Former Secretary General of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev passed away on the 30th of August of 2022 at the age of 91. In his lifetime, his bold decision in the 1980s to work with U.S. President Ronald Reagan to put an end to the Cold War altered the course of human history to a degree that had not been seen since the fall of the Roman Empire.
Gorbachev’s actions helped create three decades of peace that changed the face of planet earth for every human who lives on it. The world recognized his willingness to take a chance on a better future and awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize.
I came to admire Mr. Gorbachev on October 10, 1986. I received a telephone call from a friend, USAF Colonel Robert Lindhard. I spent the next two hours on the telephone talking about intermediate range nuclear weapons and ways to maintain global stability with the advancing nuclear and conventional weapons technology challenges that were presenting themselves for military war planners like myself. The phone call was excruciatingly detailed and, to my surprise, at the end of it Linhard said, “Ok, they say your proposal is acceptable.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “I forgot to tell you at the beginning of the telephone call, I’m on Air Force One. The Soviet Foreign Minister has been listening to our conversation the entire time and they believe there is merit to this. Your orders are simple. Keep your mouth shut for 24 hours and then it really won’t matter.” I knew what it meant. This was the break to end the Cold War that we had been working for ever since embarking on the Strategic Defense Initiative. I was stunned. I realized that everything was about to change. The next day, US President Ronald Reagan and Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev walked out of a house in Reykjavik, Iceland together. The irreversible process that would lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War had begun.
Most of the world has celebrated and benefited from the choice that Gorbachev made that day. The West’s windfall was a “peace dividend” that would become the global economy we live in today. A world unfettered by the polarity of superpower competition until very recently when it has begun to rear its ugly head again in Ukraine.
But for Mr. Gorbachev’s beloved Soviet Union, the peace dividend did not come without great cost. The internal stresses of abandoning a war footing that the Soviets had lived with since the Great Patriotic War against Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany would prove to be too great a stress for the Motherland of Communism.
Mr. Gorbachev’s Soviet Union would dissolve and go into a period of economic distress that would see the fracturing of his country and its spheres of influence. The landscape of Europe would witness mass desertion from the Warsaw Pact applying for membership in NATO.
Russia would go into a period of painful poverty and pain that would taint Gorbachev’s achievement of ending the Cold War with a bitter taste of starvation and despair in everyday life in the former Soviet Union for many years. Lives would be turned upside down. Ordinary people would suffer and die.
Gorbachev’s reputation continued to soar everywhere on the planet except his own country. Believers in his dream of glasnost and perestroika have become refugees from their own land seeking fortunes in other parts of the world; while nationalists, who resented the breakup of their empire, would come to power in Russia and slowly begin the cycle of resurrecting the echoes of the Cold War. People like Putin confidant ultra-nationalist Alexander Dugin, whose outspoken daughter Duria Dugina was recently assassinated in Moscow.
Sadly, Mr. Gorbachev would live to witness his country torn apart in a series of bloody wars under the leadership of former KGB operative Vladimir Putin. Georgia, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Crimea, and Ukraine. These are the hegemonic artifacts of Putin’s dream of erasing the internal borders that were created by the breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics into the Confederation of Independent States under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin following the end of the Gorbachev era.
More concerning to those of us who were connected to the events of October 1986 is Putin’s dream of resurrecting the borders between East and West that were erased by Mr. Gorbachev’s bold move. In 2019, Mr. Gorbachev lamented that his life’s work was crumbling before his eyes.
Those eyes have closed for the last time. It’s up to us now to not let that dream of a better world die with him. Goodbye, Sir. Thank you for listening to my tiny voice on that day in October so long ago.