“The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some say that it has already begun,” said Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union and the man who inadvertently administered a mercy killing to communism in Europe. He’s 83 years old, he played a leading role in ending the last Cold War, and he’s practically a secular saint. Surely he knows what he’s talking about.
No he doesn’t. Not only has this new Cold War not begun already, but it’s hard to see how you could get it going even if you tried. The raw material for such an enterprise is simply unavailable. You can summon the ghosts of history all you want, but they are dead and they can’t hear you.
Gorbachev was speaking in Berlin, now once again the capital of a united Germany, on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Even he would agree that it turned out to be, on balance, a good thing, but he is a great deal more ambivalent about the collapse of European communism and the dismantling of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev was and is a romantic, and he undoubtedly agrees with his rather less cuddly successor as president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” So he ends up defending Putin’s actions and blaming the United States of America and Nato for this alleged drift into a new Cold War.
It’s all nonsense. Nothing could have saved the old Soviet Union. It was the last of the European empires to fall, mainly because it was land-based rather than sea-based, but only half its population was Russian. When it finally dissolved, 15 different nations emerged from the wreckage, and its collapse was no greater a loss to civilization than the fall of the British or French empires.