Sep 1, 2022 - World

Gorbachev was "shocked and bewildered" by war in Ukraine, interpreter says

Former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev
Former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev attends an event in Cologne, Germany in 2013. Photo: Ralf Juergens/Getty Images

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who died earlier this week at the age of 91, was "shocked and bewildered" by Russia's war in Ukraine, his interpreter of 37 years, Pavel Palazhchenko, told Reuters Thursday.

The big picture: Gorbachev has been lionized in the West for his role in presiding over liberalizing reforms in the Soviet Union and bolstering ties with the West, but his legacy, as the leader that oversaw the collapse of the Soviet Union, is more complicated in Russia.

  • Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday referred to Gorbachev's view that the end of the Cold War would lead to warmer relations between the Soviet Union and the West as a "failed romanticism," per AP.

What they're saying: The Soviet leader was not only shocked at the war "that started on Feb. 24, but the entire evolution of relations between Russia and Ukraine over the past years that was really, really a big blow to him," Palazhchenko told Reuters in an interview.

  • "It really crushed him emotionally and psychologically," he added.

Palazhchenko, who had met with Gorbachev in person in recent months and been in touch with the former premier's daughter, Irina, said that Gorbachev, "was shocked and bewildered by what was happening [after Russian troops entered Ukraine in February] for all kinds of reasons," per Reuters.

Palazhchenko described Gorbachev's views on Ukraine as somewhat contradictory, given that he believed in the notion of a Soviet Union but would not have gone to violent ends to achieve it.

  • "He believed not just in the closeness of the Russian and Ukrainian people, he believed that those two nations were intermingled."
  • "Of course I can't imagine him saying 'this is it, and I will do whatever to impose it'. No."
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