Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, was shocked and bewildered by the conflict in Ukraine in the months before his death and psychologically dejected in recent years by Moscow’s deteriorating ties with kyiv, his interpreter said Thursday.
Pavel Palazhchenko, who worked with the late Soviet president for 37 years and stood by his side at numerous US-Soviet summits, spoke to Gorbachev on the phone a few weeks ago and said he and others had been shocked by how traumatized he had been. I was because of what was happening in the Ukraine.
“It’s not just about the (special military) operation that started on February 24, but about the whole evolution of relations between Russia and Ukraine in recent years, which was really a big blow for him. It really shattered him emotionally. and psychologically,” Palazhchenko told Reuters in an interview.
“In our conversations with him it was very evident that he was shocked and bewildered by what was happening (following the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine in February) for all kinds of reasons. He not only believed in the closeness of the Russian and Ukrainian people , but believed that the two nations were intermingled”.
President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine on February 24, what he called a “special military operation” to ensure Russia’s security from the expanding NATO military alliance and to protect Russian-speakers.
kyiv for its part says it is fending off an unprovoked imperialist-style war of aggression, and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow to try to get Putin to withdraw its troops, something he shows no signs of doing.
In photographs of 1980s summits with US President Ronald Reagan, Palazhchenko’s bald, mustachioed figure can be seen again and again at Gorbachev’s side, leaning in to catch and convey every word.
At 73 years old, he is in a position to know the state of mind of the late politician in the period before his death, since he has seen him in recent months and has been in contact with Gorbachev’s daughter, Irina.
Gorbachev, who was 91 when he died of an unreported illness on Tuesday, had family connections to Ukraine, Palazhchenko said at the Moscow headquarters of the Gorbachev Foundation, where he works, and where Gorbachev had an office dominated by a giant portrait of his late wife Raisa, whose father was Ukrainian.
CONFLICT WITH UKRAINE
During his tenure, Gorbachev tried to keep the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, together, but failed after the reforms he launched emboldened many of them to demand their independence.
In the last days of the USSR, Soviet forces in some cases used lethal force against the civilian population. Politicians in Lithuania and Latvia remembered those events with horror after the death of Gorbachev, who was still blamed for the bloodshed.
Palazhchenko said that Gorbachev, who believed in solving problems solely through political means, either did not know about some of these bloody episodes in advance or “very reluctantly” authorized the use of force to prevent chaos.
Gorbachev’s position on Ukraine was complex and contradictory in his own mind, Palazhchenko said, because the late politician still believed in the idea of the Soviet Union.
“Of course, in his heart the kind of mental map for him and for most people of his political generation is still some kind of imaginary country that includes most of the former Soviet Union,” Palazhchenko said.
But Gorbachev would not have started a war to restore the now defunct country he presided over from 1985 to 1991, he suggested. “Of course, I can’t imagine him saying ‘this is how it is, and I’ll do whatever it takes to enforce it.’ No.”
Although Gorbachev believed it was his duty to show respect and support for Putin, his former interpreter said he spoke publicly when he disagreed with him, such as over the treatment of the media.
However, he had made a decision not to “permanently comment” on Ukraine, beyond passing a statement in February calling for an early cessation of hostilities and for humanitarian problems to be addressed.