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The Times (UK)
February 21, 2003
Blair and US will reap whirlwind, says Gorbachev
Robin Shepherd interviews the elder statesman of Soviet politics who calls for 'a dose of perestroika' to banish the idea of governing by force

Mikhail Gorbachev has attacked British policy on Iraq, calling Britain a "satellite" of the United States and warning the two countries against a determination to wage war at all costs.

"Tony Blair has adopted as a matter of principle the policy of being with the US," the former Soviet leader said in an interview with The Times. "I think it has taken on the character of a drama: that the British are faithful to the US regardless of the consequences for the world and the United States, for all nations including Great Britain. The situation is too serious for such dogmatism." Mr Gorbachev, relaxed and jovial in the modern offices of his Gorbachev Fund think-tank, was equally critical of the Bush Administration's strategy on Iraq. In a reference to his own radical reforms in the 1980s, he said that America was in need of a perestroika programme to rethink its geopolitics and not resort to "governing the world by force".

He said: "It is as if every US President must have at least one war, or better still two. It is a kind of tradition and this also needs a dose of perestroika in order to move away from the idea of always betting on force and governing the world by force."

Mr Gorbachev's policies during the late 1980s unleashed forces that he was unable to control. The Soviet Union collapsed and he had to resign in 1991 after an abortive coup. The new world order that handed global hegemony to the United States was the profound, if unintended, consequence of the policy initiative for which history will remember him.

Mr Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, is the second elder statesman in recent months to criticise American and British policy on Iraq. In January, Nelson Mandela accused President Bush of not being able to think properly and of wanting to plunge the world into a "holocaust" with a war on Iraq.

No longer playing an active role in Russian politics but delighted to have his opinions sought, Mr Gorbachev would not be drawn on whether President Putin would use Russia's veto as a permanent member of the UN Security Council in the event of a second resolution authorising force. Mr Putin says that at present he is opposed to the use of force in Iraq, although many analysts believe that he will probably cave in to US pressure in the end.

Mr Gorbachev, who is 72, spends his days at the smart, central Moscow headquarters of his think-tank, which is just the kind of non-governmental organisation that his reforms made possible. His relaxed style is instantly recognisable as is the trademark southern accent of the Stavropol region from which he comes. He says that America is in the grip of the "military-industrial-complex". Like many on the European Left, he acknowledges the new realities of the world after September 11, but accuses the US of viewing them through the prism of Cold War thinking.

"How many decades did we have a Cold War? But we found a way out," he said. "We adopted conventions on chemical and biological weapons and, above all, we kept to them."

The veteran Soviet leader, who was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party 18 years ago, has similarly claimed in the past that the United States was holding up agreements between Russia and Nato.

Last year he accused the United States of Cold War tactics over taking military action against the Taleban without the sanction of the United Nations.

In an interview with the BBC, he said: "I tell you, when the United Nations does not count for anything...Security Council does not count for anything...

that is a return to the Cold War. It smacks of the Cold War and its methods of solving problems."

The days of "Gorbymania" may have gone, but Mr Gorbachev still offers a message that will resonate among his erstwhile followers in the West: "If there is a war, I would say we will get a completely different world which will not be any easier for the United States and its closest satellite, Great Britain. If you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind."

His legacy gives him an ambiguous place in the eyes of the Russian people. His reforms gave them freedom, but at the price of a vastly diminished role in world affairs.

Although Russia's market reforms were pushed through by his successor, Boris Yeltsin, he is also blamed by many for their social consequences. In the 1996 presidential elections he polled just 0.5 per cent.


Born: March 2, 1931, in Privolnoye, southern Russia
1952: Joins Communist Party 1953: Marries Raisa
1955: Graduates in law, Moscow State University
1978-1985: Secretary of the Central Committee
1985-91: General Secretary, Communist Party
1986: Transforms sclerotic Communist system with openness (glasnost) and transformation (perestroika)
1990: Awarded Nobel Peace Prize. Begins the process that eventually spells the end of the Soviet Union. President of the Soviet Union until December 25, 1991. USSR dissolved soon after
1996: Wins less than 1% of the vote in presidential elections

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