Gorbachev Wanted to Preserve the Soviet Union

Mikhail Gorbachev
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev speaks at the opening ceremony of the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Chicago, Illinois, 2012. Jeff Haynes/Reuters

The last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, said he was always against the collapse of the country on the anniversary of its historic referendum.

The Soviet government attempted to slow the dissolution of the union of Communist states by holding a referendum in 1991, asking citizens if they opposed or supported their republic remaining a Soviet Republic or not. Although the vote was overwhelmingly 'for' remaining in the Soviet Union, many members such as the Baltic and the South Caucasus republics did not hold the referendum at all and instead declared full independence through alternative referenda.

Others, such as Kazakhstan and Ukraine changed the question to include a clause which meant voters could only choose to remain in a Soviet Union which recognizes their own self government. The Soviet Union collapsed within a year from the referendum.

On the anniversary of the vote, however, Gorbachev told Russian radio RSN that he was among those who voted for the Soviet Union not to be dissolved and instead seek internal reform.

"I was of the position that the union should be democratised," Gorbachev said on Thursday. "Centralised government was in the way of everything that was going on in each republic. It was necessary to give them new rights, (have) new relations."

Earlier this week a Russian state poll estimated that if Russians were faced with the same question this year the majority would vote with Gorbachev. Out of sample of 1,600 Russians, 64 percent backed retaining the Soviet Union on the condition it is reformed.

A radio poll by Russian state radio Vesti FM , meanwhile, reportedly found that 94 percent of its listeners would back retaining the Soviet Union, 25 years after the referendum took place.