- Interpreter worked with Gorbachev . for 37 years
- Says he was shocked, upset by the events in Ukraine
- Says Gorbachev still believed in the idea of the Soviet Union
- But he was against the use of force to achieve goals
MOSCOW, Sept. 1 (Reuters) – Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, was shocked and stunned by the conflict in Ukraine in the months before he died and had been psychologically crushed in recent years by Moscow’s deteriorating ties to Kiev, his interpreter said Thursday. .
Pavel Palazhenko, who worked with the late Soviet president for 37 years and stood by his side at numerous US-Soviet summits, spoke to Gorbachev a few weeks ago and said he and others were struck by how traumatized he was. by the events in Ukraine.
“It’s not just the (military special) operation that started on February 24, but the whole evolution of Russia-Ukraine relations in recent years that was a really big blow to him. It really crushed him emotionally and psychologically, Palazhchenko told Reuters in an interview.
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
“It was very clear to us in our conversations with him that for all sorts of reasons he was shocked and stunned by what happened (after Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February). He believed not only in close proximity to the Russian and Ukrainian people, he believed those two nations were mixed.”
President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what he called a “special military operation,” which he said was necessary to ensure Russia’s security against an expanding NATO military alliance and to protect Russian-speakers. .
Kiev says it posed no threat and is now defending itself against an unprovoked imperialist war of aggression. The West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow to try to get Putin to withdraw his troops, something he shows no signs of doing.
In photos from 1980s summits with US President Ronald Reagan, the bald, mustachioed figure of Palazhchenko is seen over and over by Gorbachev’s side, bent over to capture and relay every word.
Now 73, he is well placed to know the state of mind of the late politician in the period before he died, having seen him and interacted with Gorbachev’s daughter Irina in recent months.
Gorbachev, who was 91 on Tuesday when he died of an undisclosed illness, had family ties to Ukraine, Palazhchenko said. He spoke at the Moscow headquarters of the Gorbachev Foundation, where he works, and where Gorbachev had an office dominated by a giant portrait of his late wife Raisa, whose father was from Ukraine.
CONFLICT ABOUT UKRANEA
While in office, Gorbachev tried to keep the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, together, but failed after the reforms he initiated encouraged many of them to demand independence.
Soviet troops in some cases used lethal force against civilians in the last days of the USSR. Politicians in Lithuania and Latvia recalled the events after Gorbachev’s death with horror and said they still blamed him for the bloodshed. read more
Palazhenko said Gorbachev, who he said believed in solving problems solely through political means, was unaware of some of those bloody episodes in advance or had “extremely grudgingly” authorized the use of force to prevent chaos.
Gorbachev’s stance on Ukraine, in his view, was complex and contradictory, Palazhchenko said, 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 people of his political generation is still a kind of imagined country encompassing most of the former Soviet Union,” Palazhchenko said.
But Gorbachev wouldn’t have waged a war to restore the now-defunct country he presided over from 1985-1991, he suggested.
“Of course I can’t imagine him saying ‘this is it, and I’ll do everything I can to impose it.’ No.”
While Gorbachev believed it was his duty to show Putin respect and support, his former interpreter said he spoke out publicly when he disagreed, such as on the treatment of the media. But he had made the decision to “not comment on an ongoing basis” on Ukraine, other than adopting a statement in February calling for an early end to hostilities and for humanitarian challenges to be addressed.
Gorbachev’s relationship with Ukraine was at times difficult. Kiev banned him in 2016 after telling the British Sunday Times that he would have acted similarly to Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“I am always with the free will of the people and most in Crimea wanted to be reunited with Russia,” Gorbachev said at the time, referring to the outcome of a referendum that Kiev and the West called illegitimate.
Some Ukrainians also blame him for the first Soviet cover-up of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.
JUDGMENT OF HISTORY
Although Palazhenko admits that some Russians and people in the former Soviet empire held extremely negative views of Gorbachev because of the economic and geopolitical turmoil that followed the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Palazhenko maintained that Gorbachev’s legacy was still significant.
Not only had he helped end the Cold War and reduce the risk of nuclear war, he said, but he had also voluntarily dismantled totalitarianism in the Soviet Union and given Russia a chance at freedom and democracy.
“I think he remained optimistic about Russia’s future,” despite his own legacy being “mutilated” and what he considered “unfair criticism,” Palazhchenko said.
“He believed that the people of Russia are very talented people and once they get a chance, maybe a second chance, that talent… will show.”
Reminiscing about the Cold War US-Soviet summits and chatting with Gorbachev in a limousine after the White House talks, Palazhenko said he and his colleagues now faced the task of getting Gorbachev’s papers and documents. books in the late politician’s state dacha outside Moscow as there was a lot of material that had not yet been systematically cataloged in his archive.
Visibly angered by criticism of Gorbachev since his death by some people on social media whom he called “haters,” Palazhchenko said his former employer thought history would rightly judge him.
“He liked to say that history is a fickle lady. I think he believed and he expected the final verdict to be positive for him.”
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Mark Trevelyan
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.