New Delhi ∙ P.V. If Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh changed India in 1991 through liberalization policies, Mikhail Gorbachev changed the world in the same year. As the Soviet Union, which was the largest country in the world at that time, receded into history, 15 new countries came into existence in its place. During those crucial months in Moscow, when hope and uncertainty were rife, India’s ambassador, Alfred Gonsalves, had a meeting with Gorbachev in the Kremlin.
Gonsalves, also a Russian expert, asked Gorbachev: ‘Couldn’t this situation have been avoided, Mr. President?’ At that time, India was most dependent on the Soviet Union in the defense and economic sectors. Gorbachev replied: ‘Democracy and change are inevitable. But the people here will always be India’s friends’.
Gorbachev’s policies paved the way for far-reaching changes in just 6 years as Soviet President and General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Eastern and Central European countries were freed from the Soviet yoke. The fall of the Berlin Wall led to the unification of East and West Germany.
Amid these alarming changes, extremists in the Soviet Communist Party staged a military coup against Gorbachev in August 1991. However, Gorbachev’s political power weakened even though he was able to subdue the coup plotters in the resistance led by Russian nationalist Boris Yeltsin. Six months later, on Christmas Day, the Soviet Union collapsed.
Journalists, including myself, who visited the Soviet Union during the last days of the communist empire, could not understand the true feelings of the people. The young generation is excited by the winds of change. They hoped that the new country would be free and rich like Western democracies. But the older generation was saddened by the suffering caused by the collapse of the current system. In many places there was shortage of food items.
The Soviet Communist Party, the bureaucracy, and the army were all bewildered by the collapse of the administration. They were all worried about what would happen under the new leaders, including Yeltsin. Gorbachev, who tore apart the Communist system and the Soviet Union, was criticized by the Russians for standing aside in this turbulent state, insisting that he was doing his own work.
He left the responsibility to others to pick up the pieces from the collapse and build a new one. Yeltsin (Russia), Lenid Kravchuk (Ukraine), and Nursultan Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan), the leaders of the Soviet-era nuclear power plants and nuclear missile regions, took control of the military and weapons of mass destruction.
Even as the republics broke away from the Soviet Union one by one, Gorbachev firmly believed that all the changes he had unleashed were for the better. He did not make any political moves to hold on to the position with the vast powers at his disposal. It took 10 days of armed insurrection in 1917 for communist revolutionaries to take over Tsarist Russia. After 74 years, Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet empire he ruled in 10 weeks. Its shape and structure have been changed.
Content Highlights: Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev