Mikhail Gorbachev the last czar of the Soviet Empire – or president – a man who has endeared himself to the west, has been talking about Western attitudes towards Vladimir Putin, President Obama and President elect Trump, but also made comments about what was quite possibly the west’s greatest mistake. Maybe we need to learn our lesson.
If you are of a certain age you may recall Mikhail Gorbachev with a degree of fondness, may even recall his spitting image puppet, complete with hammer and sickle birth mark. He was surely the West ‘s favourite Russian of the 1990s, and his twin policies of perestroika and glasnost were meant to save the Soviet Union from collapse. But it collapsed anyway, Mr Gorbachev got himself kidnapped, and Boris Yeltsin, a man apparently fond of vodka, became the power in Russia, before handing it over to Mr Putin.
But during those dark days of the Soviet Union and then Russia, when the nation was in chaos, or 1998, when the economy crashed and the Russian stock market was worth less than Sainsbury’s, should the west have done more to help?
In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press, an elderly Mr Gorbachev, the only survivor of the triumvirate of Thatcher, Reagan and Mikhail himself, suggested that the west should indeed have done more.
Mrs Thatcher said of the Soviet leader that he was man the West could do business with, but the 1990s was the time when the west could have made itself a friend for life. Instead, he says of the west “They were rubbing their hands, saying, 'How nice! We had been trying to do something about the Soviet Union for decades, and it ate itself up!'" and he talked about western ‘triumphalism.’
He was right, such an approach did the west no favours at all.
You don’t need to be a fan or Mr Putin, whose fondness for democracy seems to be akin to a cats fondness for being rubbed the wrong way, and whose sympathies towards human rights are about as sympathetic as a cats attitude to a mouse, to see how the west squandered opportunities.
Mr Gorbachev talked about Crimea, and how the region was a part of Russia until in the era of Khrushchev when it was transferred to the Ukraine. But since, at that time, the Ukraine and Russia were part of The Soviet Union, no one gave it a second thought. In short, he defended Mr Putin’s annexation of the region.
He also turned his annoyance on western attitudes towards Putin, and here things get a big twilight world’ish, implying a kind of western paranoia and even suggesting that western newspapers are obeying orders to discredit Mr Putin.
On the other hand, he did talk about the West and Russia making up. “Russia wants to have friendly ties with America,” he said, “but it's difficult to do that when Russia sees that it's being cheated."
He also called for a return to the days of dialogue between the West and Russia; "We accomplished a lot," he said talking about his relationship with Ronald Reagan, "We could talk openly, in a real partner-like way. It's necessary to take that approach again."
So, will those days return? It would indeed be good to see the US and Russia become friends, but it would not be so good if the price is appalling human rights atrocities in Syria.
Mr Gorbachev also suggested he could foresee the day when a smaller version of the Soviet Union is peacefully re-formed. Whether the people in the Baltic states like the sound of that is another matter.
In Britain, people have long accepted that the Empire is not coming back, and frankly given some of the atrocities that were committed in keeping it together, maybe would not welcome its return. Maybe, similar attitudes towards the return of the Soviet Union do not yet permeate the public discourse in Russia.