A ‘New’ Gorbachev Won’t Rescue U.S.-Russia Relations After Putin

A ‘New’ Gorbachev Won’t Rescue U.S.-Russia Relations After Putin
Then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev waves during the military parade marking the 71st anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution in Moscow, Nov. 7, 1988 (AP photo by Boris Yurchenko).

Last week, the final leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, died. Many of the retrospectives on his legacy highlighted his central role in ending the Cold War between the United States and the USSR. In large part because of Gorbachev’s decision-making, the 45-year standoff ended with the Soviet Union voluntarily relinquishing its dominant position in Eastern Europe before subsequently dissolving. Though that dissolution led to internal conflict within some post-Soviet states, like Azerbaijan and Georgia, the process by which the USSR itself splintered apart was relatively peaceful.

Sadly, as Sergey Radchenko pointed out, Gorbachev lived long enough to see this accomplishment undone. The current war in Ukraine represents a delayed devolution of the Soviet Union’s breakup into war and conflict. Since the war began, some have wondered if another reform-minded, Gorbachev-like figure could reverse Russia’s course after President Vladimir Putin leaves power, like Gorbachev did for the Soviet Union. At minimum, some are turning to Gorbachev’s leadership, namely his relationship with former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, for lessons on how to rebuild peaceful relations between the West and Russia. As Evelyn Farkas, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, put it this week, Gorbachev “gave Russia a chance at democracy by opening the door to the truth about Soviet history. Putin has worked increasingly hard to shut that door ... Let’s hope the spirit of Gorbachev guides the next set of Russian leaders.”

But the possibility that another Gorbachev might arise to not only broker an end to the current conflict in Ukraine but also set Russia on a course to normalize relations with the West is unlikely. And the image of Gorbachev that guides such hopes is less than accurate.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.