The geopolitical legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev: the honest man that history has made fun of

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

A question that repeats itself forever, the meaning of life. Why does man come into the world? Such a short moment compared to eternity.

I don't know if it is better for man not to know his destiny. Better, because in this way he can ask himself: what is the meaning of life?

In front of me I have the verses of our fellow countryman Fëdor Tyutchev, poet and diplomat: “Unity cannot be achieved only with blood and iron. Only love can show the way and show what will last longer ”.

I am convinced that a safe world is not built with blood, but with harmony, yes.

We, the men, politicians, philosophers, actors, workers, peasants, belonging to all religions, must be united. Only if we are united will everything work out.

(Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, last leader of the Soviet Union, 2 March 1931 - 30 August 2022)

Not everyone knows that, among the many curiosities in the past of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev there was also a brief cinematic interlude when, in 1993, he starred a small cameo of himself in the beautiful film "In weiter Ferne, so nah!", released in Italy with the title of "So far so close", in turn a continuation of the even more masterful "Der Himmel über Berlin" ("The sky above Berlin" in Italian) both shot by master Ernst Wilhelm "Wim" Wenders.

It is precisely with the words he uttered in this very small cinematic part of his that I wanted to begin the present analysis because Gorbachev was a man who at the same time made history and which history has made fun of.

His earthly parable represents a very important warning for us geopolitical analysts, warning us that: "History does not necessarily reward good men, and indeed, in the ring of international relations, it is not honesty and empathy that pay off, but shrewdness and the ability to dare". And it is precisely this thought that contains in a few lines the essence of the "character Gorbachev" at a geopolitical level; a man who is praised in the West for having contributed in a decisive way to the end of the Cold War but who at the same time is very hated in Russia (and also in a large part of the ex-Soviet space) for having in some way facilitated the disintegration of the Union Soviet and having laid the foundations for thirty years of instability, economic crisis and wars that continue to this day (just look at the present Russian-Ukrainian War). Hence, this brief analysis will not retrace the life and deeds of Gorbachev in its entirety but will focus on one aspect in particular, the most important one: his legacy as regards foreign policy choices and the consequences of these choices.

Rising to power in 1985, after the death of his frail and sick predecessor Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko, at the "tender" age of 54, Gorbachev was the youngest leader the USSR had ever had. Aware that the system that had brought him to power was now falling apart, he embarked on a series of admittedly ambitious reforms which in his plans were to restructure the country, make it more competitive and economically sustainable, revitalize the communist system and introduce elements of democracy in decision making.

In the context of foreign policy, Gorbachev attempted to inaugurate a policy of global disarmament and peaceful coexistence between the United States and its Western allies on the one hand and the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries on the other. Yet, the forces of history were set in motion and, at the time, the leadership of the "brother socialist" countries were now largely discredited in the eyes of their populations while between the two sides of the Iron Curtain and the never-dormant desire for reunification of the German people grew from the Berlin Wall.

Now, it is important to note that the countries of the so-called Warsaw Pact were known in the abecedary of world diplomacy of the period also with the name of "European Empire of the Soviet Union" because, although not formally an integral part of the great state, in any case they formed a sort of "military frontier" with the West for which they represented a sort of "physical extension" of the USSR itself. This was especially true for the so-called German Democratic Republic, known to most as "East Germany", which was precisely the most "valuable" element of this "empire". It is also necessary to remember that the existence of this "empire" was the natural consequence of the victorious conclusion of the Second World War, during which the USSR had suffered enormous destruction and the death of a variable number of deaths between 27 and the 40 million (the figures remain conflicting and we will probably never know the real extent of the massacre).

In the strategic scenario of the immediate post-war period, and throughout the so-called "Cold War", the traumatic experience of the Second World War meant that both the political and military leadership of the Kremlin adopted the double mantra of "priority to the military" (ie that the country would have built a solid and unassailable system that would have ensured that it would always be in a position of strength against any enemies even if this policy was to the detriment of the living standards of the Soviet civilian population) and the "defense of security spaces ", That is the maintenance of a cordon of satellite states that would have helped to defend and secure the external borders of the Soviet Union so that, in the event of a new war involving it in the West, the Soviet Union would have had access to a "buffer zone" in which to engage the enemy forces thus saving the national territory from devastation tions of a new invasion as it had already happened too many times in the course of history (Polish-Lithuanian invasions of the 1700th and 1721th centuries, Swedish invasion at the time of the Great Northern War of 1812-XNUMX, Napoleonic invasion of XNUMX, invasion by the Central Empires during the First World War, intervention by the Allies during the Russian Civil War and invasion by the Axis powers during the Second World War).

Beyond the understandable ideological hostility that can be felt for Communism, even the most virulent critic cannot help but notice that if there is one thing that this list of geopolitical-military disasters has to teach it is that a country can NEVER, NEVER afford to underestimate the issues relating to its national security, which must never be taken for granted or entrusted "to the good heart of foreign powers" and that the strategic approach decided at that time by the leaders of the Soviet Union was absolutely understandable, rational and even "legitimate" in the light of both previous experiences than to his newfound rank of great power.

(Small parenthesis, this is a rule that also applies to Italy, which has for too long abjured its "geopolitical duty" to exercise its legitimate influence in the Mediterranean Sea, closed parenthesis).

Now, a first, macroscopic consequence of the policies of Gorbachev (but also of his successor Yeltsin, first president of the new Russian Federation) was to push the Soviet Union to renounce tout court the European empire that it had laboriously earned by paying for it with the blood of his people. Not only that, the events of 1989-1991 (the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, the end of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the disintegration of the USSR itself) ended de facto to wipe out centuries of territorial evolution and geopolitical conquests of Russia, so much so that in 1992 the borders of the modern Russian Federation were roughly comparable to those that Russia had in 1672, the year of the rise to power of Tsar Peter the Great (320 years earlier!). Certainly, adopting a less severe perspective towards the late former Soviet leader, it can be objected that such transformations were simply "inevitable" and that in any case the long-term project of the Kremlin tenant was to favor the rapprochement of the Soviet Union to the West by relying on a whole series of guarantees that Western leaders had given it (for example the thorny question of the eastern enlargement of the Atlantic Alliance). And this is precisely the Gordian knot of the whole affair and the main "charge" brought to Gorbachev by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the current president of Russia, who certainly is not "good" but has shown infinity of times not to be stupid or naïve at all, and that we could somehow paraphrase this: "In a world of ruthless and rapacious leaders, Gorbachev has committed the unprecedented levity of trusting his word and verbal chatter when in reality the only thing that matters (when and if it ever really matters!) Is the piece of paper on which the treaty is drawn up ".

This reasoning makes perfect sense in the light of the events that have affected Eastern Europe from the 90s to today and listening to the words (very often inappropriately) spoken by various figures who alternate on our TV screens. When you identify like General Vincenzo Camporini or the political scientists brothers Mauro and Andrea Gilli or others still say quietly on television screens, without thinking in the least about the consequences, phrases such as: "The expansion of NATO to the east is a myth and Russia knew very well what was going to happen" they're essentially saying, translated for the layman: "The West won the Cold War so it had and has every right to humiliate Russia and expand to its borders and the Kremlin must have been silent and dumb, and who cares about the history of Russia, now we are in charge and we will impose the Russians the conditions we want, whether they like it or not ". This is in extreme and brutal synthesis what a superficial and childish "elite" think of international relations and relations between countries.

Unfortunately for him, and here it is impossible not to agree with his most virulent detractors at home, Gorbachev was too naive to believe that the interpersonal relationships he had forged with a number of top figures in Western politics could have served as external insurance either. for his personal power and for the integrity of his country with the result that history, the real one, ended up making fun of both him and his good intentions.

To conclude, in my opinion there is no better way to summarize the more properly geopolitical legacy of a man who is essentially honest but who has not been able to look at events in perspective, than to give the floor to one of the many voices from deep Russia who this is how he commented on the departure of the old leader, reporting it first in the original English and then translating it into Italian:

He agreed to accept that “help” from the US to detroy our country. If it was done in a different way, that would have been a completely different story. He put in poverty millions, created cradles of hate, further conflicts among post-soviet countries. I am sure he has a special pot in Hell. Not all humans deserve sympathy. From a position of kid of Perestroika and total collapse it generated, I can say that we had to migrate from Almaty to Moscow, because kazakhs started to discriminate against us. We faced a lot of hardships in our new place during the 90s. My dad was working as a prosecutor and I didn't see him because of his work di lui and mum was afraid that he could be shot. So I have no sympathy for this old f **** t. He knew what he was doing and was greedy. Why his family does he n't live in Russia?

He accepted "that help" from the United States to destroy our country. If things had been done differently it would have been another story altogether. It has reduced millions to poverty, created cradles of hatred, and caused other conflicts between the former Soviet states. I'm sure he's been given a special place in Hell. Not all human beings deserve sympathy. From a position as a daughter of Perestroika and the total collapse it caused, I can say that we were forced to migrate from Almaty to Moscow, because the Kazakhs began to discriminate against us. We suffered a lot in our new home in the 90s. My dad worked as a prosecutor and I couldn't see him because of his job and because mom was scared that she might shoot him. So I have no sympathy for that old ***. He knew what he was doing and he was greedy. Why doesn't his family live in Russia?

Hi Gorby. I am sure that, despite what your detractors say, you were an honest and perhaps even good man. But, geopolitically speaking, you have failed completely. And this is the bitter truth.

Photo: Bob Galbraith