How Gorbachev Changed the World (2023)

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sabrina tavarnise

From “The New York Times,” I’m Sabrina Tavernise, and this is “The Daily.”

Mikhail Gorbachev set out to reform the Soviet Union, but the social and economic forces he unleashed ended up destroying it.

I spoke to “New York Times” editorial board member, Serge Schmemann about how Gorbachev changed the world and how Russia’s current leader, Vladimir Putin is trying to change it back.

It’s Thursday, September 1.

Serge, nice to see you.

serge schmemann

Good to see you.

sabrina tavarnise

The last time I saw you in person I think was in Moscow in a “New York Times” apartment in 2000. You were visiting your family, I think at the time. And I was a recently hired “New York Times” freelance reporter. And you were this reporter extraordinaire who knew Russia so deeply and I admired so deeply. And you had been covering the place for years.

serge schmemann

That’s probably it. Yeah. It’s been a long time and a lot has happened back in mother Russia since, not all of it good.

sabrina tavarnise

Yes. So Serge, I’m going to start with the current moment, the war in Ukraine. I was in Kyiv during the invasion in February. And it really struck me that Putin in this violent takeover was essentially trying to put the Soviet Union back together again, effectively undo what Gorbachev did.

So on Tuesday when Gorbachev died, I thought, there’s a strange symmetry here. It’s kind of a full circle moment in a way. Like we’re living in a world that Gorbachev made, but that Putin is at war against. So I wanted to start with that world that Gorbachev made. And where does that story begin?

serge schmemann

Well, the Soviet Union into which I arrived on the first day of 1980, January 1, 1980 was a world in which the economy had basically ground to a halt. It was remarkable even after everything we had read to see the shops that had nothing.

A loaf of bread was gray because it was made half with wheat and half with stale bread that they had gathered elsewhere. Milk was grayish because they added something else, I don’t know what it was, to it. There were very few cars on the streets because nobody could buy cars. The trams were constantly stalling because they were old and decrepit. It was really a dismal scene.

And the rulers too had become decrepit. They mostly could barely walk. Brezhnev who was in charge, Leonid Brezhnev, the man who presided over 18 years of this decline could barely get through the opening of a speech without stumbling and making some silly mistakes.

The one thing that continued to function was repression.

The KGB and informers were ubiquitous. Everybody suspected they were being followed or watched. The dissidents would meet us in a bathroom with the water running. It was a very repressive time and a time when nothing else was moving. And all of its enormous resources were poured only into the military race with the West and into the repressive mechanism.

So into this stagnant swamp comes Mikhail Gorbachev, a fresh, intelligent, young — he was 54 — man with a brilliant smile. And it was like the sun rising. I don’t exaggerate. He was the Politburo member in charge of agriculture, and he had risen with that post to the number two slot in the Politburo because he was one of the few who could walk and talk. That is the way people phrased it.

And even though he had this southern accent and had been a peasant son, he had finished the Moscow Law School. He was married to Raisa, a woman who was cultured and well dressed. So he came with the kind of a total freshness into a scene that had been totally dismal. And the impact was immediate and huge even before he introduced the radical change that became his trademark.

sabrina tavarnise

And what was that change?

serge schmemann

The change was first and foremost, the very recognition that change is essential. That had never been part of the Kremlin propaganda or rhetoric. The notion was that everything is perfect. The phrase they used was “further perfection.” Gorbachev from day one declared that, no, it was not perfect.

And from the very beginning, he began to use terms that came to define his rule. The first, which is not that familiar in the West is “novoye myshleniye,” new thinking. And that was kind of the broad overarching concept that not only should there be new thinking, but that people should be allowed to start thinking, which had essentially been banned until then, that you need a kind of creative input from the bottom.

And that this would come in the form of “perestroika” and “glasnost.” “Perestroika” is rebuilding, restructuring. “Glasnost” is best translated I think as openness. And these were very, very bold concepts.

archived recording (mikhail gorbachev)

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

serge schmemann

In fact, he said this in his speech to Congress in 1986 using these terms.

archived recording (mikhail gorbachev)

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

serge schmemann

“Glasnost,” “perestroika.”

archived recording (mikhail gorbachev)

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

serge schmemann

Talking about a need for reform, for restructuring, for openness.

archived recording (mikhail gorbachev)

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

[APPLAUSE]

sabrina tavarnise

So what starts to happen? How does this reform effort go?

serge schmemann

The societal change that he introduced was quite astounding. There were movies coming out that had been sort of sealed for decades because they were considered anti-soviet. Books were coming out, the literature, the poetry. There was always a very creative underground culture, remarkable works were coming out. But when a great book came out, it was always thought to have come out despite the authorities.

Under Gorbachev, he would get credit. Gorbachev has ushered in this great new book. So now instead of being considered an obstacle to culture, he was being considered a source of creativity. People started talking, talking freely, in public. It became almost a gabfest. Everybody was out sort of saying all the ideas that they weren’t allowed to even have years before.

sabrina tavarnise

So people were hungry for this?

(Video) Mikhail Gorbachev: Soviet Union Leader Who Changed The World | Full Documentary | Biography

serge schmemann

People were hungry. They were starved. So there was a transformation, a kind of a release of creative juices all across society, which also translated into an almost worshipful popularity for Gorbachev not only in Russia, not only in the Soviet Union, but in East Europe, he became a hero.

And in the West, he was sought after. He was this incredible figure who had emerged from a system which wasn’t supposed to produce people like that who had given it kind of energy and light almost overnight.

sabrina tavarnise

And what about the economic reform? How does he start taking aim at the central planning and the Soviet economy?

serge schmemann

On the economic front, the part that was perhaps most visible to people was a permission to form what they called the cooperative. I remember one on the Ring Road, Georgian family began baking bread and we would line up to buy bread. A few little garages appeared, kiosks on the street to sell basic stuff. So a little dollop of free enterprise did surface.

But beyond that, in his speeches and his pronouncements, he was urging a greater efficiency and making clear that he believed that the Cold War was the major drain. There were references to the arms race to how expensive it was and also to how perhaps immoral it was, this enormous threat to life.

There was enough rockets on both sides to wipe out the planet many times over. This became a theme that he referred to that there needed to be an end to the Cold War. The notion of curbing the arms race as a way to release the forces of the economy, to free them from this massive burden was a theme that began to surface in those years.

sabrina tavarnise

So it sounds like he’s realizing that the Soviet military and its participation in the arms race was a massive drain on the Soviet budget. And the Soviet Union was effectively broke or close to it, and he knew that he couldn’t keep that up, that the system wouldn’t hold.

serge schmemann

Yes, that’s right. Disarmament and an arms deal, of course, but enormous focus on the meetings he would hold with Ronald Reagan.

archived recording (ronald reagan)

General Secretary Gorbachev and I have held comprehensive discussions covering all elements of our relationship.

serge schmemann

Ronald Reagan, of course, had come to office as a staunch anti-communist and yet there was this new reformer. And when they met in Geneva in 1985, there was enormous excitement.

archived recording (ronald reagan)

I came to Geneva to seek a fresh start in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, and we have done this.

archived recording 1

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN] Mr. Reagan, how’s the meeting going?

archived recording (ronald reagan)

We haven’t started.

archived recording 1

How’d it go yesterday?

archived recording (ronald reagan)

Fine.

archived recording 1

Are you getting along?

serge schmemann

“The New York Times” sent eight reporters, which even those extravagant times was a lot.

archived recording (ronald reagan)

You see that, can’t you?

archived recording 1

Now that’s a picture. Tell us.

sabrina tavarnise

We covered every aspect of it, what race of war, what they did, what they visited, every word they said.

archived recording 2

You think it might get a little heated on the question of human rights, Mr. President?

archived recording (ronald reagan)

I’m not going to comment on that.

archived recording 2

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

archived recording (ronald reagan)

We had a very lively discussion of everything?

archived recording 1

But friendly?

serge schmemann

It was portrayed as a hugely important meeting, and the entire tone was around reducing this arms race, of reducing this huge threat to mankind that the Cold War had created. And both of these men were very well suited to this, Reagan with his actor’s skills and his charm, and Gorbachev with his kind of earnest delivery. You could feel that something was bound to happen as it would.

And the next time they met in Reykjavik in 1986 —

archived recording (ronald reagan)

Late this afternoon, I made to the General Secretary an entirely new proposal, a 10-year delay in deployment of SDI in exchange for the complete elimination of all ballistic missiles from the respective arsenals of both nations.

serge schmemann

— they met to have full disarmament.

archived recording (ronald reagan)

So long as both the United States and the Soviet Union proved their good faith by destroying nuclear missiles year by year, we would not deploy SDI.

serge schmemann

And yet at the same time, Reagan was introducing this concept of “Star Wars,” taking the arms race to space. And for the Russians, this was something quite frightening because this would mean a whole new area in which they would have to invest their limited wealth and industrial output. So there was also the sense of a deadline, we better get some agreement going before America takes this step.

archived recording (ronald reagan)

Welcome to the White House.

serge schmemann

And in 1987, the two men met in Washington —

archived recording (ronald reagan)

This ceremony and the treaty we are signing today are both excellent examples of the rewards of patience.

(Video) 'He changed the world': Former Moscow correspondent on Gorbachev | ABC News

serge schmemann

— to announce an end to the arms race.

archived recording (mikhail gorbachev)

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

archived recording (ronald reagan)

We have covered a seven-year-long road replete with intense work and debate. One last step towards this table, and the treaty will be signed.

serge schmemann

They had reached a deal and signed the INF treaty in effect ending the Cold War.

archived recording (mikhail gorbachev)

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

archived recording (ronald reagan)

May December 8, 1987 become a date that will be inscribed in the history books, a date that will mark the watershed separating the era of a mounting risk of nuclear war from the era of a demilitarization of human life.

[APPLAUSE]

serge schmemann

It was a major achievement for both of them. And here I do think one important factor is that to a certain degree, Gorbachev, he actually changed Reagan’s thinking. I think Reagan had thought of communists as people with little red horns.

And coming up against this man, meeting with him, having these personal discussions, he began himself, I think, to believe that maybe the two of them could do something for humanity, for the world, for peace. So I think that Gorbachev did simply through his tone, through his presence, through his style, and through what he was, he did have an impact, a personal impact on Reagan, which paved the way for that agreement.

sabrina tavarnise

So at this point, it seems like things are on track for Gorbachev, right? I mean, he’s doing this opening up and he’s beloved around the world for it. He’s this rock star on the international stage.

serge schmemann

He was indeed. The whole Gorbachev kind of phenomenon had spread through East Europe, where regimes were also beginning to liberalize, to become freer. The whole notion of “glasnost” and everything was taking hold. The Germans really suffered. They were divided as penance for World War II. And there was a sense that perhaps this penance, this period of punishment was coming to the end, that this man might be the ticket to reunification.

archived recording 3

The GDR turns 40 on the 7th of October, 1989.

serge schmemann

There was this moment in October of 1989 when he goes to East Germany. And it was the 40th anniversary of the East German state.

archived recording 3

Gorbachev is the guest of honor at the celebrations. People are hungry for change. They want “perestroika,” restructuring like in the Soviet Union.

serge schmemann

And Honecker, who was the hard line leader at the time had organized these huge festivities, had invited Gorbachev.

[CHANTING]

There was a torch-lit parade, thousands of young Germans marched through the streets with torches. And Gorbachev formally, officially, on record said all the things Honecker wanted to hear. This is a great country, you’re doing a great job. Carry on, 40 more years. Good luck.

But that was almost completely disregarded. It was his presence and the subtext of what he said. I mean, at one point he said, any country that fails to change in time will end up in the dust heap of history, whatever the cliche is. This was what people heard. And in a month, the Berlin Wall was gone.

archived recording (peter jennings)

I’m Peter Jennings in New York. Just a short while ago, astonishing news from East Germany where the East German authorities have said in essence that the Berlin Wall doesn’t mean anything anymore.

archived recording 4

The flood was too much for the hapless East German border guards. At Checkpoint Charlie, they were swamped. They simply gave up, opened the gates, and allowed thousands through the one crossing point that had remained firmly closed. Elsewhere, they —

serge schmemann

I had been there two months earlier. It was bristling with guns and tanks and all kinds of stuff. I went there a few days after the wall came down and there was nothing. There was a tower, all the phones had been ripped out, wires were dangling. It was like it just vanished in smoke.

And I don’t think Gorbachev and certainly not many of us realized that all this made the end of the entire system, of the entire communist system inevitable. It was not yet evident that we were approaching this cataclysmic end of an era.

sabrina tavarnise

Essentially, no one yet knew that this was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union?

serge schmemann

No, I don’t think so. I certainly did not.

sabrina tavarnise

We’ll be right back.

So Serge, after the Berlin Wall fell, what was the thinking? I mean, did Gorbachev still believe that the Soviet Union could be fixed and stay intact?

serge schmemann

Well, of course, in retrospect, we the days of the Soviet Union were numbered. But there is no evidence that Gorbachev saw that or even feared it yet. He was prepared to let the East European countries make their own choices. Czechoslovakia obviously was moving towards a democratic regime, and other countries as well.

One after the other, the governments were falling. East Europeans were making a choice to become Western countries. But I think he presumed that a reformed Soviet Union would survive and might even flourish. And yet already then, there were signs to the contrary. The Soviet economy was not flourishing.

The reforms that he had launched or tried to launch had not undone the reliance on a central command system, on massive enterprises that were in effect small empires onto themselves run by tough bosses, enterprises that held control over people’s lives. They provided the schooling, the food stores, and everything else.

All that remained in force, and Gorbachev did not seem to be too certain of what to do about this. And there was, to me, a feeling that Gorbachev began floundering. They tried what is now known as the 500-today plan. It was a program of shock therapy in effect. The economy was to be totally reformed in the space of 500 days.

Price controls would be dropped. Factories would have to become self-reliant. They would not be told what to do. It would have meant an abrupt and radical release of control over the economy. But after adopting this program, Gorbachev appeared to become afraid of what it would mean and so he drew back and went in the opposite direction.

sabrina tavarnise

He kind of got cold feet and didn’t go all the way, it sounds like.

serge schmemann

Well, he had every reason to get cold feet. I remember one economist with the World Bank telling me that if they follow this plan through to its logical conclusion, most Russians will freeze this winter.

sabrina tavarnise

Do you mean that literally?

(Video) 'Gorbachev changed world for the better' says Boris Johnson

serge schmemann

In effect, we don’t know because it didn’t happen. But the entire distribution of oil was not based on supply and demand. It was based on the government’s decision of where oil should go. And because of that, because you didn’t have to compete or pay for your supplies, for example, heating in Moscow buildings was enormously inefficient, enormously wasteful.

And I think what the economist meant when he said that to me was that if oil was set at the prevailing global price, Russians couldn’t afford it because it was being distributed by a centralized system. And that was just one example. Everything was distributed. Food by a centralized system.

And as I look back, I simply cannot imagine how Gorbachev could have allowed a massive shock to the economy. So the system stayed more or less the same, locked into its stagnation.

sabrina tavarnise

So the societal opening up is happening. I mean, it’s really happening, it’s working. But on the other hand, the economic reforms are not working at all.

serge schmemann

That was the tragedy that people had received this ability to say everything they wanted, which enabled them in effect to complain a lot about what was not happening. Their lives economically were not changing. And for Gorbachev, the problem was compounded by the fact that all around him, the house was collapsing.

archived recording 5

Today, 2 million residents of the Baltic states linked hands to protest not only what happened 50 years ago, but to send a message of defiance to Moscow today. Here’s ABC’s [INAUDIBLE]—

serge schmemann

One by one, the republics were breaking away led, of course, by the Baltic republics, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia.

archived recording 6

As the Lithuanian flag was raised and they sang the national anthem once banned by the communists, Lithuania proclaimed that it had returned to the status it enjoyed up until the Soviet Red Army invaded in 1940.

serge schmemann

And then the others, Georgia, Azerbaijan —

archived recording 7

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

serge schmemann

— Armenia.

archived recording 8

On a vote of 183 to 2, Armenia joined Latvia and Estonia in a gradual move towards sovereign statehood.

sabrina tavarnise

Right. Once these republics got some independence, they wanted total independence. It’s almost as if you thought that you could be in favor of Independence and keep the Soviet Union together. And it turns out, as we see that couldn’t have both.

serge schmemann

Yes, that’s right. It was something a friend of mine told me. Gorbachev was smart enough to realize that the system needed to be reformed, but not smart enough to realize that any change would mean its collapse.

sabrina tavarnise

So when it’s clear that none of this is really working, how did it all end?

serge schmemann

It ended with a remarkably pathetic attempt at a coup.

It began in a typically Soviet way. Back in the Soviet days when some major announcement was about to be made, all the broadcasting would stop, and they would just start looping some symphony orchestra or something. And then you just sat there and waited.

Whenever some major chief died, whether Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, Ustinov, whatever, they would just stop broadcasting and then they would take their time to prepare a dramatic announcement. And in this case, in August of ‘91, broadcasting suddenly stopped. And the television, which was still controlled entirely by the state began looping “Swan Lake” of all things.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

The ballet, familiar, of course, to all Russians. It’s by Tchaikovsky. And so everybody knew something big is about to happen, rumors spread, and finally, this group of hardliners who were still in the Politburo and the government, including the head of the KGB, the interior minister came on TV and announced that they were —

archived recording 9

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

serge schmemann

— establishing an emergency committee to run the Soviet Union, that Gorbachev was out of office.

archived recording 10

With tanks in Red Square, the official word from the new government calling itself the national emergency committee was that the architect of “glasnost” and “perestroika” was too ill to continue in office.

archived recording 11

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

serge schmemann

And thus began sort of the last gasp of the old power structure to regain the control it had had for so many years over the society.

archived recording 12

On Sunday at 1800 hours, I learned that all my telephones were cut off. I had no further communication with the outside world.

serge schmemann

Gorbachev who was in the south remained defiant. But the real hero was Boris Yeltsin.

archived recording 12

Yeltsin! Yeltsin! Yeltsin!

archived recording 13

The democratically elected president of Russia was soon striding out of the building to address a crowd of supporters.

serge schmemann

Boris Yeltsin had begun as an ally of Gorbachev, a close ally in “perestroika” and “glasnost,” but move farther and farther away. He had resigned from the Communist Party, and he had built a new power base in the Russian Federation. Russia was just one of the component republics in the Soviet Union, and had always had its own government.

And Yeltsin had taken that government over, he had held elections. He was in effect the first elected president of Russia. And in that position, he had been steadily taking power away from the Soviet government, from the Kremlin. So Yeltsin mounted a tank outside the headquarters of the Russian government —

archived recording 14

He climbed aboard one of the Red Army’s own tanks and said the coup leaders had disgraced the Soviet Union.

serge schmemann

— and defied the plotters to come and get him.

archived recording (boris yeltsin)

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

(Video) Gorbachev At 90, Looking Back At A Career That Changed History

serge schmemann

And this became kind of the rallying point of opposition. Thousands of people came out and camped around Yeltsin, around that area. And it was an amazing kind of scene. The defenders were expecting that the leaders of the coup would send tanks and forces to crush them. And they built these huge barricades out of buses and steel and all kinds of junk. Everybody stayed up all night waiting for these tanks to come. We stayed up all night, we were all waiting.

And the sun came up and it got warm. Then suddenly, everybody realized that there were no tanks, that nobody was on the side of this coup, that it was over. There was a strong kind of sense that something dramatic had shifted, that these thugs from the army and the KGB and the interior police and all that would never again be able to take charge.

But of course, Yeltsin emerged from this as the hero, and in many ways as the real leader in Moscow. By the time Gorbachev came back, Yeltsin actually treated him almost with disdain. He no longer treated him as the leader that he would automatically obey. So what began here was the end game.

sabrina tavarnise

So when did the Soviet Union finally die? Like what was the precise moment?

serge schmemann

It was a long and painful death that began that morning. Gorbachev continued trying to order reforms. But by now, fewer and fewer of the republican leaders were taking him seriously. Yeltsin that fall met with the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus, and they formed a kind of an agreement where they basically decided to abandon the Soviet state. Power was ebbing away from Gorbachev very, very rapidly. And finally —

archived recording 15

The president who returned to power from house arrest after the failure of the August coup never recovered his authority and tonight paid the political price.

serge schmemann

On December 25, our Christmas Day for Russians, not Christmas at all, just a horrible day with slush falling on Moscow, he resigned.

archived recording (mikhail gorbachev)

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

archived recording (interpreter)

I always spoke for freedom, independence of the people, to the sovereignty of the republics. And I also spoke for the unity of a country.

serge schmemann

He gave a speech in which he sort of admitted that it had failed, that he had tried to do his best to reform the system, but the whole system collapsed before a new one was ready, and that he was now stepping down as president.

archived recording (mikhail gorbachev)

[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

archived recording (interpreter)

Of course, we could have avoided some mistakes, we could have made new stuff better. But I’m sure that sooner or later, our common efforts will give fruit. Our people will live in a growing, prospering, democratic society. I wish you all the best.

serge schmemann

I rushed off in the evening to write the story about it for “The Times.” I was the bureau chief. So I sent my wife and my kids out to Red Square to celebrate a bit of Christmas because I was in the office and would be there for a long time writing about Gorbachev, I thought. And it was wet and dreary, but as they walked across this vast empty space, there was nobody out there because of the weather.

Suddenly they saw the old red Soviet flag with a hammer and sickle came down over the Kremlin. And the Russian flag, the white, blue, and red stripes went up. It was in a truly dramatic moment. It was 7:32, my wife reported, and yet all that happened in Red Square was some drunk yelling some obscenities at the flag.

And eventually, the bells from Spasskaya Tower, one of the towers rang bells every quarter hour or so, the chiming of those bells and this one drunk yelling was kind of the only celebration on Red Square to mark this moment. And so I wrote an obituary for the Soviet Union. We could finally declare that the Soviet Union after 70 tempestuous and often cruel years was finally dead.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

sabrina tavarnise

So that was it. The flag came down, the Soviet Union was effectively dead. And that was perceived by many Russians, including of course, a young KGB operative, Vladimir Putin as a disaster or at the very least as a loss.

serge schmemann

It was indeed. And Gorbachev had anticipated this in a speech he gave when he said Russians were not likely to take lightly the loss of empire and greatness. And to young people like Putin, this, of course, built a certain resentment, a certain notion that something that he had been raised to defend and to be proud of was being destroyed.

In him, nurtured this humiliation that he is now so skillfully exploiting in other Russians through the propaganda of thi fallen empire. He described the fall of the Soviet Union as one of the great disasters of the century.

And many Russians might not agree with that, but many even on the liberal side felt that Gorbachev had set about destroying a system, but no new system was there to replace the one he was dismantling while conservatives and nationalists held him responsible for dismantling a great empire. So on both sides, he perhaps figures today as a somewhat negative figure.

sabrina tavarnise

Serge, in the end, Gorbachev failed to reform. He failed to do the thing he was trying to do. It was essentially an unreformable system. And it unleashed forces beyond his control, and that was kind of the original sin for someone like Putin. So when you see what’s happening in Russia today, the repression, the violence in Ukraine, the crackdowns, knowing everything you know about what came before, what do you think?

serge schmemann

When I see what’s happening in Russia today, everything that Putin has wrought, this unthinkable invasion and all that, of course, I see a great tragedy. But I find it difficult personally to link it to Gorbachev, to what he did, to how he did it, to his failure. What I see Gorbachev is not as somebody who tried and failed.

I prefer to see him as somebody who gave Russia an extraordinary moment of hope and maybe set it on a brief but exciting journey that has shown and maybe will show again what Russia can and should be. Russia is not necessarily this kind of crowd of thugs in the Kremlin today sending troops on an extraordinarily cruel and meaningless mission.

That is not what Gorbachev had in mind. It is certainly not what he would have done. I see him more as somebody who showed what could be and what should be. And that is certainly something for which I do hope history gives him credit. He was personally a very decent man. He never sort of wallowed in corruption. He could have made millions in retirement but did not.

And he was a decent man who showed that Russia can be ruled by a decent man toward a decent goal. When I heard of his death yesterday, really among the first thoughts were just that euphoria that I remember really so well, the euphoria that we felt in ‘85, ‘86. It was a remarkable period of my life and certainly of Russia’s life.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Here is a man who promised so much, who created such extraordinary expectations, and to know where it has all led, of course, it’s sad. But you can’t change history, and you’ve got to be grateful for the great moments he gave us.

sabrina tavarnise

Serge, thank you.

serge schmemann

Thank you.

sabrina tavarnise

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you should know today. On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first new formulation of the coronavirus vaccine, one that targets Omicron variants. Roughly 90,000 infections and 475 deaths are still being recorded every day in the United States. Booster shots of the new vaccine will be available next week.

And a little known Democrat, Mary Peltola won the special election for Alaska’s only house seat, beating a field that included the former Republican Governor, Sarah Palin. Peltola, who is 49, will become the first Alaskan Native to serve in the House and the first woman to hold the House seat. Her victory adds to a series of recent wins for Democrats.

Today’s episode was produced by Will Reid, Jessica Cheung, Michael Simon Johnson, and Stella Tan. It was edited by Lisa Chow and Paige Cowett, and fact-checked by Susan Lee. It contains original music by Dan Powell and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Sabrina Tavernise. See you tomorrow.

(Video) World leaders pay tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev

FAQs

What changes did Gorbachev make? ›

Gorbachev's reforms were gradualist and maintained many of the macroeconomic aspects of the command economy (including price controls, inconvertibility of the rouble, exclusion of private property ownership, and the government monopoly over most means of production).

Why is Gorbachev important? ›

After resigning the presidency, he launched the Gorbachev Foundation, became a vocal critic of Russian presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, and campaigned for Russia's social-democratic movement. Gorbachev is considered to be one of the most significant figures of the second half of the 20th century.

Why was Gorbachev's new thinking important? ›

The "new thinking" was of vital necessity for the Soviet Union to shut down the costly Cold War competition in order to continue the internal economic reforms of perestroika.

Why did Gorbachev dissolve the union? ›

It brought an end to the General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's (later also President) effort to reform the Soviet political and economic system in an attempt to stop a period of political stalemate and economic backslide. The Soviet Union had experienced internal stagnation and ethnic separatism.

Which president ended the Cold War? ›

The INF Treaty of December 1987, signed by Reagan and Gorbachev, eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500–1,000 kilometres (310–620 mi) (short-range) and 1,000–5,500 kilometres (620–3,420 mi) (intermediate-range).

What did the fall of Berlin Wall symbolize? ›

Because of its psychological as well as its physical significance, the fall of the Berlin Wall quickly became the symbol of the collapse of the communist ideology it had shielded.

How did Gorbachev react to Chernobyl? ›

The result was a surge of anti-nuclear sentiments in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev also immediately sensed that Chernobyl would increase anti-nuclear momentum in the West.” It also led the Soviet leader to seek a breakthrough in arms control.

What caused the collapse of the Soviet Union? ›

Gorbachev's decision to allow elections with a multi-party system and create a presidency for the Soviet Union began a slow process of democratization that eventually destabilized Communist control and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

What ended the Cold War? ›

Who was Gorbachev Why did he seek to reform Soviet society? ›

Answer: Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of Communist Party of Soviet Union in 1985. He was forced to initiate the reforms in the USSR due to following reasons: 1. To keep the USSR abreast of information and technological revolutions at par the West.

How did Mikhail Gorbachev differ from previous Soviet leader? ›

Gorbachev's other main difference from the previous immediate Soviet leaders of Brezhnev (died 1982), Andropov (died 1984), and Chernenko (died 1985) was that he was a reformer. He enacted major economic restructuring (perestroika) and more freedom and openness (glasnost) in hopes of reforming and saving the system.

What was Gorbachev's glasnost policy? ›

Glasnost was taken to mean increased openness and transparency in government institutions and activities in the Soviet Union (USSR). Glasnost reflected a commitment of the Gorbachev administration to allowing Soviet citizens to discuss publicly the problems of their system and potential solutions.

What if the USSR won the Cold War? ›

The USSR would also come up with a more powerful political organization called the "Paris Pact" which includes some Communist nations in Asia (including China and Korea). With all this in place, the USSR would be *the* world's superpower with the USA now being isolated. But, American isolation wouldn't last for long.

What countries made up USSR? ›

In post-revolutionary Russia, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is established, comprising a confederation of Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine and the Transcaucasian Federation (divided in 1936 into the Georgian, Azerbaijan and Armenian republics).

Was Poland part of the USSR? ›

Like other Eastern Bloc countries (East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania), Poland was regarded as a satellite state in the Soviet sphere of interest, but it was never a constituent republic of the Soviet Union.

How did the US defeat the Soviet Union? ›

Historians who believe that the U.S. won the Cold War largely agree that American victory was guaranteed through finances. The United States bled Soviets coffers dry through proxy wars and the nuclear arms race.

Who started the Cold War? ›

The United States and the Soviet Union both contributed to the rise of the Cold War. They were ideological nation-states with incompatible and mutually exclusive ideologies. The founding purpose of the Soviet Union was global domination, and it actively sought the destruction of the United States and its allies.

Why was the Berlin Wall built? ›

The Berlin Wall was built by the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War to prevent its population from escaping Soviet-controlled East Berlin to West Berlin, which was controlled by the major Western Allies. It divided the city of Berlin into two physically and ideologically contrasting zones.

How did the Berlin Wall impact people's lives? ›

The Berlin wall divided families who found themselves unable to visit each other. Many East Berliners were cut off from their jobs. West Berliners demonstrated against the wall and their mayor Willy Brandt led the criticism against the United States who they felt had failed to respond.

Why did Russia give up East Germany? ›

It finally came down in November 1989, as the Communist regime of East Germany collapsed amid popular protest and economic weakness. As part of the 1990 agreement for German reunification, the former conquerors of World War II promised to pull their soldiers out of Berlin by this fall.

Why was only Berlin divided? ›

To stop the exodus of its population, the East German government, with the full consent of the Soviets, erected the Berlin Wall, isolating West from East Berlin. West Berlin, then literally an island within the surrounding GDR, became the symbol of Western freedom.

Is Chernobyl still radioactive? ›

The Chernobyl plant, which is still radioactive, lies about 100 km (62 miles) from Kyiv. Its fourth reactor exploded in April 1986 during a botched safety test, sending clouds of radiation billowing across much of Europe.

Did the Soviet Union fall because of Chernobyl? ›

The Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991. The explosion in the reactor was a crack in the USSR that not only cost countless lives—the nature and delayed effects of radiation mean that the true death toll may never be known—but also contributed to the demise of a political system.

Did Chernobyl destroy the Soviet Union? ›

Nonetheless, evidence of already established failures and the destroyed trust had begun to emerge since the Second World War, showing that even such a significantly exposing event as Chernobyl was not enough to cause the collapse of the USSR.

What ended communism? ›

The collapse of the Berlin Wall was the culminating point of the revolutionary changes sweeping East Central Europe in 1989. Throughout the Soviet bloc, reformers assumed power and ended over 40 years of dictatorial Communist rule. The reform movement that ended communism in East Central Europe began in Poland.

When did Russia's economy collapse? ›

The Russian financial crisis (also called the ruble crisis or the Russian flu) began in Russia on 17 August 1998. It resulted in the Russian government and the Russian Central Bank devaluing the ruble and defaulting on its debt.

How did the Soviet Union control its citizens? ›

Regime. The regime maintained itself in political power by means of the secret police, propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, personality cultism, restriction of free discussion and criticism, the use of mass surveillance, political purges and persecution of specific groups of people.

Who won ww2 USA or Russia? ›

The Allied Powers won the war. The USA was one of the Allied Powers, and Russia was part of the Soviet Union, which also fought with the Allied Powers. So, you could say that both the USA and Russia won World War 2.

When did Poland become independent from USSR? ›

In November 1918, after 123 years of absence on European political maps, Poland regained its independence.

Why is it called the Cold War? ›

It was called the Cold War because neither the Soviet Union nor the United States officially declared war on each other. However, both sides clearly struggled to prevent the other from spreading its economic and political systems around the globe.

Why did Soviet system become so weak and Soviet economy stagnant? ›

Soviet system became so weak and Soviet economy stagnant due to the following reasons: The Soviet economy used much of its resources in maintaining nuclear and military arsenals. Soviet economy concentrated on the development of its satellite states in Eastern Europe especially in the five central Asian republics.

How did shock therapy destroy the social welfare system of Russia? ›

The shock therapy brought ruin to the economies and disaster upon the people of the entire region. The value of the Russian currency 'Ruble' declined dramatically. People lost all their savings due to high rate of inflation. The government withdrew subsidies which pushed large sections of the people into poverty.

What is bipolar 12th? ›

Answer: Bipolarity means distribution of power between 2 countries of the world which has the majority of the regional or global influence culturally, economically, and has the highest military powers.

Who was the last person to run the USSR? ›

Mikhail Gorbachev was the only person to occupy this office. Gorbachev was also General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union between March 1985 and August 1991.

Who was president when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union dissolved? ›

Thirteen months later, on December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics dissolved. President Bush and his chief foreign policy advisers were more pro-active toward Russia and the former Soviet republics after the collapse of the Communist monolith than while it was teetering.

Why was Joseph Stalin's first Five Year Plan considered a? ›

Why was Joseph Stalin's first Five-Year Plan considered a success, even though it did not meet the quotas he set? The economy still made sizable gains. Which best explains why the Great Leap Forward hurt China's economy? The changes meant farms could no longer produce enough food.

What were Gorbachev's three reforms? ›

Gorbachev's reforms were gradualist and maintained many of the macroeconomic aspects of the command economy (including price controls, inconvertibility of the rouble, exclusion of private property ownership, and the government monopoly over most means of production).

What was one unintended result of glasnost? ›

One of the long-term consequences of glasnost was the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Glasnost lead to dissent, and leaders such as Boris Yeltsin took advantage of this dissent to crush the Soviet system from within. The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991.

What if America won the Vietnam war? ›

So if the US had won, the Cold War would probably have ended a little sooner and the dawn of that unilateral superpower controlling things would have come quicker. In Southeast Asia, everything would be radically different – including a faster and more thorough confrontation between the USA and China.

What if the Soviet Union reached the moon first? ›

McCurdy speculates that if the Soviets had been first to land on the moon, they probably would have also won the Cold War as a result. "One of the reasons we won the Cold War is because we won the space race," he said.

How did Russia take Georgia? ›

During uprisings in 1919 and 1920, the Ossetians were covertly supported by Soviet Russia, but even so, were defeated. The independent Democratic Republic of Georgia was invaded by the Red Army in 1921 and a Soviet government was installed.

Is Soviet Union still exist? ›

By late 1991, amid a catastrophic political crisis, with several republics already departing the Union and the waning of centralized power, the leaders of three of its founding members declared that the Soviet Union no longer existed. Eight more republics joined their declaration shortly thereafter.

What was Russia before USSR? ›

The U.S.S.R. was the successor to the Russian Empire of the tsars. Following the 1917 Revolution, four socialist republics were established on the territory of the former empire: the Russian and Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republics and the Ukrainian and Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republics.

Was Finland part of Russia? ›

Finland as a part of the Russian Empire 1809–1917

During the Russian rule, Finland became a special region developed by order of the Emperor. For example, Helsinki city centre was built during Russian rule. Starting from 1899, Russia tightened its grip on the Grand Duchy of Finland.

What was Poland called before? ›

Names of Poland. There's Sarmatia and Scythia, Polonia, Poland and Polska. But how about Lenkija, Lengyelország or Lehistan?

What nationality are Polish people? ›

Poles, or Polish people, are a West Slavic nation and ethnic group, who share a common history, culture, the Polish language and are identified with the country of Poland in Central Europe.

Why did Stalin invade Poland? ›

The “reason” given was that Russia had to come to the aid of its “blood brothers,” the Ukrainians and Byelorussians, who were trapped in territory that had been illegally annexed by Poland. Now Poland was squeezed from West and East—trapped between two behemoths.

Who was Gorbachev Why did he seek to reform Soviet society? ›

Answer: Mikhail Gorbachev was the General Secretary of Communist Party of Soviet Union in 1985. He was forced to initiate the reforms in the USSR due to following reasons: 1. To keep the USSR abreast of information and technological revolutions at par the West.

What was Gorbachev's glasnost policy? ›

Glasnost was taken to mean increased openness and transparency in government institutions and activities in the Soviet Union (USSR). Glasnost reflected a commitment of the Gorbachev administration to allowing Soviet citizens to discuss publicly the problems of their system and potential solutions.

What were the reforms of Gorbachev Class 12? ›

He introduced economic and political reform policies of 'Perestroika' (restructuring) and 'glasnost' (openness). He stopped the arms race with the US by signing apart to control over nuclear weapons. He withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan and Eastern Europe. He helped in the unification of Germany.

Why did Gorbachev abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine? ›

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev repudiated the doctrine in the late 1980s, as the Kremlin accepted the peaceful overthrow of communist rule in all its satellite countries in Eastern Europe.

How was the US benefited by the Soviet disintegration? ›

Solution. Soviet Union's disintegration proved beneficial for the United States because after the Cold War came to an end, the United States gained the status of the sole superpower. Also, its economy became the dominant economic system internationally.

What ended the Cold War? ›

Why did Soviet system become so weak and Soviet economy stagnant? ›

Soviet system became so weak and Soviet economy stagnant due to the following reasons: The Soviet economy used much of its resources in maintaining nuclear and military arsenals. Soviet economy concentrated on the development of its satellite states in Eastern Europe especially in the five central Asian republics.

What was one unintended result of glasnost? ›

One of the long-term consequences of glasnost was the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Glasnost lead to dissent, and leaders such as Boris Yeltsin took advantage of this dissent to crush the Soviet system from within. The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991.

Which country is known as the collapse of Second World? ›

The powerful economies of the West are still sometimes described as "First World", but the term "Second World" became largely obsolete following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Which President said tear down this wall? ›

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall", also known as the Berlin Wall Speech, was a speech delivered by United States President Ronald Reagan in West Berlin on June 12, 1987.

What is the new name of USSR? ›

Soviet Union
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Союз Советских Социалистических Республик
• 1985–1991Mikhail Gorbachev
Head of state
• 1922–1946 (first)Mikhail Kalinin
• 1988–1991 (last)Mikhail Gorbachev
71 more rows

How did Mikhail Gorbachev differ from previous Soviet leader? ›

Gorbachev's other main difference from the previous immediate Soviet leaders of Brezhnev (died 1982), Andropov (died 1984), and Chernenko (died 1985) was that he was a reformer. He enacted major economic restructuring (perestroika) and more freedom and openness (glasnost) in hopes of reforming and saving the system.

How did the Soviet Union become Russia? ›

The unsuccessful August 1991 coup against Gorbachev sealed the fate of the Soviet Union. Planned by hard-line Communists, the coup diminished Gorbachev's power and propelled Yeltsin and the democratic forces to the forefront of Soviet and Russian politics.

Why did USSR invade Afghanistan? ›

The Soviets Upheld the 'Brezhnev Doctrine'

Even Dubček's modest steps away from hardcore communism offered reason enough for the Soviets to invade Czechoslovakia and abduct him. By 1979, Afghanistan, a faltering, once-friendly regime, provided another chance for the USSR to militarily enforce the Brezhnev doctrine.

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2. Boris Johnson: Mikhail Gorbachev changed the world for the better
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4. Perestroika & Glasnost (The End of the Soviet Union)
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6. The Gorbachev era and the collapse of the Soviet Union • FRANCE 24 English
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