9 November 2014
Dear Mikhail Sergeyevich,
I’ve found it hard to believe my eyes while reading your recent political declarations, which are wholly inconsistent with the entire ethos behind your actions after coming to power in 1985. You probably don’t remember that I used to work in your secretariat within A. S. Chernyaev’s group, a position I was given on your personal orders.
It’s hard to escape the impression that a deep and fundamental gulf divides the great reformer M. S. Gorbachev, who defeated totalitarianism in the USSR, ended the Cold War and was a staunch advocate of universal human values, from today’s Gorbachev. The possibility that I and so many others may have been mistaken in our assessment of the Gorbachev we used to know is a bitter pill to swallow.
It was my belief that the conflicts which blighted the perestroika era were instigated by those opposed to your democratic reforms, and we all thought we knew who must bear the collective blame: the tandem formed of the reactionary wing of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the KGB.
I find it hard to understand how someone who once spoke out in favour of a world based on non-violence and a rejection of nuclear weapons could support a regime shored up by violence, both within and without the country’s borders.
I find it hard to understand how someone awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for stopping the Cold War and averting its risks, and for having allowed common sense to prevail in international relations while acting as leader of the USSR, could exploit the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an event in which he played a key part – as an excuse to voice anti-Ukrainian, anti-American and anti-Western sentiments and lend his support to Russia, which sad to say is now the aggressor. How can you possibly accuse the US and the countries of Western Europe of kindling a new Cold War when this is exactly what your current protégé – the Chekist Putin – has been doing so skilfully and for many years?
It surely cannot have escaped your attention that you are merely being manipulated and used for unjust ends? You surely cannot believe that you are defending Russia by defending the criminal regime that is acting against the national interest? What you are really doing is betraying Russia and all of her citizens, and you are betraying yourself, or at least the person you used to be during perestroika.
Your place in history as a great reformer is secure, but your support for Putin’s villainous regime is compromising your legacy.
Assuming that the Putinocracy fails to carry out its threats to use nuclear weapons to destroy itself and all of humanity, future historians will rack their brains over the exact nature of perestroika and how a democratic reform, if that is what it really was, could possibly have been masterminded by the Gorbachev of 2014. As a historian by trade myself, I can predict what conclusions they will draw: you were simply a master of smoke and mirrors, and others were really responsible for the far-reaching changes which shook the USSR. A number of names can be cited in this respect, some deservedly – for example A. N. Yakovlev, a man whom we both respect – and some entirely undeservedly, such as B. N. Yeltsin. Is this really what you’re aiming for, Mikhail Sergeyevich?
When you held office as president only the most imperceptive of your entourage were unaware of the fact that your bodyguard was manipulating you. And there were plenty of others trying to manipulate you. But within your inner circle at the time there were also others who were more or less good people. Your famous “turn to the right” meant that you broke away from them, however, and it was after this that disaster struck, not only for the country and all its citizens, but also for your cause (if I am correct in thinking that you did genuinely intend to build democracy and establish normal relations with the Western countries) and for you yourself and Raisa Maksimovna, for whom the story ended in tragedy.
Nowadays it’s a lot easier to manipulate you, since you are (as ever) surrounded by special service agents, and you place too much trust in those who claim to be loyal to you.
Decades ago you committed an involuntary crime by failing to seize the opportunity for a civilised break-up of the old order, and allowing the already doomed USSR to fall apart in the precise way that it did happen. The crime you are committing now is entirely voluntary.
I am quite sure that my father, Anatoly Gavrilovich Kovalyov, whom you entrusted (and for good reason) with the task of accepting your Nobel Peace Prize, would have refused this honour had he known how your political views would change.
Your current views mean ruin not only for yourself and your reputation, but also for Russia and Ukraine, for the policy of “new thinking” and for those ideals for which you and those who supported you fought so hard.
Mikhail Sergeyevich, it’s important to know when to call it a day. It does not befit you to be at the beck and call of the war criminal Putin.
You have one last chance for a worthy place in history; simply say that what you said in Berlin has been misunderstood.
Otherwise everything will be ruined.
Your reputation will be ruined, and there will be no escape when the facts stand in black and white in every history textbook in the world. Is this really what you want? After all, what do you stand to lose if you remember who you really are? The benevolence of your ideological enemy who has dug himself in to take up a lifelong residence in the Kremlin, the very place which you honourably and voluntarily quit in order to avert the risk of civil war? Is this really what you want?
Be yourself: this is my heartfelt wish for you personally, if I may be so bold as to share it.
It only remains for me to express my unswerving admiration for the democratic reforms undertaken during the perestroika era, and my bitter disappointment at your political position today,
Former member of your staff,
historian and journalist
Translated by Joanne Reynolds