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Gorbachev; the man who lost the Soviet Union

Upon his unanimous election as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, making him de facto leader of the country in March…

Upon his unanimous election as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, making him de facto leader of the country in March 1985 to succeed Konstanin Chernenko, who had passed on, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, cryptically remarked of Mikhael Sergeyevich Gorbachev, who died on Tuesday 30th of August 2022, at the age of 91, “I like him. I think we will do business together’’.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), who ascended the leadership of the USSR at 54, was the youngest member of the Political Bureau, or Politburo as sometimes called, which was the supreme council of leadership of the country.

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In this regard, Gorbachev not only made a remarkable contrast from the dour gerontocrats that dominated the Politburo, he differed from them in sartorial elegance and more importantly in the position of the Soviet Union in the world at the time.

By 1985, when Gorbachev took over power, the Soviet Union made up of 15 Soviet Republics was not only in advanced state of internal decline in terms of overall economic performance and the attending socio-political consequences. There were growing restlessness in the satellite states who were seeking their own independence from the Communist order led by the Soviet Union.

Much of this was attributed to the years when Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union where the remarkable growth of the country in the preceding years started to stagnate as a result of corruption and failure of economic managers to meet their targets.

Gorbachev’s rise to power was in some way fortuitous in that the Soviet Union was in dire need of drastic economic and social reforms to stave off internal collapse. But his ascendance to power was also made possible by former KGB boss (Soviet Intelligence Chief) Yuri Andropov, who succeeded Leonid Brezhnev as Soviet Leader. Andropov, it was who identified Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, the Mayor and party boss in Moscow and made them his protégés, promoting them through the party and government. Thus at the time of Andropov’s leadership of the Soviet Union, he ensured the promotion of both into membership of the Politburo placing them strategically in line to become future leaders.

Upon the death of the aged and ailing Konstantin Chernenko, whose leadership was short lived, it became inevitable that Gorbachev was in pole position to succeed him owing to the circumstances of the Soviet Union at the time.

Upon consolidation of his leadership of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev wasted no time in signalling his intention of introducing reforms in all facets of Soviet Union. This was through the catchphrases Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (restructuring) which became buzzwords for the total overhaul of the Soviet Union.

But there were a significant number of people in the Soviet Union, who with some justification felt that Gorbachev’s pace of reforms were too hasty in a country that needed gradual approach. And it did not help that Gorbachev’s reforms appeared more to pander to the West led by the United States of America than to the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc of nations. Indeed there were a growing number of Communist party apparatchiks who felt that Gorbachev was a mole long embedded in the Communist party and government of the Soviet Union to eventually help bring about the collapse of the Soviet led Communist order in Eastern Europe.

Considering that under Gorbachev the thrust of reforms was in trying to dismantle the socio-economic privileges enjoyed by Soviet people through years of agitation and struggle, in favour of western style capitalist practices, many in the Soviet Union began to doubt not just the efficacy of the reforms but also of Gorbachev himself.

And Gorbachev did not help matters by his concession to the west in arms reduction deals and in failing to rein in some of the dangerous manifestations of groups and individuals bent on disintegrating the Soviet Union who were clearly funded by the West.

It came as no surprise that some of the leading colleagues and supporters of Gorbachev like Boris Yeltsin, Aleksander Yakovlev and the like chose to break rank with him.

As the Soviet Union lapsed into uncertainty and chaos it was clearly inevitable that the entire Soviet-led Communist order would unravel which it eventually did. First, the Communist states of Eastern Europe began to fall like dominoes. And following suit were the 15 Soviet Republics led by the Russian Soviet Republics.

All through this the Soviet Union under Gorbachev endured a turbulent period under which a coup attempt to oust him was made and the country itself came close to the brink of civil war and insurrection.

By 1991, the Soviet Union went into liquidation and with it the end of the cold war which had raged between the Communist and capitalist order.

Gorbachev thus became the last ruler of the Soviet Union which had been established by the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 led by Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Josef Stalin.

In retirement and seclusion Mikhail Gorbachev was viewed as a figure of intense loathing by many of his Russian compatriots as the man who in his eagerness to please the West, brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. And many in his country would attribute the rise of oligarchs and the diminution of Russia in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union to him. And they would point at the present situation of war between Russia and Ukraine and the uncertainty pervading the world as the corollary to this.    

Iliyasu can be reached at:[email protected]

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