and downs that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Palazhchenko argued. that Gorbachev’s legacy is still great.

Not only did he help end the Cold War and reduce the risk of nuclear war, he said, but he also voluntarily abolished totalitarianism within the Soviet Union and gave Russia a chance for freedom and democracy.

“I think he remains optimistic about the future of Russia, despite his ‘disturbed’ legacy and what he considers ‘unfair criticism’,” said Palazhchenko.

“He believes that the Russian people are very talented people and that once they are given a chance, maybe a second chance, that talent … will show.”

Palazhchenko, who reminisced about Cold War-era US-Soviet summits and chatted in a limousine with Gorbachev after White House talks, said he and his colleagues now face the task of watching Go through Gorbachev’s papers and books at the late politician’s state-owned motel on the outskirts of Moscow as there are many documents that have yet to be systematically cataloged in his archives.

Apparently angered by criticism towards Gorbachev since his death by some on social media he called “haters,” Palazhchenko said his former employer thinks history will judge him right.

“He likes to say that history is a fickle woman. I think he believes it and he hopes that the final verdict will be in his favor.”

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