[Éditorial de Guy Taillefer] The squandered legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev


December 1987: Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev sign a global disarmament treaty in Washington providing for the elimination of intermediate nuclear missiles from both countries. Key moment in the end of the Cold War. Many in Western public opinion then push a big “phew! after years of agonizing belligerent rhetoric from the US president.

In the West, the treaty swells esteem for the Soviet leader, while between perestroika and glasnost – between shortages and freedoms – the USSR implodes.

“Man of peace”, Mr. Gorbachev, who died last Tuesday, was certainly one: he demonstrated it two years later, when the Berlin Wall fell, by assigning the soldiers to their barracks. It is not too much to say that the man made a decision of exceptional grandeur by not resorting to all-out repression, as the old guard would have liked.

Although between principles and necessities, it is understood that Gorbachev, a man of the seraglio who believed he could reform Sovietism, had more widely realized that the USSR was collapsing economically and that the financing of its military power was untenable.

Of the nuclear arms control treaty, Jean Daniel wrote at the time, in The new observer, capping his editorial with the title “Apocalypse: the first setback”, that “it’s a real beginning”. “Not only because, as everyone has said, we are destroying weapons for the first time since they have existed; but due to the fact that all attempts to interrupt the arms race have so far failed [et que les] limitation agreements have all been circumvented. »

For his part, in The duty, Paul-André Comeau had editorialized: “Who could, at the beginning of this decade, have considered such a possibility? Wasn’t Ronald Reagan the belligerent architect of the deployment of muscle and nuclear rockets that provoked monster demonstrations in most of the capitals of Western Europe? (“A Treaty of Hope”, December 9, 1987).

In the wake of this treaty, which we imagined would bring lasting appeasement to international relations, other Russian-American treaties on the limitation of strategic arms (Start I and II, Sort and then New Start, including the application runs until 2026).

But the fact is that since Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999, these otherwise incomplete treaties have done little to denuclearize the geopolitical climate. We are happy that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a UN agreement concluded in 1968 and whose application is ensured by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has held up.

Putin was quick to brandish the nuclear threat against Ukraine last winter. Part of bluff? Without a doubt. Nevertheless, by this yardstick, some analyze that the risk of nuclear escalation, deliberate or accidental, is no less great today than it was during the former Cold War. In any case, “the conflict puts an end to the revival of nuclear talks between Russia and the United States, wrote in March in The world the historian Benjamin Hautecouverture. It is a dark period that is opening for the bilateral strategic dialogue. »

The Russian occupation of the Ukrainian power plant in Zaporijjia, where IAEA inspectors arrived on Thursday to draw up an inventory, is in this context an abominable instrumentalization of nuclear deterrence on the part of Putin.

The squandering of Gorbachev’s legacy is the Orwellian crushing of freedoms and opponents to which Putin indulged, it is his excessive remilitarization and going to war of Russia. But it is also the result of the behavior of the United States, whose “arrogance” Gorbachev denounced. If the latter, as an involuntary gravedigger of the empire, was the antithesis of the totalitarian project pursued by Putin, he nevertheless shared with him a long-lasting bitterness about the lies of NATO on its enlargement and the contempt triumphalist and sterile displayed by the Americans with regard to the Russians since the beginning of the 1990s.

Mikhail Gorbachev, at the same time one of the greatest political figures of the XXe century and responsible, according to Putin, for “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20the century “.

The death of this man, whose funeral takes place on Saturday in the absence of a Vladimir Putin who is too small to make sense of things, takes us back to a past that is not so distant, but which at the same time seems to us antediluvian. The atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki more than 75 years ago now, and the Cuban missile crisis will have happened 60 years ago in October. These are events that still belong to the close and unresolved history of humanity. The threat hanging over Ukraine does not make us forget that.

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