25 years after fall of USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev issues warning about US "provoking" Russia


Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the U.S.S.R. before its dissolution 25 years ago, criticized the United States and the West for "provoking" Russia in a pair of interviews with the Associated Press and the BBC.

"They have been badgering Russia with accusations and blaming it for everything," Gorbachev told the AP. "And now, there is a backlash to that in Russia. Russia wants to have friendly ties with America, but it's difficult to do that when Russia sees that it's being cheated."

Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his role in drawing the Cold War to a close, also criticized Russia and appeared to take a shot at Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he nevertheless called a "worthy leader."

Gorbachev criticizes U.S. policies toward Russia

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In the interviews, both published Tuesday, Gorbachev blamed the poor relationship between Russia and the United States on Western "triumphalism" in the wake of the Cold War.

In the AP interview, the 85-year-old said that the West failed to send adequate aid and build lasting peace following the Soviet collapse and seemed to echo Putin's rancor toward U.S. attempts to isolate Russia.

"The world needs Russia and the United States to cooperate," said Gorbachev, who also defended Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In the BBC interview, the former Soviet leader accused the Western press of acting on "special instructions" to discredit Putin.

"I'm sure that the Western press — and that includes [the BBC] — has been given special instructions to discredit Putin and get rid of him," Gorbachev told the BBC. "Not physically. Just to make sure he steps aside."

According to Gorbachev, this has only served to bolster Putin's popularity in Russia.

"As a result, his popularity rating here has reached 86%," Gorbachev said. "Soon, it will be 120%!"

Gorbachev implies freedom is an "annoyance" to Putin

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Gorbachev has criticized Putin in the past. In 2011, for example, he called Putin's government a "sham" democracy and he said in 2014 that Putin "thinks he is second only to God." 

Gorbachev was far less critical in the interviews published Tuesday, calling the Russian President a "worthy leader" and praising his recent state of the union address, according to the AP.

But he seemed to offer a veiled criticism of Putin in response to a BBC question about the state of freedom in Russia today.

"There are some people for whom freedom is an annoyance," Gorbachev said. "They don't feel good with it."

"You'll have to guess who I mean," he added. 

In the same interview, he said Putin does not ask for advice because "he knows everything already"; he also criticized one of the president's associates and said that Russian bureaucrats "stole the nation's riches and began to create corporations."

Gorbachev: Trump's lack of experience may be "good."

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Gorbachev declined to offer an assessment of President-elect Donald Trump, but said he was surprised by the Republican's victory in the November election and hoped the new administration would ease tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

"He has little political experience, but, maybe, it's good," Gorbachev told the AP.

Tensions between the two countries may be at their lowest point since the Cold War, some analysts say, but the relationship is likely to worsen with the new CIA allegation that Russia worked to sway the U.S. election in Trump's favor.

Gorbachev, who also discussed the "coup" that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, called for the two nations to "cooperate" the way he and President Ronald Reagan did during the 1980s.

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"We accomplished a lot," Gorbachev said in the AP interview. "We could talk openly, in a real partner-like way. It's necessary to take that approach again."