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TITLE: PRESS CONFERENCE WITH MIKHAIL GORBACHEV
[GORBACHEV FUND OFFICE, 12:10, DECEMBER 21, 2001]
SOURCE: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE (http://www.fednews.ru/)
Moderator: Good morning, dear guests. Welcome to our press conference. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev will make introductory remarks and then we will have questions and answers. Before we start I would like to invite you to our website. It is called www.gorbie.ru. We have our Fund's news, the news tape, and news archives. We have news most every day. So, if you want to know about the activities of the Fund and, of course the activities of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, you can find something on this site every day. And now we go into our press conference. Mikhail Sergeyevich.
Gorbachev: There are periods when you approached by many people asking for a chance to talk and to take an interview. And such a period came at the end of the year. I have tried to meet some of these requests but it was unrealistic to meet them all and so we have called a press conference. We are ready to answer your questions for as long as necessary. That is one thing.
We have stopped putting people on the waiting list to talk with me, we have had 42 requests. And obviously, we had to organize a press conference. Those who have come here today must be those who really wanted to get something and to hear something. Thank you for coming.
My introductory remarks will deal with the following. In recent days in Russia and in France which I visited and in St. Petersburg which I just visited -- I arrange all the questions into three groups.
The first topic is ten years of the break up of the Union, the second topic. You may have noticed my article in Izvestia which has also been published in La Stampa called "The President Makes His Choice" dealing with the foreign and internal policy of the President; and the third topic is the general world context, what is happening to the world and in what context we live and work.
Let me say something to warm up the engine, so to speak.
First, regarding the disintegration of the Union. It's ten years on and understandably the press writes about it and films are coming out. I have seen some of them, but we have most of the films and I will eventually get to see them. But from what I have seen I have noticed that the keynote is an attempt to interpret what happened and the causes of the disintegration and what is to be done. The conversation drifts more and more in this direction. There is less and less attention to details and it is understandable that this is becoming more important. Why the disintegration occurred may be kept on the agenda because it is relevant to the present times, it may provide the key to what is happening in Russia and in the post-Soviet space. Considering the place occupied by the Soviet system and what came afterwards. it is important for the Europeans and for the world.
So, the first thing I would like to say about the breakup. There are arguments as to whether it was an objective process or it was the work of somebody bent on evil. I would like to say that those who suggest that the breakup was programmed even in the Soviet times, by the way it was created and what sustained it, that this system was unrealistic from the start. Others say that it all had started ten years before perestroika and that perestroika by opening the floodgates for freedom, for the initiative of individuals and political elites and so it came about by itself.
In short, the empire was formed, it held somehow for a while and, like all the empires, it had to collapse some day. I do not share that point of view. What are the objective facts? It is an objective fact that the USSR by the time of the start of perestroika was overloaded with problems. A very complicated system was malfunctioning and it could not react to internal problems, it was incapable of restructuring -- and this was the path the world followed in reacting to the scientific and technological revolution --
And I must say that objectively what happened was this. During the Soviet period nation states had been formed in the Union republics. Nations were consolidated, state institutions had been formed and political elites, and most importantly, elites were formed capable of running things in politics, economics, culture and education were formed in the Union republics.
And the over centralization that was inherent and that continued because it was after all a totalitarian society was a shackles on the country, on society which had changed and all these processes were set in motion. Over bureaucratization, over centralization outlived themselves and issue had to be addressed. This was the objective imperative. But the scenarios for doing it could have been different. The scenario that was realized here was the worst possible. This despite the fact that those who were at the top at the time believed that the main task was reform on the basis of centralization.
And the task was in fact to implement what was written in Stalin's Constitution and in Brezhnev's Constitution. Namely, that the Union republics are independent state entities enjoying sovereignty, the right to self-determination not stopping short of secession. I have more than once drawn your attention to this. It might not be a bad idea to read them, you may find something there.
We embarked on this path considering the real changes that happened. The form that existed was simply splitting at the seams. It had to be reformed. I think reform was the right strategy. It made it possible to gradually, step by step -- some issues, of course, had to be solved quickly -- but on the whole a transition to a system that would retain the Union structure to tackle important tasks and concentrating on common problems while at the same time have broad decentralization so that all the vital practical question should be solved by the republics themselves.
I am convinced that the right choice had been made. I don't know if any of you remember that five years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and 10 years after the beginning of perestroika, Burbulis and Shushkevich appeared on television one day. Shushkevich was at a loss. The press kept on asking him what he had wanted, whether he had understood what he was doing and what he had been taking part in. But Burbulis is never at a loss and said without any sign of shyness, Yes, we must say now. Apparently, it was after he had been kicked out of serious politics. He said, Life shows that a soft union proposed by Gorbachev was the most correct way to go. Today you won't hear even that. Like GKChP plotters tried to justify their action, these people who did the "great" thing in Belovezhye are all saying the same: that everything had been done before them, that they only put the finishing touch and have to be thanked for preventing a civil war and a bloodshed.
So what they are saying that the collapse was inevitable and that they only played the role of midwives to help with the delivery. But I do not share this point of view. I think that the Union could have been preserved. It would have been a different scenario of development. I can't say that it would have been a hurrah scenario, an ideal scenario. It would have been a long and difficult scenario for one and may be two generations.
What is happening in the post-Soviet space -- the existence of generally recognized subjects of international relations, new states, independent states, UN members. But the country is torn apart. It is surviving only because it is cooperating. Kazakhstan with the Urals and Siberia and beyond. Ukraine with Russia here. Five million of Ukrainians work here. They are getting a bit of attention. Appropriate decisions must be adopted first, but while the search is still under way, people are working together. So, even torn apart, the country is continuing to live and work. It's understandable because the level of integration and cooperation that existed in the Soviet Union was higher than that in the EU today. All this must have been used.
Whatever we take either in Russia or Ukraine, we can't do it without cooperation. We need to do things jointly all the time. So, I stick to this point of view. There is another very important conclusion. Despite all efforts by the new president, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, to consolidate the federation to make it a living organism, and I think that he has already succeeded in doing that, at least I think so, there is still a lot of talk that Russia should also objectively disintegrate. These are very short-sighted judgments. As a rule, there are certain interests behind such judgments, but not the interests of citizens.
When people are asked about the USSR today, everybody regrets that it happened. Not everybody, of course, but most people do. What is also important is that when we look at the CIS where over a dozen countries exist, I think those who call for going back to the USSR, for restoring the USSR the way it existed, I think these are reactionary calls and a provocation. This may ruin what has been achieved and done with so much difficulty especially now that all independent states, primarily Russia, are beginning to get some perspective.
I think that if this process continues, and it is already under way and it seems that Putin's ascent to power and his attention to CIS problems and the declaration of relations with CIS states as the main priority gives us reasons to think that this policy will be enhanced, it is oriented toward cooperation and attention to our CIS partners. And I think that integration processes will develop. They may take the form of free trade zones, a currency or a payment union or the implementation of major projects involving three or four countries. But at the initial stage bilateral contacts will provide the basis.
I have been in Kazakhstan twice and had a two-day detailed discussion with Nursultan Nazarbayev during one of my trips. He said that as soon as the payment union had become operational and they had managed to set this mechanism in motion with the new leadership of Russia, it is not operating at full capacity yet, but immediately trade had grown by 35 or 40 percent. In other words, there is a natural base, chance and opportunities for cooperation and they must be used.
It was strange and stupid when this open market, this space, although I loath this word -- we lived for decades in the Soviet Union, a big country on which so much was dependent, in our lives too, and now it's called a space where anyone can do whatever he wants. It has become part of our vocabulary and I use it too. But I think that big interests are involved, primarily ours, but at the same time, I see how our partners in Europe and the US, and China are watching this with big interest. So, I think we must support the policy aimed at enhancing cooperation in the CIS in all areas.
This is the first topic I wanted to discuss today. Regarding the collapse, I'd like to make the following comment. I see that many young people who may not even know what exactly happened writes things in the press using cliches. We find them in films and articles. But we must never forget the fact that there were two factors, two events that had a negative impact on the completion of the reform in the Soviet Union. These are the coup. The people who staged it knew that a treaty was going to be signed , that this treaty promised a new life, new elections, the creation of new bodies. But at the same time it meant the end of their political activities. By the way, not only had they not been put before a firing squad, they were not even asked any questions. They were supposed to retire with honors in their seventy or about that, with dachas, a general's pensions and other privileges to which they were officially entitled.
In the second event, -- yes, they said they were fighting in August to preserve the Union, but in December, Zyuganov at Khasbulatov's request and all others, actually there were 85 percent of communist delegates who stood up to vote for the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Obviously they had no interest in the Soviet Union or the fate of people or what was going to happen to them, they had their own selfish interests to pursue. As to who brought up the break up it was Russia. Since 1990, starting from sovereignty and in the autumn, it was because of Russia that for the first time in Soviet history we have no development budget because Russia refused to develop a budget. And so the Union had to live without a budget, to muddle through. So, that's who started dismantling Russia.
They were against the signing of contracts on cooperation between enterprises -- and yet it was a transitional period. And then what started was elementary and open luring of union enterprises from the union jurisdiction to Russian jurisdiction. And they instantly had a ten percent tax cut. If I were to go on describing what was happening -- it all intensified the processes of disintegration so as to create a situation that would seem to suggest: you see what is happening? Something has to be done about it. It was a different scenario, perhaps there was some meaning in it but it was absolutely unacceptable and ungrounded, it could not be implemented. And the underlying idea was that they came to the conclusion that Russia would implement reform faster if it went it alone.
A Burbulis memorandum marked "strictly confidential" was being put together and put on the table and I immediately gave materials to television people and they filmed it. And he wrote that we were forfeiting the victories, the victories achieved in August and had already lost half of them. And if things continued in the same way it would be a defeat. What was worrying them so much? The Union is again gathering strength, a new treaty is being developed at the initiatives of the a Union center; the republics are supportive, and it does not meet our interests. When we were fighting against the Union center before the August 1991 putsch there was one situation because we were partners. Now they are no longer partners to us, and what we need to do is to devise a mechanism for divorce.
You should bear all this in mind. These are lessons, important lessons, they also have to do with the responsibility of the political elite of Russia. And this needs to be borne in mind. These problems arise today too.
Which brings me to the second topic. I think, I have formed a firm opinion that the President is trying to exit from that phase when the development of Russia, even after he came to power, continued by inertia within the framework of Yeltsin's policy and strategy, a commitment to radical liberalism. We know what it all led to. And not only in this country, we witness it today in Argentina. I have just met with the President of Brazil in Madrid and the situation there is similar to that in Argentina. These are all models of the International Monetary Fund. The so-called world government that dictated to us, as you remember. They came over and they just dictated the points to us. And that is how we lived. As a result we got what we had to get.
So, we are beginning to exit from that model, but no decisive change has yet occurred. Our press is abuzz with allegations that the President is taking us back into communism or at least to command and authoritarian methods. That misses the point. I think the President is steering internal policy in the interests of the majority of Russians. I saw from his approach to education, his approach to the housing reform and the housing and utilities, to medicine and labor legislation. But I must tell you that there is fierce struggle going on. We do not see it, we can only get glimpses of behind-the-scenes activities but the President is tied hand and foot. Above all, the entourage of the former president and the plans linked with them. And that is a problem. Because even after he has stepped in and major adjustments were made to all these reforms -- education, health, labor legislation, housing and utilities reforms -- they are going too slowly and there is an attempt to keep us in the same rut. And an attempt to scare us.
The problem of tariffs is not being approached from the all- Russian national position. They tell us that the basic assets are aging and so on. At the same time 23 billion have already flown abroad. But this is not the point. And I think that the fact that the President is making a turn while preserving the fundamental commitment to protecting property, to moving wards a market and socially-oriented economy protecting investors and so on. I think what he does is correct. But you know these people, you give them a finger and they are ready to bite off your arm. They are driven only by their own selfish interests.
I think the national feeling, national responsibility for business and for the situation in Russia generally is very poorly developed. And I think, we all think about Russia and so we should not reduce our actions and our steps and thoughts only to the fate of the mechanisms that were used and relied on by the former President. And the incumbent President should be supported in what he is doing.
I am not doing a sales job: a new President has come, "hurrah" for the new President. No. I am watching him very closely. I think this is a very difficult period. The press -- of course it is linked with certain groups -- but it should not forget that it is in Russia and that we are all the citizens of Russia.
So I am frankly expressing my point of view that I am sometimes surprised at the attitude of major media outlets. I think that our internal policy -- and it has been reflected in the new turn in foreign policy as well because Russia today needs reform in order to achieve a stable, normal democratic situation and create normal conditions for people's lives. So, it is interested in cooperation and not some kind of confrontation toward which they were pushing the President from different corners.
I think that he has done a lot of hard thinking during the past year and a half as President. And at the end of the day he is making a choice which I think merits support. And there is a measure of misunderstanding on that point too. So, this is a very critical and responsible time.
And the third topic. September 11 has shown that in the ten years after the Cold War people's expectations of greater stability, more security and more justice in international relations, especially in economic cooperation and especially when it comes to assisting poor and backward countries in resolving drawn-out crises -- there are almost three billion people who live on $1.5 a day -- these problems have not only decreased but have become bigger as follows from the UN report.
Over the past 10 years the situation has become even more acute because the openness after the Cold War allowed developed countries to use their technological supremacy, finance, telecommunications and the press that they control to direct the flow of wealth into their hands. As a result, the gap between the poor countries and the rich countries increased.
I participated in all those decision-making processes. The UN voted to direct up to one percent of the gross domestic product to the fight against backwardness and poverty. But no country fulfills this UN decision. Only a few countries direct 0.5 or 0.6 percent of their GDP to this end, all others 0.2 percent or nothing at all.
There is a proposal by Nobel prize winner James Tobin -- he won it in the economic field -- to introduce a tax on financial capital that acts egoistically and irresponsibly because it may ruin whole countries in a matter of several days as it either flows in or flows out. He put forth this proposal a long time ago, but nothing has been done.
Actually, there are a lot of things that have not been done. We thought that the arms race would decrease and we would be able to use the money saved for other purposes, but it never happened. We have gotten a situation that allowed terrorists to act because poverty is the feeding ground for terrorism.
Terrorists are people who cannot be reformed. They can only be fought. They are not always poor. As a rule, they are not poor. Remember the red brigades in Europe, as a rule they came from rich families. It's a special mentality, that's what it is. But terrorism has been deftly using the situation due to the development of globalization by certain rules. Actually, it was developed without rules at all. All this talk about a new world order -- I have also taken part in these discussions, but the US President held the lead -- has gone down the drain. As a result, we have anti-globalist movement and speculation, and terrorists using this situation.
We reject terrorism and we must join our forces in the world in order to counter it. It's obvious. But we must not fail to see the situation that has developed in the last several years and what is happening in the anti-globalist movement, we must not fail to see the actions of terrorists who are using this atmosphere. We have understood at last that something must be done about this. Something real must be done. I am not going to go into details now, I just want to say that national problems cannot be solved unless global development problems are solved.
All this is very important. I have come to the conclusion that I must continue the idea that was put forth in Europe, namely, to create a world policy forum, a political version of Davos, because now all problems come from the fact that politics lags behind. Politics is still in the captivity of old approaches. And again we see geopolitical games for spheres of influence in a bid to get a bigger share or to get control of zones potentially rich in energy and energy resources. Plus the use of force. I already see euphoria over the defeat of the Taliban as if one could have thought that the Taliban had any chance to win against all these air strikes delivered by such a huge force as NATO or the US where 75 percent of the world's military might is concentrated.
If they go there, interfere and start replacing Afghans with their people to run the country, nothing will work. I think this anti-terrorist coalition has led them in the right direction: all major ethnic groups must be represented in the government. This is the only way to run Afghanistan. If this policy is pursued and if Afghans are allowed to make decisions, with the outside support, of course, which they need now, then the situation will change.
But I see that bridges are already being built and that this huge machine has been set in motion: plants are making weapons which need to be sold, and therefore they may as well start shooting in another country if they get a good pretext. Using terrorist methods in the fight against terrorism is a deadend.
I think that our cooperation Putin has proposed to the US, our partnership and in some cases may be even allied relations, and his proposal to change cooperation with the EU and NATO to make it more effective, these are very important and far-reaching proposals.
I am finishing to leave time for your questions.
Q: Could you sum up Putin's achievements in reforming Russia? How has Russia changed in the last two years? Just one after another, economics, then social life. And has Putin himself changed during these two years?
Gorbachev: Putin. I think that the right man was chosen for President. He has the necessary potential, vision, culture and has such human and political qualities that a leader and especially the leader of such a country as ours needs. He has a strong character, he can withstand blows, he has the political will and cautiousness. These two qualities go side by side and they are really needed. He has shown all these qualities.
I don't know if you can agree with me or not and may be I have already spoken about this, but look at how Putin has been acting after the 11th, actually starting on that very day. Basically, it was the work of a mature politician. So, in this sense, the president has proved viable.
I see young people of your age in this room who argued with me about this, about Putin, and I said, Listen, let me put it this way. I see that you are not quite willing to accept my arguments and you are arguing with me. Those of you who have worked as president, raise your hands. I raised mine, of course. You are saying this because -- I have worked as President at least in three countries, in three periods. I know everything and everything is clear to me. And I can tell you that because this is the time of profound reform and so on and what with the destabilization of work, I can tell you that he has managed to accomplish in the last year and a half more than I had expected.
There is stability, there is more order. Certain trends of his policy have emerged. Steering the reforms in the right direction to meet the interests of Russia. At the same time, a responsible behavior in foreign policy. He has not yielded to those who said, now Putin has come and we will give a bloody nose to all of them. He did not succumbed to this. But he listened to everything. I can see that. He is a good listener -- this is very important -- he can listen and digest everything and find solutions.
I think this is very important: the tax policy, a package of laws, tax cuts, a package of laws on protecting investments, on medium and small enterprises, on protection of private property -- there is progress on all these fronts. Preparation for the reform of the justice system. I could continue the list, but it amounts to pulling Russia together, but not by simple authoritarian methods, but by putting all these mechanisms in place.
Even something that many of you criticize and we, representatives of political parties, those who founded new parties, were critical of the law on parties and we expressed our opinion. I can tell you, it is not a terribly good law, but it is a very necessary law. Because chaos is devouring democracy, it is eating up democratic institutions.
Chaos is good for those people who pursue their own selfish interests.
And what this country needs, the vast country which is in such a fix, in a severe crisis, is that political structures should work effectively and democratically. And this cannot be done without political parties that express the interests of different socials strata. There was big business and it has organized itself now, there is the middle class -- and I attended their congress -- and now small business is organizing itself. And today the president is looking for a mechanism to achieve this aim: how to help medium and small business financially because this is the most complicated job.
If we give them support, simplify registration and functioning and put an end to the sway of bureaucracy over business and find mechanisms of financial support, it would be best for building up the potential of the country. That's where the answers lie. Take President Bush Jr., the 43rd President of the United States, what did he turn his attention to in the very first days in office? Education. Education, in spite of the fact that a lot had been done in that way in American under Clinton. And he went touring the states in order to invite everyone to support small and medium business. While big business turns the radar of its ship -- it will first do calculations for two or three years, but it is necessary in the time of recession to create jobs and ensure some kind of growth. Small and medium business may provide the answer.
All these elements and his commitment to national interests gives me grounds for saying that we have a president who should be supported at present. At our unification congress when we were founding the Social Democratic Party of Russia, I said in the report -- and it was echoed by other speakers at our congress -- that we will now take part in all the elections. As for presidential elections, we see that if the President steers his present line and acts the way he does now, we will be among those who will nominate him for another term.
Q: ORT, Vybornov. Two very different questions. First: what do you think about present-day foreign policy of Russia and its diplomatic relations with the United States and Western Europe and probably NATO? Is it a policy that meets your own convictions? And the second question: it will be ten years soon since you left the post of President of the Soviet Union and it will probably not be one of your best days, a hard day. What were you thinking at the time, what second thoughts did you have perhaps?
Gorbachev: As for foreign policy, I think it is becoming more considered. And as you know well, the concept of our foreign policy and security was not very well thought out -- you know that such a document has been adopted about a year ago, I think. But this was done shortly after he assumed office. And that vision and approach to the problems and the situation as it is shaping up in the world at a time when globalization is the dominant trend, made it possible to overcome imperial impulses that even the new authorities had initially and which were encouraged in some quarters. I repeat that today this is a mature policy. I support it.
Now on more specific matters. I think that what the Americans have done on ABM, this is on their conscience and they must answer for it. The President pursued a correct line and he stayed his course, namely, let the treaty remain. Some work needs to be to adjust it or a new treaty should be concluded -- this is a matter of time and it depends on the foreign policy activities of the two states. But not to set an example that such a treaty which underpins so much can be undermined and thrown out knocking our the foundation from all the positive things that were built on that treaty. So, I think the President's position is right.
And it is right because the message is that they themselves have to answer. You want to have a free hand, but you have given us a free hand as well. True, the reservation was made that we are not going to abuse it and we are not going to provide our missiles with multiple warheads, etc.
The President's statement that we are capable of defending our country meets the reality.
Secondly, I think that the Americans who only recently said they were not going sign any treaties to seal the proposals they made, that they would cut their warheads by almost two times, or is it three times? To 1,700-2,000... Our President said that we will act in the same manner, but we wanted to put it into a treaty so that there should be a measure of responsibility. What are these warheads? Even 2,000 means that either side can destroy the other side twice over, destroy all life on Earth. One SS-80 packs 100 Chernobyls.
So, in general, this is an issue that still has to be addressed. The discussion sometimes tends to be abstract. The balance, and what is being done to this or that missile or half a missile ... that doesn't matter. What matters is that this tendency must be watched and kept track of. This is why the Americans are saying now that they may sign this agreement. It's very serious. But it has been said only at the level of various interviews.
I think that our contacts will continue since it has been described as a mistake, and I think that this is a correct assessment. Nevertheless, contacts and work continue.
As for NATO, I think it is already clear that it is hard to solve security problems in Europe and elsewhere without Russia, if they can be solved at all. So, the cooperation that has existed until now -- I think that if the President's new proposals are realized, this cooperation should be enriched with new structures and conclusions. I think Russia must and should not at all join NATO.
However, it is absolutely clear to me that it should participate in the decision-making mechanism. Anything else will not suit us, and most West Europeans understand this. I think that the Americans are beginning to understand this, too. You might have noticed that the press has lately announced about six questions on which Russia may have the right to veto.
When I heard my old acquaintance Colin Powell say that Russia would have no any right to veto, I responded to this in my article in Izvestia, in which I said that our American partners were rushing things to seize the initiative to make sure that this thought does not occur to others, in order to keep others under control.
I believe there are such things and such matters on which Russia should have the right to veto. This does not mean, however, that it should claim such a right with regard to all issues. Since we are not a full member of NATO and since we only cooperate with it, it would be wrong and unnecessary to seek such a right. At the same time, there are issues on which we should have the right to say "no". But this is an exception. If we are going to expand our cooperation, and Europe is set to do this, we are going back to the idea of building a European security architecture on the continent which will have room for NATO.
Then many things will get solved. During the election campaign, General Scowcroft (sp.), who is an unofficial adviser and a big connoisseur and an expert on security issues, called for creating some sort of a directorate for Europe, similar to a big security council for the whole world, to deal with security problems. He even said that it may involve the US, the EU, neutral countries and Russia.
But it's all subject to discussion. And yet this is an indication that they are thinking about this. In Paris in 1990, we proposed a Paris charter of European security. I, Genscher and Mitterrand insisted that we needed a minor security council for Europe. All these things need to be studied and must not be rejected right away because we all want peace in Europe, and this would be a very big contribution to global security.
Today, just like 10 years ago, I think that this is the most serious and the most difficult issue for me because perestroika collapsed. It collapsed having gone through the severest tests and we reached an anti-crisis program. All republics joined it, even the Baltic republics. We were about to sign a new Union Treaty. We made another attempt even after the putsch, we were going to reform the CPSU to divide it according to the trends, and it was at that time that this blow came, from the people around me.
This is why I come to the conclusion that we did everything correctly. Conceptually, we were committed to freedom, democracy and openness with regard to other countries. It's a choice that was made and it benefits the country and the whole world. Today we can only say that there were mistakes in the implementation of this strategy. I think we were late in developing a Union treaty, but on the other hand, it could never occur to anyone that those things had to be rushed. I think we were late, though.
Then there was April 1991 when most or half of the participants in the plenum was to get rid of Gorbachev as the general secretary, and I resigned in response to these feelings, but I should have traveled this path to the end because during those two hours when I was not present there the bureau discussed the situation. They had conducted consultations with the commanders of military districts and other officials. So, they were basically playing out the Khrushchev scenario, but the situation was different, and Gorbachev's position was different because I was president. In order to remove me, they had to deal with a Congress of People's Deputies. But that was something that the Politburo could hardly manage.
This is why they decided to use a different tactic. I saw that the party turned from the initiator of perestroika into a brake for perestroika. I should have gone to the end, should have gone for separation. So, I think it was a mistake, the most serious one. Third, they tried to whip up tension by disrupting supplies to the population. About 150 trains loaded with food products were standing around Moscow. But all this was saved for a better occasion, so to speak, while the population was queuing up for food across the country.
I think the problem should have been solved by reducing the defense budget by 10-15 percent, which meant 15 billion rubles. At that time each ruble invested in the defense sector cost $2. I don't know why this was not done. I think there was too much self-confidence.
Q: You are engaged in very active public life, you are the leader of a party, what are the goals of your work and what would you like to do for Russia?
Gorbachev: Everybody can see what I am doing. I have decided to consolidate Social Democrats in order to create a serious mass party. I think the time has come for that. People see that there is no way backward where the CPRF is dragging us. Even though it is disguising its slogans and policy goals still, it is pulling us backward. People -- especially the young and middle generations, don't want to go there.
But in the ten years we have see what radical liberalism is and where it leads. So, what is needed is a balanced serious policy. And I think the social democratic project is what the country needs.
Look at the way all the parties are exploiting social democratic slogans and principles. We have carried out an analysis. We have compared all the programs of the parties that are heading for elections and they are all social democrats. Obviously, they use them as a banner and once they are elected they will pursue their own goals. So, the time has come to create such a party. I think it is the most important job I have to do.
The International Green Cross -- these are all major problems. I am not speaking about specific problems even though they may not be so small. For example, we now have to do the Russian-German forum in which I am the Russian co-chairman so as to develop, expand and renew contacts and cooperation with Germany not only at the level of politics, but at the level of the civil society. There are huge opportunities opening up, but I must say that my very first steps brought it home to me that there is a lot of work to be done. I have just returned from St. Petersburg where we were doing preparatory work.
Q: Golos Rossii radio station. Mikhail Sergeyevich, you have just spoken of the need to stabilize the situation in Europe. How do you see the current situation in the Balkans and the Russian actions in the region?
Gorbachev: Now that some time has passed... At the time all these events were unfolding in Yugoslavia and later they spilled into Macedonia, I said at the time that what was happening there could only be interpreted as a desire of some quarters to get a bridgehead and stay there for a long time in order to influence all the processes and exert pressure.
Those were just my hypothesis. Now I see that this is true. There are some forces which are getting out of control of those who initiated these events in the first place. I think that the international community, Europe must keep the situation from deteriorating. And peacekeeping efforts should be made there.
But Russia had done a great deal at the time in order to bring the crisis to an end and exit from the war in Yugoslavia. The Americans and others realized that they can't get anywhere without Russia, or indeed without the Security Council, without the United Nations. And the United Nations and the Security Council started working again and Russia is again needed, after all. That was a huge mistake. I must say that those who initiated that policy -- they don't know what even their allies say about how the decision was taken.
Everything had been decided and the political variant of implementing the decision was being considered. The Yugoslav leadership was prepared to walk its part of the way. But some quarters needed that project. I think it is a very serious lesson. Conclusions have been drawn. You remember that the Istanbul meeting recalled the Paris Charter. The Istanbul document mentions it three times; so, they are going back to the sources, so to speak.
If we follow that path, things will shape up eventually. Because I think that Albania, the Albanian leadership realize that it is dangerous to them to make common cause with the extremists. It does not meet their national interests. The fragile peace in the Balkans should not be destroyed. Because one can start rocking the boat but no one can predict how it will end up. The fact that the situation has been taken under control should offer us some kind of guarantee.
I think the Europeans, especially the EU, should be more active. Economically, they are very strong, and politically we all expect them to play a bigger role on matters of security and in solving the political problems of the emergence of a united Europe. And Russia, as you see, is proposing broader integration into Europe and thereby it assumes responsibility, it will take part in all the affairs, especially because the Balkans is what interests us. This is happening next door to us, and the world can simply blow up.
Q: ... (inaudible)... Could you tell us if you could name some symbolic milestones of what happened ten years ago and why it happened as it did?
Gorbachev: Like a timer.
Gorbachev: There are several such milestones. First, Yeltsin went away, and he negotiated with me. There are several points. And before his departure, he told me that he was going to meet with Kravchuk and how he should steer the conversation? I told him that he should tell Kravchuk that we have draft Union Treaty and that we have already initialed it, a treaty preserving the Union State. Obviously he would be against because they had all conducted referendums in favor of independence. I tell him: "You have all proclaimed your independence. Well, this only strengthens the positions of each republic in the process of hammering out a new Union Treaty, but no more."
We are going to name it the Union of Sovereign States. So, this is independence. How can a dependent republic or dependent state take part in creating a union? No way. There is nothing new to it. Everyone has already proclaimed his independent. I knew that in parallel Yeltsin -- although he created quite a few problems in the process of drafting the new treaty because the Congress of People's Deputies approved the President's statement and the statements of the heads of the republics to the effect that a new Union Treaty, an economic treaty, should be developed and many other problems should be solved. And he was involved in all these matters. I have a document of the Union Treaty with Yeltsin's marks which he sent back to me on the 26th. And he recognizes everything, the Union state and so on.
Some provisions he wanted struck out or couched in a different way, but all that was in place by September 26. On November 14 everyone went on television and everyone said that the Union would be preserved. They initialed it on 25. And then came the first hitch, the trip there. And at the same time he was coming under pressure from Burbulis and all the others who said we don't need a Union state, that we needed a diverse mechanism and no more than that. And they were gone.
So, I began to find out. And I found out that they were talking to Shaposhnikov. I talked to Shaposhnikov, too. He wriggling. But he was a protege, he had been appointed by the Defense Minister to oppose the putsch. We did this together and he cooperated. He was promised that he would command the united armed forces and he agreed as if he had any authority to decide. In reality he was a hired man, no more than that. But such was the time.
When I pressed harder, I was contacted by Shushkevich and we had a conversation that is well known to everybody. Kravchuk has also disclosed many things, but not all. He came and brought two documents with himself -- a union of states and associated membership, or something like that. But he did not need them. Yeltsin was waiting for an opportunity -- he says that hardly had he mentioned a soft version in the form of a commonwealth, as everybody echoed him.
I was shocked by such treacherous behavior of the people who ruined the country and cut whole peoples into pieces in order to settle scores, in order to secure themselves the royal status. We know what this led to. It was the beginning of December.
Then Yeltsin came back and had a conversation with Nazarbayev before coming to a meeting with me. I telephoned him in 20 minutes and said that I was waiting for him. And he said, I am wondering if I should go and see you. Won't be there an attempt on my life? Do you guarantee my security? And I said, why? The Kremlin is packed with cars, the military and others. I said, as long as I am in the Kremlin, there is no threat to your life. And then he came. What could he say? He couldn't say anything. He had already done his dirty work and he was trying to -- he only did not like it when I gave him the dressing before Nazarbayev. Nothing else worried him. The union, the state, that was not his scale.
And then things started moving. I was shocked. I made a statement and said that the supreme soviets must determine their attitude toward the Belovezhye accords and think about how they could harmonize them with the new draft they had. But nobody paid any attention to this draft. Instead the Belovezhye accords were being pushed through.
Byelorussia, only Lukashenko avoided voting. Russia, Yeltsin didn't care, for he only wanted to destroy the Union. Ukraine, it came up with several important observations, that the foreign policy could not be coordinated, that there could be no united armed forces, that there could be no concerted social and economic policy, but then what could there be? And everybody had his own money.
And the Belovezhye accords began to be disavowed for they only created a semblance of preserving the economic space and concerted actions and security matters. But the Russian Supreme Soviet did not react.
Someone shouted after the second or third speech that it was time to stop this. I think it was Sevostyanov who shouted that the most important thing was that Gorbachev would not longer be in the Kremlin. It seemed that everybody had gone mad. But the press kept silent. Intellectuals kept silent. The people kept silent and the army kept silent. And I was thinking, could it be true that only I needed the union state? Indeed, I had been accused of struggling to preserve the Union only in order to keep the post of president. I brushed this off and urged everybody to decide on the future of the Union and I said that I would write a statement refusing to participate in the next elections that were supposed to follow the adoption of the treaty. It was a dramatic situation, of course.
I appealed to the Alma-Ata meeting, and my appeal was published before the meeting, on the 19th, in all newspapers. If you read what I said there, everything was true except that things turned out to be even more dramatic. But no one in Alma-Ata paid my appeal any attention. They did not even discuss it. Then the day came, it was the 23rd, when I met with Yeltsin and we worked out a procedure, it was after the Alma-Ata agreement, for the Union administration to terminate its work. December 30 was the last day of work and we all moved out.
On the 25th I made a speech. I wanted to show you the last version of the speech, it's all covered with corrections. Yeltsin had to come to pick up the nuclear suitcase as was agreed. But he didn't come. Actually he was outraged by the fact that I had delivered my speech not the way we had agreed on. But then, what could I have agreed with him on? Did he want me to discuss my speech with him? I would have been ridiculous to make any deal with him. And yet I had to pass over the suitcase to make sure that the process did not become uncontrollable like the falling stone that can trigger an avalanche.
Yeltsin proposed to meet at the Kremlin on the neutral land so that I would bring him the suitcase to save him the trouble of picking it up. You may think, good God, these are the people who ran the country. What nonsense they were talking about. Right, I feel ashamed even to tell you about this.
You know, I propose to meet in the St. Catherine Hall. I told the generals, Take the suitcase, the letters and go give him this paper to sign and bring it back to me. Half an hour later everything was finished.
When I was delivering my speech, the flag was already being lowered. Everybody was in a hurry. And the following morning, at 8:00, I received a telephone call from my office because I was scheduled to meet with a Japanese delegation on the 30th. We still had five days before the meeting. Yeltsin, Khasbulatov and Burbulis got together in my office and drank a bottle of whisky for the victory.
I have never set my foot into that office again and I don't know what is there now. By the way, I have never talked to Yeltsin since then.
Q: December 27 is another anniversary of the deployment of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. You withdrew the troops from there. What do you think about this, was it really necessary to send them there in 1979?
Gorbachev: Of course not. It was an unjustified interference, a mistake. No doubt about that. By the way, the decision was made in haste and secretly, so that even I and Shevardnadze, being alternate members of the Politburo, we learned about this from the press. I was on a vacation on the Black Sea at that time. I arrived there on Saturday or Sunday. And this is how we learned this. So, it was a mistake.
It was a big mistake. If we needed to support some regime, maybe a friendly one, it was a Marxist regime that was being imposed and it rejected everything, it rejected the traditions of the country and it tried to run everybody and everything from Kabul. Afghanistan has never had and will never have such government because it has always had a lot of ethnic groups and each of its provinces is a place where a certain ethnic group lives. It has its own elders, its own mechanisms of government. The country that was leaving the stage of -- actually it had not even left --
Gorbachev: Feudalism, we tried to impose upon it Marxism that we had failed to fulfill in our own country. This is how the situation developed. I think it was a big mistake. They hid the fact that troops had been sent there and that people had got killed there. It was a drama for the country. We should have told the truth. Item No. 3 in my notebook, the entry was made on the second day of my work after election, was to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. There were nine points and I cite them in my memoirs. We withdrew the troops. Then the press charged me with questions like Why has it taken so long to withdraw them? Apparently, they had to criticize me for something.
We had to withdraw the troops in order to keep face in order not to run away from there and suffer tremendous political and human losses. We had to create prerequisites for Afghanistan to create structures capable of running the country. All this was done. Karmal was replaced by Nadjibullah. It was a serious person and I think he was a Pushtun.
Q: Two questions, if you don't mind. In some Arab countries, in Egypt too, some political circles still think that the disintegration of the Soviet Union was the doing of the West. How could you comment on this? And second, what role should Russia play in the Middle East settlement? Is Russia doing enough to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and bring the sides to the negotiating table?
Gorbachev: On your first question, I think that when we ruined the Union ourselves -- let's face the truth -- people in many capitals and around them rubbed their hands. But in many, people regretted, because it was the end of a strong force that was committed to democratic reforms and that played a big constructive role in all respects and balanced US claims and ambitions.
But all this happened through our own fault. Moreover, I must say that President Bush acted cautiously. He was even criticized in his country for not clearly stating his support to the new forces that were coming to power. He said in the Baltics that the US had never recognized it as being part of the Union because it had been incorporated and occupied. The US has always had embassies there. But there is the law on secession and Gorbachev is carrying out democratic reforms and you have to act by law.
He also spoke in Ukraine, and I think that there were more suspicions about the US. I illustrated President Bush's positions.
Moderator: The second question was about the Middle East and Russia's role there.
Gorbachev: I think that if the situation in the Middle East develops like this, we will get a situation that will support the forces that are against developed countries, especially those that are directly involved there and has interests in that region. I think, everything must be done now to settle the conflict.
I think the time has come for the Security Council to work out a mechanism, parameters and a framework for taking the situation under control and to make the sides comply. The entire UN organization should do this. May be now the Israeli side understands that this must be done, that it is necessary to stop this fierce confrontation which basically means an undeclared war. Arafat is trying to do something but he is not succeeding, and he is facing resistance from Hezbollah and another extremist group called HAMAS.
I think that's the only way. Russia, Europe, the US and representatives of the Arab world should take part in these efforts. There are sober-minded people who understand what this may lead to. We all want Israel to have generally recognized guarantees of the state, we want the state of Palestine to be and we want problems that were addressed by Netanyahu, no, actually by Barak -- yes, it was Clinton, Barak and Arafat -- to be resolved.
And some questions regarding settlements should be postponed and solved in due time. I see no other solution.
Q: Couldn't you have prevented on the 8th the signing of the Belovezhye accords? And it is rumored that when you delivered your farewell speech, members of the new presidential administration in Russia were acting incorrectly in your office and home, evicting your family. Is this true?
Gorbachev: As for a possible course of action in that situation as the President of the USSR, you should understand that I considered all possible options. I think that I had only those options that I fulfilled and there could not have been anything else.
First of all, I could not have chosen any course of action that could have led to a division, to a civil war in the country saturated with nuclear weapons. Besides, it would have looked as if I had tried to do this in order to keep my post. I think such a danger existed, and this is why I decided on this course of action.
I had to take into account the fact that they might have responded immediately, and actually they used this argument with my prompting. We worked out proposals and submitted them to the Supreme Soviet because it is its prerogative. I think I was too self-confident. Apparently, I did not get the full picture of the situation. I thought that the disintegration of the Soviet Union would not be supported by the supreme soviets because they had been elected in free elections, newly elected. They had the results of the referendum before them, both in Russia and other republics. I still cannot explain what happened in the supreme soviets in Byelorussia, Russia and Ukraine. I think it's a question of controlling these deputies. Such were the deputies at that time. They paid for their position as we all saw in 1993.
Moderator: There was a question about incorrect actions.
Gorbachev: It was like a mess. It all took place. I was telephoned and told that all this was happening while we were talking and I was getting ready to deliver my speech. I hadn't delivered it yet. They gave me a deadline of 24 hours to move out. I don't know what their motives were.
The teams were running around and the family was running around. Why did you change everything at the dacha? It can't be that the Gorbachevs used this furniture, and so on and so forth. Boris Nikolayevich could not put up with the fact that Brezhnev and Khrushchev had worked in simple and modest offices at the Kremlin. Now it's like a temple. It feels awkward even to go there even for a meeting. But it can't be helped. I have seen it. Vladimir Vladimirovich took me around and said, You haven't seen it. Look at what has been done here.
But I said that I had nothing to do with this. And he claimed to be a fighter against privileges. He showed himself to the best of his ability. It turned out that when he was retiring he even demanded, and this was granted to him, which surprised me, the dacha of the President of the USSR. This dacha is supposed to be used for running the country because it has a communications room and an infirmary, a room for Politburo meetings, and all other auxiliary facilities, such as a helicopter pad and anti-nuclear storage places. It's a huge complex. I don't know, of course, but I can't understand this. But I wish him good health. As far as I know, he has returned in a good mood, he underwent an examination there and everything is well, and they guaranteed him a long life. But I want him to think over what happened.
Moderator: Maybe one more question in order not to finish on this note?
Q: What was the main even in this year for you and what (inaudible)... for the future?
Gorbachev: Speaking of my political activities, I would say that it was the creation of the Social-Democratic Party. That's the main thing. This is a very important project for Russia. And as long as I feel strong, I will work together with Titov and the cohort of people who are in the political council and in the board in order to tap the potential of this organization. It's very important. This is the most important thing for me right now.
Q: (Off mike).
Gorbachev: I think we can say that the president is making a turn in the right direction. I have no doubts about that. It is true, though, that some are already obstructing his actions.
Moderator: Well, let's wind up. I want to thank Mikhail Sergeyevich on behalf of the journalists.
Gorbachev: I wish you a happy New Year and a Merry Christmas and see you next year.