Russian MPs call for investigation of Gorbachev for treason
Five MPs argue Soviet Union’s last leader defied his people’s wishes in 1991
Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. The former Soviet president dismissed the request for his prosecution as “absolutely unreasonable from the historic point of view”. Photograph: Reuters/Alexander Natruskin
Most Russians are overjoyed that the Crimea is once more part of their territory and that Russian president Vladimir Putin is flexing his muscles on the world stage.
But the annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsular is also a reminder of all that was lost when the Soviet empire fell apart almost a quarter of a century ago. What better time for fiercely patriotic parliamentarians to pick on Mikhail Gorbachev (83), the last leader of the USSR?
A group of five Russian parliamentarians asked the state prosecutor this week to investigate Mr Gorbachev for treason in connection with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.
They argued that Mr Gorbachev had acted in defiance of the wishes of his people, who had voted in a referendum in favour of preserving the Soviet Union.
Mr Gorbachev dismissed the request for his prosecution as “absolutely unreasonable from the historic point of view”.
Indeed, it was Boris Yeltsin, Mr Gorbachev’s political rival and the first president of Russia, who joined the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine in signing the treaty in December 1991 that formally dissolved the USSR and established the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of independent former Soviet states.
Yevgeny Fyodorov, a member of the Kremlin’s United Russia party and co-author of the request to the prosecutor, said a “full and authentic analysis of the events of 1991” would establish whether Mr Gorbachev was to blame for the Soviet collapse and whether he had co-operated with the US to build Kremlin policies at the time.
Mikhail Degtyarev, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democrat Party, said Kremlin officials who had allowed the dismemberment of the Soviet Union were indirectly responsible for the turmoil in Ukraine, where protesters overthrew the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich, earlier this year and established a European-leaning government in his wake.
“We are still reaping the consequences of the events of 1991. People in Kiev are being killed and will go on being killed because of those in the Kremlin who many years ago took the decision to break up the country,” he said.
Mr Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for helping to end the cold war, is respected in the West for his policies of glasnost and perestroika that opened up the Soviet Union and built the foundations of a market economy.
But in Russia, where there is widespread nostalgia for the relative stability of the Soviet era, Mr Gorbachev is reviled as a weak leader responsible for the humiliating loss of the empire.
Mr Putin, who has famously described the USSR’s demise as a “geopolitical tragedy”, has worked to rebuild Russia’s global clout and draw former Soviet states back into Moscow’s orbit.
Although condemned as illegal by the western community, the annexation of Crimea has caused rejoicing in Russia and boosted Mr Putin’s always strong approval ratings to even giddier heights.
Putting Mr Gorbachev on trial would please many in Russia, where Gorby-bashing is something of a national pastime.
However, Gleb Pavlovsky, a Russian political commentator, said it was unlikely that parliamentarians calling for Mr Gorbachev’s prosecution were acting on Mr Putin’s orders.
“Nowadays there’s a competition in Moscow for the most extreme, the most obscene initiatives. Deputies are trying to win the advantage all the time and be the first to declare an initiative, ” he wrote on the Echo Moskvy radio website.
Even Mr Degtyarev sounded a note of mercy for Mr Gorbachev. “Of course nobody intends to put the old grandpa behind bars,” he said. “But the investigation, the criminal case and the judgement all have to happen; otherwise we won’t be able to move forward as a country and a people.”