Gorbachev Feels His Life's Work Being Destroyed by Putin, Close Friend Says

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, who ushered in reforms that led to the downfall of communism and of the USSR, believes that his life's work has been undone by Vladimir Putin, according to a close friend.

Prominent Kremlin critic and journalist Alexei Venidiktov told Forbes Russia that he was still in touch with the 91-year-old former leader who served as the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991.

During Gorbachev's tenure, the Russian words "glasnost" (openness) and "perestroika" (rebuilding) entered the English lexicon, as policies that allowed for greater freedom of speech and economic reform as well as an easing of tensions between Moscow and the West.

Since Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, Russia has passed increasingly authoritarian laws that, for instance, make criticizing the war an offense that can result in hefty jail terms. A crackdown has ended all dissenting voices such as Venidiktov, who was editor-in-chief of the Echo of Moscow radio station, which has closed down.

Gorbachev and Putin
This picture from December 2004 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Schleswig, Germany, ALEXANDER NEMENOV/Getty Images

Meanwhile, NATO has increased its presence in Eastern Europe in response to Russian aggression and Moscow finds itself isolated internationally due to tough sanctions imposed by the West.

"What Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev did is all destroyed," Venidiktov said, using the former leader's full patronymic name. "All Gorbachev's reforms—to zero, to ashes, to smoke."

"When they ask me: 'Is there anything indicating that?' I answer: 'When Gorbachev left, there were 4,000 NATO rapid reaction forces in Europe. Now NATO has announced that there will be 300,000 by the end of next year.'

"That is the threat level. The level of NATO troops at our borders," he added.

In June, NATO leaders agreed to put over 300,000 troops on high alert from mid-2023, up from 40,000 currently, to counter Russia.

The New York Times reported that in 1991, when Gorbachev left power, NATO had a rapid-reaction multinational brigade of 5,000 troops, which they announced they would expand.

At the end of 2021, the former Soviet leader criticized NATO expansionism saying that the U.S. had become "arrogant and self-confident" after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin has said the expansion of the alliance was one of his justifications for the war in Ukraine.

Although the former Soviet leader has not commented publicly since the start of the war, Venidiktov said, "I can tell you that Gorbachev is upset, of course, he understands. It was his life's work."

"Freedom is Gorbachev's business. Everyone has already forgotten who gave freedom to the Russian Orthodox Church. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev," added Venidiktov. "Freedom of speech, the first law on the press—Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev. Private property—Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev. So what is he going to say now?"

Gorbachev is reportedly suffering from long-term kidney problems and is on dialysis.