“It was very clear in our conversations that he was shocked and confused by what was happening (after Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February) for a number of reasons. He believed not only in the closeness of Russians and Ukrainians, but believed that these two nations were intertwined,” said Palazhchenko, according to whom other people also noticed how traumatized Gorbachev was by the events in Ukraine.
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The 73-year-old interpreter worked alongside the former Soviet leader at many US-Soviet summits, for example he interpreted in the 1980s during Gorbachev’s meetings with former US President Ronald Reagan. According to Reuters, he saw the first and at the same time the last Soviet president in recent months and was also in contact with his daughter Irina.
During his time in office, Gorbachev tried to keep the 15 republics of the Soviet Union – including Ukraine – together. However, after the reforms started by him encouraged many of them to demand independence, he did not succeed, writes Reuters.
Soviet troops used lethal force against civilians in some cases at the end of the USSR’s existence. Politicians in Lithuania and Latvia recalled these events with horror after Gorbachev’s death and said they still blamed him for the bloodshed.
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According to Palazhchenko, Gorbachev believed in solving problems exclusively by political means, and in some of these bloody events he either did not know in advance or “very reluctantly” agreed to the use of force to prevent chaos.
He believed in the idea of the Soviet Union
Gorbachev’s position on Ukraine was complex and contradictory, Palazhchenko said, adding that the late politician still believed in the idea of the Soviet Union. At the same time, however, he indicated that, in his opinion, the former Soviet president would not wage a war for the restoration of a country that no longer exists.
While Gorbachev believed it was his duty to show Russian President Vladimir Putin respect and support, he spoke publicly when he disagreed with him, the interpreter said, citing the current regime’s repression of the media as an example.
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Gorbachev, however, decided not to “provide an ongoing commentary” on Ukraine beyond endorsing a February statement that called for an early end to violence and a resolution to humanitarian problems, according to Palazchenko.
Palazhchenko admitted that some Russians and people in the former USSR view Gorbachev strongly negatively because of the economic and geopolitical turmoil that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But he also said in the interview that the former president’s legacy is huge. Not only did he help end the Cold War and reduce the risk of nuclear conflict, he voluntarily removed totalitarianism in the USSR and gave Russia a chance at freedom and democracy.
“I think he remained optimistic about the future of Russia,” Palazhchenko said. “He believed that people in Russia were very talented and that once they were given a chance, maybe a second chance, the talent would show,” he added. According to him, Gorbachev believed that history would judge him correctly. “He liked to say that history is a fickle lady. I think he believed that and that he expected the final verdict to be positive for him,” he said.
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