The Wall Street Journal reports on old Stainhead, imploding just like the failed state he presided over, ruining his legacy just like Solzhenitsyn is doing.
The last president of the Soviet Union was in this city recently to open a cancer center dedicated to his late wife. A local television reporter asked: Would you consider this $12 million clinic one of the most important achievements in your life?
Mikhail Gorbachev took a breath. The journalist posing the question looked too young to remember his years in power. "It's one of the most important post-presidential ones," Mr. Gorbachev corrected, a twinge of impatience in his voice. "My most important achievement is perestroika. Moving from the totalitarian system to democracy … . And of course, a foreign policy that led to the end of the Cold War."
Two decades ago, Mr. Gorbachev was reshaping the world. He opened up the Soviet system, helping to free the nations of Eastern Europe and end the Cold War.
Other titans of the age -- Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher -- left the world stage with honor. Mr. Gorbachev, 60 years old when he stepped down as Soviet president in 1991, plunged into a political purgatory.
In the West, though lionized for destroying communism, he was also seen as having capitulated to the Americans. At home, the Soviet Union collapsed as his reforms took on a life of their own. Russians scorned him. Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, marginalized and humiliated him. To raise money, Mr. Gorbachev did a Pizza Hut commercial.
So he responded warmly when Mr. Yeltsin's successor, President Vladimir Putin, extended him invitations to the Kremlin, a semi-official post and words of encouragement for Mr. Gorbachev's own political party. Mr. Gorbachev has returned the favor with a stream of endorsements of Mr. Putin.
But as Mr. Putin's Kremlin has steadily chipped away at the central elements of Mr. Gorbachev's legacy -- media freedom, open elections, even the arms-control agreements that sealed the end of the Cold War -- that relationship increasingly presents a dilemma. Openly attacking Mr. Putin would be a ticket back to political Siberia. Continuing to defend him jeopardizes Mr. Gorbachev's credibility. So the former president, now 76, has sought an ever-narrowing middle ground, supporting Mr. Putin even as he criticizes his Kremlin.
Perestroika's Values 'Destroyed'
"I think he's secretly worried" about his legacy, says Dmitry Muratov, a close family friend and editor of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. "The values of perestroika? They're being savagely destroyed."
|President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev exchanged pens after signing a treaty to eliminate intermediate-range missiles in 1987.|
The threat to those values will be on vivid display this weekend, in Russia's parliamentary elections. With opponents sidelined and muzzled, the pro-Kremlin party is expected to win by a landslide on Sunday. Mr. Putin has said he might become prime minister after his presidential term ends next spring, or seek another way to remain what allies call Russia's "national leader" and what critics deride as a modern-day czar.
As liberty recedes in Russia, Mr. Gorbachev's stance raises a question: Is the former Soviet president a savvy politician who sees democratic instincts in Mr. Putin that his critics have missed? Or has he been seduced by the Kremlin's attentions into becoming an apologist for the former KGB agent who is undoing the revolution Mr. Gorbachev began?
"It's very much to the benefit of the Kremlin to use Gorbachev, and he allows himself to be used this way," says Lyudmilla Telen, a journalist and Gorbachev friend who edits a small Internet news site. "He will keep balancing as long as he can."
The former president says he isn't being manipulated. "I think Putin is a democrat," he says in an interview. Some "authoritarian" steps were needed, he says, to restore order after the chaos of the 1990s. He credits Mr. Putin with rebuilding Russia's living standards and international prestige. "This isn't the democracy that we will ultimately get to -- it's a transitional democracy."
Mr. Gorbachev's support of Mr. Putin may surprise many in the West. But that cognitive dissonance reflects the gap between how Russia's past 20 years are viewed at home and abroad. Many outside Russia see the 1990s as a time of democratic promise for Moscow. Inside Russia, it was seen as a decade of deprivation and chaos. Like millions of Russians, Mr. Gorbachev wanted the end of communist totalitarian rule, not of the Soviet Union itself. He believes the West took advantage of Russia's weakness in the 1990s and is now uncomfortable with Mr. Putin, who has returned it to strength.
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev started out as a combine driver in southern Russia. He rose though the ranks of the Communist Party to become its general secretary, the most powerful person in the U.S.S.R. He introduced glasnost, or openness in media and political debate, and encouraged once-suppressed dialog about Stalin-era crimes. In 1990, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to ending the Cold War.
Mr. Gorbachev blames Boris Yeltsin for derailing perestroika, his policy of economic reforms, and dissolving his country out from under him in 1991. Within days of giving up his post, Mr. Gorbachev was evicted from his Moscow apartment, the first of years of petty humiliations dealt out by the Kremlin.
The government kept his pension for much of the 1990s at the equivalent of $2 a month, he says. The new Russian government had promised office space for his Gorbachev Foundation, which is devoted to political studies. As Mr. Gorbachev fiercely attacked the new president, the Kremlin raised the rent and forced him out. Mr. Gorbachev says he paid for a new building with proceeds from international lectures and the Pizza Hut ad.
His efforts to rebuild a political following foundered as millions of Russians blamed him for the economic collapse that followed the Soviet Union's demise. He ran for president against Mr. Yeltsin in 1996 and got 0.5% of the vote. He blames the Yeltsin Kremlin for silencing his campaign. Polls show Russians still overwhelmingly think he had a negative impact on their country.
Call From Putin
Mr. Putin, however, had none of the personal history that poisoned relations between Messrs. Yeltsin and Gorbachev. He was respectful and solicitous of the former Soviet president from the start.
In 1999, Mr. Putin, by then Russia's prime minister, called Mr. Gorbachev to offer assistance when Mr. Gorbachev's wife, Raisa, fell ill with leukemia and needed treatment in Germany. Mr. Putin attended Raisa's funeral. Mr. Yeltsin didn't.
In the 2000 Russian presidential election, Mr. Gorbachev initially dismissed Mr. Putin as a Yeltsin-clan creation and supported a rival. But he says Mr. Putin, who'd been in national politics for less than a year, gradually won him over.
Mr. Putin invited Mr. Gorbachev to his inauguration in the Kremlin and months later to a private meeting to discuss politics, Mr. Gorbachev's first as former president. The new president also encouraged Mr. Gorbachev to form his own party, which became known as the Social-Democratic Party, the former president says.
The personal detente served Mr. Putin well. In public, Mr. Gorbachev repeatedly insisted that the new leader wouldn't thrust Russia back to authoritarianism. The endorsement was important in foreign capitals: Mr. Putin was still a cipher abroad, where his pressuring of the media and political rivals had raised concerns.
In 2001, Mr. Putin asked Mr. Gorbachev to run the Russian side of the St. Petersburg Dialog, a semi-official discussion group between Russian and German business and cultural leaders that Mr. Putin had set up with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
At the Dialog sessions, heavily covered in both countries' media, Mr. Gorbachev has defended the Kremlin's record on press freedom and other issues. He has also contributed commentaries to Western newspapers, last year defending the Kremlin's controversial initial public offering of shares in state oil giant OAO Rosneft.
Meanwhile, in other venues, Mr. Gorbachev attacked government attempts to centralize control of the political system and rein in the media. Mr. Gorbachev has long helped fund Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia's last remaining independent newspapers. The muckraking paper, with a limited reach, has seen three of its reporters murdered in recent years.
In 2000, shortly after Mr. Putin became president, the government began pressuring the tycoon who owned NTV, Russia's main independent national TV network, to give up control. Mr. Gorbachev agreed to lead an advisory board of prominent figures the tycoon set up to parry the Kremlin assault.
The former president spoke out harshly as the campaign intensified, at one point saying, "the democratic reforms of the last 15 years are at risk." But after each meeting at the Kremlin, he publicly refused to blame the president, insisting that Mr. Putin remained committed to a free press.
In 2001, Russia's state-owned gas company took over the TV network and replaced most of its news staff. NTV adopted a staunchly pro-Kremlin line.
"When I hear him calling Putin a democrat, I want to break something," says Yevgeny Kiselyov, a top NTV journalist who helped recruit Mr. Gorbachev to the advisory board and left after the takeover.
Though Mr. Gorbachev's position was too soft for Mr. Kiselyov and others, it was too harsh for some in the Kremlin, officials involved in the episode say. His access to the president was reduced. His criticisms of the Kremlin now get little media attention, and he's rarely shown on state-controlled television. Recent appearances have been edited, aides say, to exclude attacks on the Kremlin.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says President Putin values objective criticism and Mr. Gorbachev's "positive assessments" of Mr. Putin.
The Party's Over
Earlier this year, Mr. Gorbachev's Social-Democratic Party was shut down under a new Kremlin-backed law on political parties that effectively eliminated dozens of opposition groups. Mr. Gorbachev refused to fault Mr. Putin. "I don't think the president was double-dealing," he told reporters this fall.
Few colleagues share that view. Gavriil Popov, another Social-Democratic leader, sat silently next to Mr. Gorbachev as he gave that answer. "That's all wrong ... . Putin was double-dealing," he said in an interview later. "But it's not good for Mikhail Sergeyevich to position himself against the president" because it would limit his freedom to maneuver.
Mr. Popov was one of the prominent politicians of perestroika, elected Moscow mayor in 1990. He says Mr. Gorbachev might go into open opposition if the Kremlin goes too far in undermining democracy. "He doesn't talk about that and doesn't want to think about it," Mr. Popov says.
That moment may be nearing.
Kremlin-supported manuals for high-school teachers issued earlier this year highlight the achievements of dictator Josef Stalin and write warmly of Leonid Brezhnev, who presided over a tightening of state control in the 1970s. Mr. Gorbachev is criticized for vanity and a refusal to share power with rivals. In June, Mr. Putin said Russians shouldn't be made to feel guilty about Stalin-era purges because other countries have "more horrible" pages in their histories.
To combat what he sees as revisionism, Mr. Gorbachev's foundation has published once-secret Soviet Politburo documents and hosted conferences on Soviet history that typically draw modest crowds of specialists. In September in Moscow, the foundation marked the 70th anniversary of Stalin's Great Terror, one of Soviet history's bloodiest chapters.
Stalin's 'Golden Age'
At the start of the symposium, Mr. Gorbachev lamented recent efforts to portray Stalin's rule as "a golden age" that was later reprised under Brezhnev. "Gorbachev's perestroika just disappears," he said. The speakers who followed compared Stalin's totalitarianism to what they called the increasingly authoritarian rule of Mr. Putin. As the day wound to a close, Mr. Gorbachev conceded alarm at the current official line.
"It's started to smell of Brezhnevism, of Stalinism again," he said. But he denied Mr. Putin has built an authoritarian regime. "If you put all he's done on the scales, the positive outweighs," he said.
As Mr. Gorbachev went on in support of Mr. Putin, a woman stood up. "This is more than I can take," she grumbled as she left.
Outside Russia, Mr. Gorbachev's message is even less critical of the Kremlin. He still spends about half his time traveling the world, speaking to student and business groups on behalf of the Gorbachev Foundation, his Green Cross International environmental charity and the Raisa Gorbacheva Foundation, which supports leukemia treatment in Russia. His agent says his speaking fee is in line with those of other former top officials, such as Colin Powell; those who've hired him put it in the low six figures.
Internationally, he retains an aura of celebrity. Last year, he flew to the south of France with a Russian billionaire friend to recruit Elton John to play at a benefit. Fund-raisers for the Raisa foundation have become a fixture on the London social calendar, attracting Naomi Campbell, Madonna and J.K. Rowling. This fall, to raise money for Green Cross, he appeared in glossy magazine ads for Louis Vuitton luggage.
He's still instantly recognizable, though his face has softened and the birthmark on his forehead is framed now by grayer hair. In the place of the late Raisa, their daughter, Irina, often travels at his side. Mr. Gorbachev proudly plays the role of doting grandfather to Irina's two daughters, who are in their 20s.
After a sudden hospitalization late last year for a blocked artery in his neck, and then a fall on his way back from the sauna at his dacha earlier this year, Mr. Gorbachev says he wants to slow down and give up some international responsibilities.
Reagan's Famous Speech
But in October, he was on the road in the U.S. First stop was Miami, at a prep school where a wealthy parent paid his speaking fee. Next was a speech in Louisville sponsored by the nonprofit World Affairs Council, then a two-day Green Cross meeting in New Orleans.
After a day off, he was in Dallas for a double-header. Before lunch, he posed for photos with dozens of local oilmen and their wives at the Texas Oil and Gas Association's annual conference. Chairman Joseph O'Neill III made the introduction.
"All of us here are very proud of Ronald Reagan and his famous speech, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,'" he said, referring to Mr. Reagan's comments in Berlin in 1987.
The comment got the session off on the wrong foot. Mr. Gorbachev disputes that President Reagan forced Russia into capitulating in the Cold War; instead, he says, the movement started at home. Taking the floor, Mr. Gorbachev said: "Mr. Reagan's first profession was as an actor, and so he was speaking for the stage."
The crowd laughed politely. Mr. Gorbachev then lectured them on the threat of global climate change and the need for sustainable development. He catalogued what he called the misguided policies of the U.S., whose leaders suffered from a post-Cold War "victor's complex." He defended Kremlin policies, saying the transition to democracy will take years and that the U.S. needs to get used to a Russia that can stand up for its interests.
In the late afternoon, Mr. Gorbachev met students at the University of Dallas before being hurried to a speech downtown for university donors. At the podium, he squinted and asked for the spotlights to be turned down. "This reminds me of my maternal grandfather and how they tortured him with bright lights," he said, referring to one of several relatives caught up in Stalin's terror. He delivered the line as a joke. The audience laughed.
He launched into the speech, the same outline as at lunch. By the time he headed for dinner at the lavish home of a top university donor, his stride had slowed.
Last Stop, Edinburg
The next morning in his hotel suite, Mr. Gorbachev looks tired. Aides pack bags before the last stop on his U.S. tour.
In an interview, he remembers his childhood in a village with no electricity. The conversation turns to foreign policy. He says that in 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney rejected his suggestion that Moscow and Washington avoid toughness and work as partners.
"He told me, 'Reagan took a hard line and he got what he wanted,' saying something like [the Americans] put us on our knees," Mr. Gorbachev recalls. "I said, 'I think you're wrong.' ... But he doesn't care. Cheney's some kind of spawn," he says, using half of the Russian phrase for "spawn of the devil."
Mr. Gorbachev says that during his last meeting with Mr. Putin, over the summer, the two had a "big, substantive conversation" about what Mr. Gorbachev called Russia's "new stage." He says Mr. Putin made clear the Kremlin will strengthen, not weaken, democratic institutions.
"I know him well now," Mr. Gorbachev says. "He's a very normal person."
His daughter, Irina, joins the conversation. Her younger daughter, Anastasia, is in her last year at university in Moscow, studying journalism and working part-time rewriting celebrity-news releases for a glossy fashion magazine.
Anastasia had an internship a few years back at Novaya Gazeta, the Gorbachev-backed independent paper that has lost three journalists to murder. Irina says hard news is not in her daughter's future.
"I can't take a risk like that with my children," she says. "Journalism now is a dangerous business."
By evening, the last Soviet leader is in Edinburg, Texas, a city of strip-mall sprawl near the Mexican border. The crowd is so large that some will have to watch on monitors in a neighboring building. Mr. Gorbachev sits backstage in a white-cinderblock dressing room as latecomers are seated. The conversation drifts to Stalin and his secret police.
"He used to watch and give them pointers" in the torture chambers, Mr. Gorbachev marvels, looking to his bodyguard. The guard, a former KGB agent, nods.
Irina complains that the new Kremlin-backed textbooks play down the tens of millions who died as a result of Stalin's policies. "They couldn't have published that textbook without approval," Mr. Gorbachev says.
The crowd greets him with a cheer when he walks out on stage. The next morning, he is off to Germany to prepare for another meeting of the St. Petersburg Dialog, where he'll lead the closing session alongside Mr. Putin.