Mikhail Gorbachev said Wednesday that Europe still misunderstands Russia nearly two decades after the Soviet collapse, and he dismissed as nonsense portrayals of his country as an aggressive force.
Gorbachev, who resigned as the Soviet Union’s last president when the Cold War superpower disintegrated in 1991, said Russia does not want military conflict but suggested it should be treated as an equal.
“We must achieve an understanding of Russia by Europe. This is absent,” Gorbachev told a news conference, according to excerpts posted on the Web site of his charitable foundation.
“Russia as an aggressor, Russia as an imperialist — this is all nonsense,” he was quoted as saying. “Russia is a self-sufficient state that has everything it needs to conduct its long-term policy. Russia does not want to fight anyone.”
At the same time, he said that Russian leaders sometimes err by “reacting too sharply” to events, possibly referring to the tough anti-Western rhetoric that deepened Western wariness about Russia’s intentions during Vladimir Putin’s eight-year presidency.
Gorbachev said he likes President Barack Obama’s “point of view” on U.S.-Russian relations.
“He has said, ‘Yes, we have differences, we don’t agree on everything, but we will work with Russia,'” Gorbachev said.
On domestic affairs, Gorbachev reaffirmed that he plans to help create a new political party that would support democracy, saying organizers have received “more than 10,000 letters in support of this idea.”
Gorbachev has generally praised Putin, now prime minister, but has carefully criticized the growing Kremlin monopoly on power by targeting Putin’s dominant United Russia party. In an interview with The Associated Press in March, he called United Russia “the worst version” of the Soviet-era Communist Party and said Russia’s parliament and judiciary are not fully independent.
On Wednesday Gorbachev also praised Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, but suggested he is still overshadowed by his mentor. Russia’s beleaguered liberals hope Medvedev will ease the Kremlin’s grip and follow through on statements stressing the importance of independent courts, political diversity and the rule of law.
“I think this person is trying, and it seems he has many desires and that they are focused on continuing democratic and reform processes,” Gorbachev was quoted as saying of Medvedev.
“But I think that he still needs to gain strength.”