Former Soviet Leader Gorbachev Warns Against New Cold War

Mikhail Gorbachev on New Cold War
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev addresses students as he visits the International University in Moscow February 9, 2012. Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has warned Western leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin against dragging the world into a new version of the Cold War he helped to end a quarter of a century ago.

Gorbachev, recently in hospital, voiced his disquiet in a newspaper interview at the current standoff over Ukraine, which has prompted the United States and European Union to impose sanctions on Russia, and Moscow to retaliate by banning most Western food imports.

"As a first step, the logic of mutual accusations and sanctions must be left behind," the 83-year-old told the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.

"One must not get dragged back into a new Cold War. Shared threats to our security have not disappeared."

A voice of moderation in Russia, where pro-Kremlin media regularly cast the United States as a destructive force bent on destabilising the country, Gorbachev said more shared challenges face Moscow and the West than divisions.

He listed dangers facing the world, including the Ebola virus and the Islamic State insurgency in Iraq and Syria, and said they could help bring the sides closer together.

"In the face of shared challenges, we can again find a common language. It won't be easy but there is no other way," he said in the interview to mark the upcoming 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989.

A spokesman for Gorbachev's Moscow-based Foundation said he planned to travel to Berlin for the commemorations. The spokesman said the former Kremlin leader had spent a night in hospital last week, but declined to say what he was treated for.

Gorbachev has kept silent through much of the Ukraine crisis, which has seen Russia annex the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and face accusations of sending weapons and soldiers to reinforce pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow denies those charges, and Putin warned Washington on Wednesday that "a spat between major nuclear powers" over Ukraine could threaten global stability.

Gorbachev is widely revered in the West, where he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his democratic reforms and assent to the peaceful collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the unification of Germany.

He is far less popular in Russia, where many blame him for the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and the years of chaos that followed. Earlier this year he was threatened with treason charges for his role in the break-up of the superpower.

A seven-page request for an investigation, submitted by lawmakers to Russia's top prosecutor, said Gorbachev and other senior Soviet officials violated the law and the will of the people by letting the republics that made up the Soviet Union declare independence and break away.

Gorbachev dismissed the request at the time as an act of publicity-seeking and said there were no grounds to charge him.