September 6, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10185

Mikhail Gorbachev In 2016: Russia Must 'Return To A Path Of Real Democracy'

September 6, 2022
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10185

On August 30, 2022, Russian statesman Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who brought the Cold War to an end without bloodshed, died at age 91. Commenting on his death, Russian expert Dr. Vladislav Inozemtsev, MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project Special Advisor and founder and Scientific director of the Center for the Post-Industrial Society Studies, wrote: "Gorbachev did all he humanly could to demonstrate the illusory nature of Communist ideals... I tend to put Mikhail Gorbachev on the same pedestal as the greatest idealists of the last century: Woodrow Wilson, Aristide Briand, and Hjalmar Branting, who were sincere in their dreams of a united world governed by democratic international organizations, a planetwide kingdom of reason, and of course, a united Europe."[1]

Here we republish a 2016 article by Gorbachev, published in the Russian independent biweekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta, titled "I'm Certain: All Is Not Lost."[2] In it, Gorbachev stressed that Russia needs "a real democracy," to emerge from the "authoritarian trend" in Russia's internal politics.

Gorbachev wrote that Russian President Vladimir Putin's "managed democracy" and "power vertical" had stabilized the country's economic situation following its 1998 financial crisis. However, he added, Russia's top-down system of government had been "to the detriment of real democracy, at the expense of the independence of the parliament, the courts, and the mass media." He concluded by asserting that Russians "must return to a path of real democracy" by "not dividing our society [by] categorizing people as good and bad, red and blue, patriots and liberals" and not looking to blame "foreign agents," but that Russians "must unite for the sake of common goals." He concluded: "I believe this is possible. I believe in Russia."

It is worth noting that in the article, Gorbachev discussed Russia-U.S. relations. Gorbachev wrote: "In international affairs, there is a collapse of trust. I think that if you ask people on all the continents 'Is the world going in the right direction?' most will say 'No.' This all began when 'the victory of the West' in the Cold War was proclaimed. Our shared victory in the Cold War was declared a triumph of one side only [i.e. the West], which now thinks that 'everything is permitted.' This is the root from which today's global unrest has sprung."

Sovietologist and U.S. Cold War policy architect George Kennan, who praised the Russian people for mounting "the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime,"[3] said that Gorbachev "is indeed a remarkable man in many respects... I am sure that he will go down in Russian history as one of the great, and probably tragic, liberal figures of the post-Petrine age."[4]


Following are excerpts from Gorbachev's article:[5]

"Our Shared Victory In The Cold War Was Declared A [Western] Triumph"

"The world is very restless; the situation in Russia is very complicated. And it is all interrelated.

"It is exactly 30 years since the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).[6] Occasionally, I reread my old speeches and articles. At that time [i.e., when he was CPSU secretary-general and president of the Soviet Union] we acknowledged that we live in a global, interrelated, interdependent world, and we drew conclusions.

"Over the past two or three years, we have had many opportunities to see this interdependency for ourselves. It grows stronger all the time, and will continue to do so - but global politics are caught unawares, and increasingly lag behind the fast-paced changes in the world. The leaders of the major powers have found themselves unprepared for the crises and disasters of recent years.

"Instead of cooperation, 'war and peace' has again taken center stage in world politics, as during the Cold War. Think tanks are developing scenarios of a possible war in Europe... But this is not restricted to 'hypothetical scenarios': The U.S. is planning to deploy another $3 billion in heavy armament and military equipment in Central and Eastern Europe. This is but one example attesting to the fact that in international affairs, there is a collapse of trust.

"I think that if you ask people on all the continents 'Is the world going in the right direction?' most will say 'No.' This all began when 'the victory of the West' in the Cold War was proclaimed. Our shared victory in the Cold War was declared a triumph of one side only [i.e., the West], which now thinks that 'everything is permitted.' This is the root from which today's global unrest has sprung.

"Almost all the conflicts of the past two decades, starting with Yugoslavia, have seen attempts to solve them by force – or at least by threats of force. What has emerged is a military-force mentality, and it is no less dangerous than the military-industrial complex. It has powerful impact on politics and mass media – and, through them, on the people.

"I am extremely concerned by the harsh rhetoric and mutual recriminations, which have come, more and more, to seem like a propaganda war among countries...

"But come to agreement we must. We will have to. Otherwise, we will not be able to stop the world from sliding towards chaos, towards catastrophe. And for this, we need political will.

"I am certain: All is not lost. Even last year, as animosity between Russia and the West grew, there was positive change on some issues..."

"It Is Impossible To Isolate Russia – The World Will Never Agree To This"

"Recently, there have been initial signs that world powers, particularly the U.S. and Russia, have decided to tackle settling the conflict in Syria. We will see if a real ceasefire can be achieved – perhaps not immediately. But I welcome the fact that there is a dialogue, there are talks.

"I hope that our Western partners have realized that they must renounce the policy of isolating Russia. It is impossible to isolate Russia; the world will never agree to it. The world needs Russia. Its role in solving all the major problems is indispensable.

"At this time, global politics greatly needs a positive agenda – first of all with regard to security. I would name two issues as top priorities – the fight against terrorism, and European security.

"In the fight against terrorism, there should be no more double standards, and the fight must be firmly based in international law. That is why I have proposed launching preparations for an antiterrorist pact or convention, under the auspices of the UN. Such a pact must include not only specific commitments concerning cooperation among states, exchanging information, and taking preventive measures, but must also establish important international laws. First of all, there must be a ban on supplying weapons to illegal armed groups, wherever they may be. Secondly, there must be a refusal to support – either materially or with propaganda - any force or movement whose goal is armed struggle against any state or government.

"It is no less important to prevent further deterioration of the situation in Europe and to reverse negative processes. We need a major agreement to modernize the European security system. Such an agreement should be formulated and adopted by national leaders and governments... [They] must agree on mechanisms for conflict prevention; mechanisms for mandatory consultations, including bringing the issues to the highest echelons, so as to prevent problems from becoming crises, prevent disagreements from becoming conflicts, and conflicts from becoming military clashes. We need 'early warning' mechanisms for new threats such as 'non-state actors' and failed states. Finally, we need clear rules of conduct, binding upon all, at a time of internal conflicts that could threaten international security.

"What we are talking about is the need for a new security architecture for Europe – but not only for Europe. Creating this will be a difficult, large-scale task..."

"We Must Overcome The Authoritarian Trend In Our Internal Politics... [And] Return To A Path Of Real Democracy"

"Clearing the international atmosphere will undoubtedly help us deal with the current Russian socio-economic crisis. We must not fool ourselves - the crisis is evident. We must not look only for outward causes. The primary responsibility rests with us. We must look for a way out.

"But Russia has all it needs to overcome this crisis. It has been through worse times. While we should not prophesize ruin and disaster, we must face reality. We must not restrict our search [for a solution to the economic problems] to the economic aspect alone and ignore the political side of the problem. After all, the solution is all about politics.

"What we lack today [in Russia] is the most important thing of all – democracy. I am certain: Without a democratic process, without the people's broad participation in the search for solutions, we will not be able to break the vicious cycle of the problems into which we have driven ourselves. Our own experience, as well as the global experience of decades past, are proof of that.

"We must overcome the authoritarian trend in our internal politics. This did not appear yesterday – indeed, as early as the 1990s, a regime of individual rule emerged, and the constitution adopted [in 1993] is heavily biased in favor of the executive branch and presidential powers - including an option for more than two terms in office, or as many as you like. There were various excuses for this at first – for example, the need for rapidly enacting reform 'with a firm hand.' And what did we have as a result? The [Russian] market crash of 1998.

"It was then that 'managed democracy' and 'the power vertical' emerged – aimed, ostensibly, at stabilizing and reviving the Russian economy. It was indeed stabilized, but to the detriment of real democracy, at the expense of the independence of the parliament, the courts, and the mass media... [Furthermore], this revival was mostly the result of the high oil and gas prices in the global market.

"It is obvious now that the current model of governance is not working, either in politics or in economics. There are no alternative ideas in Russia, and no influx of new people. The decision-making process must not be reliant on a single man. Nobody can claim to have a monopoly on absolute truth.

"We must return to a path of real democracy. In one of my recent interviews, I urged all our powers to mobilize to overcome the crisis. What does this mean? First and foremost, it means not dividing our society! Not categorizing people as good and bad, red and blue, patriots and liberals. Not looking for... a fifth column or foreign agents. It means that we must unite for the sake of common goals.

"I believe this is possible. I believe in Russia..."


[1], September 1, 2022.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6343, Mikhail Gorbachev: Russia Must Return To A Path Of Real Democracy, March 9, 2016.

[3], May 2, 1998.

[4] Through The History Of The Cold War, The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, Oxford, 2010, p. 149.

[5], February 29, 2016.

[6] The 27th Congress of the CPSU, held February 25-March 6, 1986, was the first congress presided over by Gorbachev.

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