In the ‘Life and Arts’ section of the Financial Times published Nov 13, Alec Russell takes a gratuitous passing swipe at Mikhail Gorbachev. In comparing Gorbachev’s role in the end days of the Soviet Union with that of the recently deceased F.W. De Klerk in the end of apartheid in South Africa, he writes:
“Unlike Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom he is often compared for their starting to dismantle an unjust system, he saw that once you begin you have to keep going.”
It is true that Gorbachev did not see an immediate final curtain for the USSR. But as at least two American experts who perhaps knew him best–Jack Matlock, Reagan’s ambassador to Moscow and the late Professor Stephen Cohen, with whom Gorbachev developed an enduring friendship–have written extensively, Gorbachev’s twin assaults of openness and reform meant a de facto death knell for the Soviet system.
Most importantly, Gorbachev’s approach has been proven correct; it would have provided a soft landing for a 70-year-old entity, as opposed to the decade of chaotic deprivation and decline under Yeltsin, so welcomed, and indeed abetted, by the West and to which today’s Russia is undoubtedly a reaction.
David C. Speedie serves on the ACURA board and was formerly a Senior Fellow and Director of the Program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York.