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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo
Last Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev Dies. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 30, 2022 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to the show. I'm Bianca Nobilo in London.
And we begin with breaking news. The last leader of the Soviet Union, a man who helped shape the world we all live in today, Mikhail Gorbachev, has
died. He was 91 years old.
Gorbachev ruled the Soviet Union from the mid 1980s until 1991, when he presided over the vast country's collapse. That steps toward democracy were
revolutionary for a Soviet leader.
With more on his, life here is CNN's Matthew Chance.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With that port stain birthmark on his forehead, Mikhail Gorbachev, was one of
the most recognizable figures in 20th century politics. His attempts to reform the Soviet Union and his role in ending the Cold War made him one of
its most influential too.
As a young man, Gorbachev studied law at Moscow State University. It's there he met and married a fellow student, Raisa Titarenko. He went on to
forge a career in the communist party, eventually age 54 becoming its general secretary, the leader of had Soviet Union.
It was in this role that Gorbachev and his wife broke the mold. He, for his outgoing charismatic nature. Raisa for her stylish outfits and for the
unheard of elegance she brought to the role of Soviet first lady.
But the vast communist nation they ruled was on the brink of crisis. Amid shortages of food and consumer goods, the Soviet command economy was
grinding to a halt. There was also alarm at the apparently slow response to the Soviet authorities to the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.
Gorbachev tried to fix things with what he called perestroika and Glasnost, reforms that were to revolutionize the Soviet system.
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, SOVIET UNION LEADER (through translator): I began these reforms and my guiding stars were freedom and democracy, without bloodshed.
So the people would cease to be herd led by a shepherd. They would become citizens.
CHANCE: There was revolution, too, in relations with the West. Face-to-face with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev made a stunning proposal, to
eliminate all nuclear missiles held by the two superpowers.
It was the beginning of the end of the cold war. Soon the Berlin wall would fall. And after a failed coup by hard liners in Moscow, the Soviet Union
itself was dissolved, and Gorbachev resigned.
GORBEACHEV: I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of president of the USSR.
CHANCE: In 1999, he lost the love of his life, his wife of 46 years, Raisa, who died of leukemia.
But there was no love lost between many Russians and Gorbachev. To many of his countrymen, he would always be the man who allowed the great Soviet
Empire to collapse, exposing millions to hardship and humiliation.
Even Gorbachev himself expressed regret.
GORBACHEV: I fought the best I could to defend the Soviet Union. But I failed.
CHANCE: But in the West, he was revered and celebrated as a great statesman. A Nobel Peace Prize Winner who played a decisive role in ending
the Cold War, peacefully diffusing the most dangerous standoff of the 20th century.
NOBILO: Let's go live now to Moscow, and senior international correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen.
Fred, what more are you learning about the details of his death? What is the reaction been like so far in Russia where he is, of course, a towering
and influential figure of modern history?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, yeah. A very influential figure, but also, of course, very much a controversial
figure in Russia as well. You saw some of Matthew's report just now. On the one hand, he is credited with, in large part, leading only to the end of
the Soviet Union, but the end of the Cold War, to the iron curtain. At the same time, also, many people believe the chaos that ensued in Russia after
-- he's also responsible for some of that as well. Also, of course, some of the loss of some of the prestige of the Soviet Union had had before that.
What we have is at the hospital where he was being treated, after a prolonged and very severe illness, Mikhail Gorbachev has died this evening.
We also, just a couple minutes ago, have on both the RIA and the TASS News Agency that he will be buried at that Novodevichy Cemetery here, in Moscow.
That's one of the most prestigious cemeteries in this country, probably second only to Acropolis around the Kremlin.
He will be very there next to his wife Raisa, who we've also heard in Matthew's report that the two obviously were inseparable, very close to one
another until Raisa's death.
But it's unclear when that funeral is going to be. And, of course, we are awaiting more reactions to come in. It's very late at night here.
And we have reactions from the Kremlin and others. We will wait and see how that happens. Of course, this is a huge deal here in Russia, where Mikhail
Gorbachev, again, someone very controversial to a lot of Russians, but certainly influenced everyone here in this country, had influence on the
lives of everyone here.
Quite frankly, everyone pretty much in all of Europe, basically around the world with, the fact that he moved the Soviet Union in a different
direction, changed a lot of the Soviet Union, but was instrumental not only to the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe, but especially to the fact that
all that happened in a peaceful manner, that Europe is where it is today, thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev. Of, course other major leaders in Europe and
the U.S., and George Bush Sr., of course, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, being among the others.
And Mikhail Gorbachev, quite frankly, the one of those leaders who was still alive and died on this evening, Bianca.
NOBILO: And, Fred, obviously, he has just died as an elderly man, old man at 91. What do we know about how he perceived Russian politics currently
and the general direction that Russia took after the collapse of the Soviet Union?
PLEITGEN: Well, I think he was someone who is quite critical of that. At the same time, not to critical as well. He certainly was someone who, for
his whole life, really, was fighting to bring people together. He was very close to Germany, very close to Europe. He wanted the relations between
Europe and Russia to be in a good place.
Of course, he was seeing what was going on with the relations, as Vladimir Putin was in power, things were going in a different direction. It was
something that did trouble him to a certain extent. I interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev I think it was in 2009, and already there he was warning about
some of the rifts he was perceiving between the West and between Russia. It was certainly something that was weighing on him as well, because he had
this big project of his life to bring the West and the East together, to bring the Soviet Union, and then later Russia and the West together, to
bring them to a better place.
So, certainly, it was something that weighed on him. At the same, time he was never to critical to be perceived as some sort of danger here, in
Russia. His relation with Vladimir Putin, I would say, they were fairly cold. At the same time, I think Vladimir Putin himself also did have a good
amount of respect for Mikhail Gorbachev and the things he achieved.
Even though, of course, those things also were highly influential on Vladimir Putin's life as well. Vladimir Putin, of course, was in Dresden as
a KGB agent in the 19 80s. He saw the Soviet Union fall apart. It was something where he says that's one of the biggest things in history, that
was a tragedy in history, as he put it.
So, certainly, Vladimir Putin's life very much influenced by Gorbachev, just like pretty much every other Russian and every other European.
Certainly, this is a really, really big milestone evening, one of the last great leaders of the European continent has passed away, Bianca.
NOBILO: Frederik Pleitgen in Moscow for us, thank you. We'll speak to you a little later in the program.
Now, Russian American journalist and author of "Surviving Autocracy", Masha Gessen, joins me now.
Masha, great to be able to speak to. Can you just remind our viewers how Mikhail Gorbachev went from being a young man of a fairly impoverished
family in a village, he worked in agriculture and drove combine harvesters to end up as president of the Soviet Union?
MASHA GESSEN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, Gorbachev worked his way up through the party ladder. The party letter was in fact designed
precisely for young men like Gorbachev who came from humble beginnings, who were ideologically reliable, who were entirely shaped by the party and
entirely beholden by the party.
That's the extraordinary think about what he ended up doing, which is, in some ways, in spite of himself, taking apart or facilitating the breaking
up of the Soviet empire, because he was entirely, completely, a creature of the communist party. Yet, he was driven by something other then and that
naked desire to hold on to power and to maintain things as they had been.
NOBILO: So, picking up on that point, our senior correspondent just now was touched on Gorbachev's views on Putin, and said that he treaded a very
careful line between being too critical but not being perceived as a danger.
What's your interpretation of what his view was on Vladimir Putin? I believe, back in 2013, he was outspoken and said Putin should not be afraid
of his own people. So, how do you think he perceives what Russia has turned into?
GESSEN: I think the tragedy of Mikhail Gorbachev's life was that he lived to see everything he had done become undone. I would even say something
else, that he is the kind of political leader who wants to be better and believe that his people, and people in general, can be better than they
currently are. I think that was a driving force buttoned Gorbachev.
There are only two kinds of political leader, that kind, and the Putin kind, which deeply believes that humanity is rotten to the core. I think,
to see your country be led by somebody who is driven by that belief, the belief that humanity is rotten, and sets out to prove that to the world,
through incredible brutal means, I think that's Gorbachev's strategy.
I don't think he stayed away from commenting on Putin because he was afraid of looking like a danger. I think he had an abiding respect for state
structures and democratic institutions, to the extent they exist in Russia because as soon as he was relegated to a position of lacking political
power, he stayed away from making significant political commentary, either during the Yeltsin era, or during the Putin era. I think that was self-
imposed, self restraint.
NOBILO: The terms frequently associated with Gorbachev are, glasnost more openness, freedom of the press, and the restructuring. What do you think
are his most significant achievements, the ones that will stand the test of time?
GESSEN: To this day, I think the only significant achievement of Gorbachev that still survives is that independents and membership of the European
community of former Warsaw Pact countries. I think a lot of people don't remember that the Soviet Union basically ruled over nearly half of the
European continent following World War II.
And the first significant step Gorbachev took in restructuring the empire was to let the satellite states go. That's Poland. That's Bulgaria. That's
the Czech Republic, Slovakia, East Germany, et cetera.
That is also something that Vladimir Putin, who was stationed in East Germany at the time, never forgave Gorbachev for. That's something he
cannot wrap his mind around. How can someone voluntarily give up that kind of claim to greatness, give up control over half the European continent?
Unfortunately, other achievements of Gorbachev, most significantly his achievement in historical memory, Gorbachev was the person who, partially,
not completely, opened up the archives. More importantly, opened up the conversation about Stalin's terror. Many years after he was out of power,
in the 2000s, he actually attempted to work on creating some kind of museum of Soviet terror, museum of totalitarianism. And that is an effort that
never came to pass.
And in fact -- the Putin administration has completed -- succeeded in almost completely erasing and whitewashing what's had begun as an effort to
restore historical memory, the memory of Stalin's terror.
NOBILO: Sad to see so much of his legacy, as you outlined, and being undone.
Masha Gessen, thank you very much for joining us.
GESSEN: Thank you.
NOBILO: Much more in our breaking news still to come this hour. Stay with CNN.
NOBILO: We return now to our breaking story, the death of Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev. Gorbachev, the man who presided over the end of the
Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, was 91 years old. Russian media says that he has been in ill health for seven years.
He's whatever the 20th century's most influential figures. His policies are perestroika and glasnost, reform and openness, paved a way for democracy to
spread to former Soviet states. And recent years, he has been critical of Vladimir Putin for clinging to power and not embracing democracy.
Let's get some perspective from Gorbachev's historical impact.
Joining me now via Skype, is CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali.
Tim, great to have you on the program to join us. Let's talk a bit about Mikhail Gorbachev's relationship with the U.S. Of course, this was key
because his friendship with Ronald Reagan was one of the key elements to thaw the Cold War. Then throughout his life, his opinion may have begun to
change. I believe in recent years, he even accused the U.S. of being arrogant after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
So, what can you tell us about that relationship?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Bianca, first of all, it has to be set on a day like this that he was a towering figure in the 20th century.
And that it is impossible to understand the last half of the 20th century without knowing his story. He was the key ingredient in the end of the Cold
War. His American counterparts, Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker played significant roles, but without Mikhail Gorbachev, the Cold War would
not have been ended, certainly what it did and not the way it did.
Gorbachev was the individual that Ronald Reagan had been looking for. Ronald Reagan was not known to be a conceptual thinker. He had some very
deep beliefs about struggle with communism, but he was very much affected by individuals.
When he met Gorbachev, it changed is thinking about individual Russians, and he believed that Gorbachev was an individual Soviet with whom he could
Margaret Thatcher was the first Western leader to come to that conclusion. I believe Brian Mulroney of Canada also came to a similar conclusion.
Gorbachev came to Canada, as the Soviet minister of agriculture.
But it was Ronald Reagan who saw him Gorbachev a partner in making the world a less dangerous place. The work that Gorbachev -- that Ronald Reagan
started, George Herbert Walker Bush finished. But without Mikhail Gorbachev, this would not have happened.
And Gorbachev's contribution, his sense that the Soviet Union had to take risk to reform itself and to reform its relation with the rest of the
world, he was ready to take initiative, and he was willing to do so even at the cost of his own power.
NOBILO: You illustrate there how important personality can be, especially when it becomes such a global tense standoff between superpowers, like it
was with the Cold War. We are talking with a nuclear arms race, of course, as well.
What is it -- what was it about Mikhail Gorbachev's personality that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher recognized and understood and made them think
that they could work with him?
NAFTALI: It is very rare to find a leader of a major power, who is willing to admit mistakes. It was Gorbachev's willingness to admit flaws in the
Soviet system that sent a message, a clear one to the West, that he was someone you can talk to. Gorbachev reversed the Soviet tradition of blaming
all the flaws of the Soviet Union on the Western capitalism. For example, during the Cold War, Soviet leaders blamed alcoholism on residual
capitalism, the leftovers of bourgeois Russian life.
Gorbachev said, no, we have a problem with drinking in the problem. We have a problem with vodka. He said we should stop blaming others with the
problem. If you listen to his rhetoric, and I am not saying leaders necessarily did, but the analyst it, you saw that he was beginning a
critique of the Soviet Union, which indicated a willingness to discuss real things as opposed to share propaganda.
NOBILO: Our previous guest talked about how she felt it was a travesty that so much of Mikhail Gorbachev legacy has been undone with subsequent Russian
leaders and obviously Vladimir Putin. You look at history, so you can see the long view. Do you think occurrence of what he worked towards remain in
Russia? You think there is still some hope that some of that spirit will continue to infuse Russian political life?
NAFTALI: I want to answer this question into us. It's a little more difficult, although I have studied Russian history and took advantage of
the opening of the Soviet-era archives, after Gorbachev, but I would not describe myself as an analysts of Russian power. But I have a sense that
his contribution to international politics has not been completely reversed. The Cold War ended.
Yes, there is a lot of tension between Moscow and Europe, and Moscow and Washington, but Russia is more of a regional power than a superpower now.
It does not pose the same threat to international order that it did in the Soviet period. And that sense, Mikhail Gorbachev and it a very tense Cold
War. So, that has not been reversed. Our relationship with Russia is terrible, but it does not have the same international implications that it
did in the Cold War and the Soviet period.
As regards to Russia, I would only say that Gorbachev has two legacies in Russia, and it's only one of the two legacies that's remembered. That is
what's in many ways that Mikhail Gorbachev became a man without a country.
The legacy is remembered of that of chaos and collapse, of losing international reputation, of economic despair, the end of the social safety
net, which is not perfect but existed. That is associated with Gorbachev. What is not associated with Gorbachev is the opportunity that he gave to
new institutions, Democratic institutions to begin to grow. But it takes generations for those to grow.
And the issues that we don't -- I mean, the question we cannot answer today is whether the Putin period has clearly removed all of that, all of the
roots of those institutions, whether that's dead, whether the Russian people are going to have to start again after Putin or his next dictatorial
successor. I cannot say. In fact, I don't know if any Russian can say.
There is no doubt that Gorbachev showed the possibility of the development of democratic institutions. It did not last long, but it showed and this
proved an argument as that Russians might make that their country is incapable of producing democratic institutions.
Actually, it did, it did not last long, but they did and it did. Because of the way in which Gorbachev tried to -- the communist party, and one that
failed, Gorbachev opened the door to the development of multiple economic - - sorry -- multiple political institutions. That legacy, we'll have to wait to see what occurs and happens, but the first legacy, ending the Cold War,
that still shapes our international system, and for the better.
NOBILO: Tim Naftali, thank you so much for bringing Gorbachev's life and legacy into the historic context for us. Thank you.
NAFTALI: And honor --
NOBILO: CNN's Phil Black has more on the remarkable life and legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev and his relationship with other leaders.
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Vladimir Putin delivered his third presidential inauguration speech in May 2012, his
predecessor was seen briefly making a few comments of his own. We don't know wet Mikhail Gorbachev said, but it's unlikely if they were kind words
about Mr. Putin.
After 12 years under Putin, Gorbachev wanted to change. He wasn't alone.
The months leading up to the ceremony saw unprecedented opposition to Putin's rule with tens of thousands of people regularly on the streets
calling for him to go. Gorbachev supported them publicly. From that point, he did not hold back as a critic of Russia's political direction and
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FORMER SOVIET UNION PRESIDENT (through translator): We have now reached a stage where we interrupted perestroika. But there will
be no turning back. Even as Vladimir Putin and others return to those control with force and fear.
BLACK: Overtime, Gorbachev's views on Putin had flipped. When Putin first took over as president, Gorbachev backed him and he kept backing him for a
In this 2008 interview with CNN, Gorbachev defended Putin's leadership and his commitment to democracy.
GORBACHEV: Putin has been a successful president.
DMITRI TRENIN, DIRECTOR, MOSCOW CARNEGIE CENTER: Gorbachev's view of Putin and Putin's policy has changed with Putin's policies and Putin 's own
changing and his own evolution. Clearly, somewhere in the mid 2000s, Putin started to become much more of authoritarian.
BLACK: Gorbachev supported Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. Two days after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, February 2022, Gorbachev's foundation
issued a call for cease-fire and peace talks. But Russia's modern political leaders didn't care whether they had Gorbachev's support or not. To them,
he would also -- always be the man who allowed the USSR to collapse. Gorbachev sometimes expressed regret.
GORBACHEV: I thought the best I could to defend the Soviet Union, but I failed.
BLACK: But in later years, he spent a lot more time defending his actions as Soviet leader.
GORBACHEV: Perestroika achieved a lot. Inside Russia, we had democracy, free elections, freedom of conscience, private property, freedom to travel
BLACK: He gave people freedoms but struggle to feed them. More than 20 years later, many Russians still blame Gorbachev for the Soviet Union's
humiliation and the hardships they endured.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I remember the jump of prices. Bread became more expensive. Inflation that was huge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I call for the trial of Mikhail Gorbachev.
BLACK: Gorbachev's unpopularity at home was rivaled in intensity by his star status abroad, where he was celebrated as a great statesman.
This was his 80th birthday gala in London, in 2011.
SHARON STONE, ACTRESS: We have an opportunity to thank someone for being such an extraordinary example of good citizenship, of what democracy really
can mean and what it means to be a beacon of light and hope in the world.
BLACK: Gorbachev spoke candidly about age and poor health catching up with him. He kept working.
DMITRI TRENIN, DIRECTOR, MOSCOW CARNEGIE CENTER: He managed to stay intellectually active in Russian political life, 20 years after his
departure as president, something which has been totally unprecedented in this country.
BLACK: He wrote books, launched political parties, toward, and gave speeches. He raised money for his own foundation, as well as the cancer
fighting charity named after his late wife.
Raisa Gorbacheva died of leukemia in 1999. Ten years later, her husband recorded an album of love songs he used to saying to her.
Only one copy was ever released and was sold to the charity auction for more than $160,000.
GORBACHEV: This is something I did for Raisa, in memory of Raisa.
BLACK: This was another fundraising job that became one of Gorbachev's most famous images. The ad for designer luggage shows intensively looking out at
the remains of the Berlin wall. Its destruction remains the most iconic achievement of Gorbachev's time in power, and the key reason why he was so
respected by the international community. Some Russians believe one day he will be equally admired by his own people.
IGOR ZEVELEV, POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that 100 years from now, he will be judged more favorably in my country, that he's just -- when he is judged
BLACK: A towering international hero branded a domestic failure, a man who changed the world and spent his life working for his country.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
NOBILO: We're turning now to our top story, the eighth and final leader of the Soviet Union has died. The Russian news agencies say that Mikhail
Gorbachev passed away Tuesday evening after a severe and prolonged illness. He was 91 years old. Gorbachev broke the mold of Soviet leaders, with his
policies of glasnost and perestroika, ultimately helping to end the Cold War.
Let's go back to Moscow and our senior international correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen.
Fred, I just touched on the reforms that are well-known around the world that Gorbachev executed, but his legacy in Russia is more complex, because
even though he's facilitated this rapprochement with the West, some criticize his actions for ultimately leading to a demise of Russia in some
Can you explain that controversy?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I would say -- I would say a demise of the Soviet Union, the demise of the prestige and
respect that many felt and a severe union and later Russia, had around the world.
So, yeah, I mean, look, one of the things that I've vividly remember from the past couple years is having conversations with pretty young men here in
Moscow, and him calling Gorbachev an enemy of the people, calling him a traitor to the Russian nation because of the fact that many Russians
believed that a lot of the prestige that this nation had, of course, the Soviet Union had, also being on par with the United States, being one of
the two great superpowers, that a lot of that was destroyed by Mikhail Gorbachev, that a lot of the chaos that the country fell into in the 90s
and a lot of the humiliation that many people felt not just in their personal lives, many people losing their jobs, many people really
struggling to get by, many people having to take on low paying jobs in Western European countries.
But also in general, the prestige and respect that this country had around the world, that many people thought that that was destroyed in many ways by
some of the things that Mikhail Gorbachev initiated. Obviously, a lot of the reforms that he started were very well mean, perestroika and glasnost
the, as well, were things that were well-received in the beginning by the people here in Russia and back then in the Soviet Union. Of course, also in
Western countries as well, with the rapprochement between the Soviet Union and Western countries that in effect lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain.
But, yeah, it is a very difficult legacy that Mikhail Gorbachev leaves behind here in Russia among many people. It is quite interesting because a
couple of minutes ago, we got word from the Kremlin that Vladimir Putin expresses his condolences at the death of Mikhail Gorbachev. He's going to
send an official telegram tomorrow, the Kremlin has told.
Of course, Vladimir Putin himself deeply influenced by the fall of the Soviet Union. It is something that Vladimir Putin has himself said he
believes is one of the most tragic events of recent times. And that is certainly something echoed by many people here in Russia, where I would say
that there is a lot of respect for Mikhail Gorbachev but definitely not the big almost love he had amongst so many people and Western Europe. It is a
very different picture here in Russia, Bianca.
NOBILO: Frederik Pleitgen for us in Moscow, thank you very much.
On June the 12th, 1987, the U.S. President Ronald Reagan stood next to the Berlin Wall, the barrier separating the West and East Berlin and set what
might be the most memorable words of his presidency, directed to Mikhail Gorbachev.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: Let's get some perspective on this chapter in history with CNN senior political analyst and former adviser to four U.S. presidents, David
Gergen. And he joins me now on the phone.
David, great to have you with us. Tell us a little bit more about the personal relationship between these two political giants?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): Well, for a long, long time, Ronald Reagan was wary of forming relationships with
Soviet leaders. They came and went with such great frequency, you couldn't sink where it deep root anyway. But Reagan came to believe that Gorbachev
was a man he can do business with, and that Gorbachev was a visionary, that he had many fine qualities and he might even have some democratic
So I think Reagan continued to have, given his long history of being a very strong Cold Warrior and anti-communist guy, I think he mellowed a great
deal, Nancy had a rule in that, among others, that she wanted to encourage him to remember him as a man of peace if he were to help with Gorbachev.
And Gorbachev looked -- there was a period of time it looked like they might come to agreements, which were historic. But once those agreements
failed, and the internal politics of the Soviet Union were such that it was just really, really hard.
I went to the Soviet Union under President Clinton, and I had a time there during the Reagan years, and there was something about Gorbachev that was
magnetic, that was -- you could not believe that one person in the Soviet System to believe what he believed, but the truth was the Cold War ended a
lot earlier had not been for Gorbachev.
He really made it more possible for Reagan to accept.
I mean, Reagan always said, you know, trust but verify. Trust but verify. And that verify part was important. It was equally important with the
But he learned -- they did learn to trust each other, and that I think made a major difference.
NOBILO: Was the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev the most successful between a U.S. president and a Russian Soviet leader in
GERGEN: No, that's an interesting question. Some people would say strangely although Stalin was a brutal dictator, one of the worst men of the 20th
century, you had to admit that Franklin Roosevelt got a lot done with him. Even now, we talk about iota, people on the right, that was a big giveaway
by FDR, the final chapter of his life when he wasn't very compos mentis in their point of view, but there was something about Gorbachev who was
willing to accept that the world should not go on the way it was, Soviet Union was going to be defeated.
I think Reagan had a lot to do with Star Wars. Gorbachev in part backed down because of Star Wars, because he realized a weapon system that so it's
going to keep up with. That was a very important part of his decision, you know, to extend an olive branch, and Reagan himself got interested, as I
say, in talking to Nancy about whether there was a moment there in the history of the world when the two leaders of the two most powerful nations
had actually sat down and hammered out a peace.
They failed ultimately in that goal, but they did bring about the end of the Cold War, hastened the end of the Cold War.
NOBILO: And, David, you mentioned the magnetism that you said Gorbachev had. Do you have any other personal reflections from your time working with
Ron Reagan or rooms that you were in when you think about him, that might instruct him as to who he was as a person?
GERGEN: Yeah. I think -- I don't remember as such. I was not there when he went aboard the ship, and we're negotiating the end of the arms races and
people just arming, but that was a time when Reagan wanted to roll the dice. I mean, Reagan was so confident about life, that he was willing to
take big risk, as other political figures would not have done.
Ultimately, what he hoped would come about would Yeltsin, it was too much for the soviets to do to expect him, the system wasn't ready for it.
Gorbachev became a very divisive figure within his own country. But Reagan I think -- I thought Reagan's response to Gorbachev was Reagan at its best.
It's really worth remembering, you know, after Khrushchev left the stage, there were a series of Soviet leaders who cannot speak to the country who
did not have the kind of stature that Khrushchev.
I was in Washington as a young man and one Khrushchev was in power. I can tell you that he was more magnetic than Gorbachev. Gorbachev had divisions,
you just can't take that away from him.
NOBILO: David Gergen, thank you so much for joining us.
GERGEN: Thank you, bye-bye.
NOBILO: And we'll be right back with much more.
NOBILO: Returning now to our top story. Russian news agencies say that Mikhail Gorbachev passed away Tuesday evening, after a severe and prolonged
illness. He was 91 years old.
Let's go now to Steve Hall. He's a former CIA chief of Russia operations.
Steve, great to have you with us.
Can you talk us through the significance, in terms of global security and stability, of Gorbachev and his leadership?
STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, historians have already written about this quite a bit, and will continue to write about
the complex legacy of Gorbachev has left behind. You know, on the one hand, you've got to give some credit where it's due in terms of things like arms
control and the work that he and the Reagan administration has tried to do with regard of the nuclear threat, always prevalent in during the Cold War.
But really my take on the -- at the end of the day is that he was sort in a lose-lose situation. You know, after the fall of the Soviet Union, he was
the last leader of the Soviet Union, I think many at the time, still many in Russia today don't think very highly of Mikhail Gorbachev because they
think what has happened is he was basically the reason for the fall of the Soviet Union. And, of course, in the West, there's, you know, this idea
that, yeah, that the West did sort of win the Cold War. And so, you know, they viewed him as the last leader of a weakened Soviet state.
At the end of the day, I think if you ask Gorbachev, where he still alive, and I think people asked him this question before, what about the fall of
the Soviet Union, I think what he was trying to do with his reforms was saved the Soviet Union. Now, you can argue as to whether or not there was
going to be significant changes in his views to what a new glasnost related -- perestroika related Soviet Union would have looked like, but at the end
of the day, I think he would like to see a continued, strong Soviet Union, more communist-leaning that many in the West would be willing to admit even
NOBILO: When you are speaking about his legacy, we can't help in our minds juxtapose but we are seeing that, which is a resurgent, aggressive Russia
attempting to expand into Ukraine. He was obviously alive when Russia annexed Crimea, and also had Ukrainian family, I think, on his maternal
side, too, like many Russians. What do we know about how his worldview would sit with where Russia and Putin is today?
HALL: Again, it's a really complicated, twisted type of situation. If I'm not mistaken, I think Gorbachev was originally supportive of the annexation
of Crimea. Certainly, at the very least, I think it's fair to say that Gorbachev believed that Russia, or the Soviet Union, depending what time
you are referring to, and that it should be a great country, one of two great superpowers in the world, with the United States.
And Gorbachev was very critical after the fall of the Soviet Union, that this, as he referred to, the NATO expansion, as though it was an American
empire now threatening Russia. That was his view of the situation, I think. In reality, what you have got his NATO expansion, a whole bunch of
countries who want to join NATO because, now we understand, justified fear of what Russia would do. You talk to the Ukrainians and Georgians about how
important it is to be able to fight back.
So, it's interesting. In the West, I think Gorbachev is viewed very positively. That is the western way of saying he tried to reform things. In
Russia, in the Soviet Union, he's not viewed him positively. Interestingly because his wife Raisa, still I think beloved by most Russians. If you go
to her tomb in the Novodevichy Cemetery, it's very beautiful. There's always flowers there.
So, ironically, I think she's probably had longer term popularity than her husband did, Bianca.
NOBILO: Interesting. Steve Hall, we appreciate your time today. Thank you for joining us.
NOBILO: And we'll be right back after this short break.
NOBILO: Russian news agencies say that Mikhail Gorbachev has passed away at 91. CNN's Christiane Amanpour spoke with the former Soviet president in
2012 about his legacy and the new leader at the time, Vladimir Putin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: You've called Putin's democracy or the current Russian democracy and imitation democracy. Do you
think that President Putin is committed to any kind of reform? And will the people's voice be heard under his presidency?
GORBACHEV (through translator): I said on the eve of the elections that if the president and his entourage in the future will continue to try to fool
the people with this imitation, that will not succeed. People are protesting. And people might protest in much stronger ways if it continues,
the old ways. I think it will be hard for him given his nature to do this. But there is no other way for him but to move toward greater democracy in
Russia, toward real democracy in Russia. Because there is no other way for Russia to find a way out of its debt and in which it is now.
AMANPOUR: In the meantime, about seven years ago, President Putin said, quote, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical
disaster of the century. For the Russian people, it was a genuine tragedy. He's talking about what you did.
How do you assess his assessment? Was bringing down the Soviet Union and the greatest tragedy of the 20th century?
GORBACHEV: First of all, he has a right to his own opinion. He has a right to speak out, to say anything, whether positive or critical about me. I --
when I do not accept or do no like his policies also say that very directly. So, I think this is a very direct discussion and that's
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: Let's bring in CNN foreign affairs correspondent and former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty in Washington, D.C.
Jill, it's great to have you on today of all days. Can you explain for our viewers, after Mikhail Gorbachev, after the Soviet Union collapsed, what
did he do with his time? What did he do with his influence in politics? Because we can see, as we just heard in that interview clip, that he was
still being out speaking, occasionally, about the state of politics in Russia.
JIILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: He was. That's true. He landed on different sides of different issues. You know, there were periods
where he was critical of Putin. Times that he wasn't.
He also, you know, was very involved in the environmental movement. Involved in, I think he had an organization that was a green organization.
So, he was really forward thinking about some of the issues of the world.
But, I think, you know, if you try to figure out where does he fit in in Russian history, I think what he tried to do was open the Soviet Union. He
did that. He opened it internally with glasnost and perestroika. Both those things, glasnost, you know, the openness of being able to talk and read and
do everything you want in the intellectual sphere, and then perestroika, which was a different way of organizing the economy.
I would say that glasnost worked because it was, I can tell you, I was there at that time, a very exciting time, the end of the '80s, the
beginning of the '90s, when people were blossoming with all sorts of information, and the ferment of debate. Perestroika did not work out quite
as he expected. It was not possible to reform the way he wanted to, reform the Soviet Union. And so, eventually, it was left to Yeltsin and then Putin
to change the country economically. But I think the biggest difference was Gorbachev was opening. Right now, I
would say, sadly, that Russia is closing down.
NOBILO: Jill, one of the themes that's arisen through the last hour speaking about Gorbachev's life has been the fact that he might be regarded
more warmly, perhaps even respectfully, internationally for the rapprochement that he brokered with the West, along with Reagan and
Thatcher than he is domestically, within Russia.
Can you just give us your reflections, as we close out this hour, about the complexity of his legacy and why he might be associated with a demise of a
sense of Russian glory?
DOUGHERTY: Right. If you put yourself in the position of an average Russian, at the end of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the new
Russia, there was a lot of economic chaos. Granted, it was a lot of freedom, but also a lot of chaos and very difficult times. Prices were
increasing. Goods were disappearing from the stores.
And, you know, I think any average person doesn't think in those philosophical terms. They are thinking about, where is dinner coming from?
When you think of an average Russian, it was very hard. That is why they blame Gorbachev, although, historically, of course, he completely
NOBILO: Jill Dougherty, thank you so much for being with us. It's great to get your insights. We appreciate it.
Thank you all for watching this special hour of breaking news. Do stay with CNN.