Mikhail Gorbachev, a sprightly-looking 88, is now perceived as a world statesman, a status that encourages him to pronounce on global issues with an air of weighty bonhomie.
This time around he regaled BBC viewers with nostalgically sounding Soviet platitudes about the evil of nuclear weapons. Unless every possessor of those diabolic devices agreed to destroy them, he explained, the “planet” will remain in “colossal danger”.
The current standoff between the West and Russia isn’t quite the Cold War it used to be, according to him. Let’s just call it a Chilled War, added a smiley Gorby in an attempt at knee-slapping humour. But the two sides still fly warplanes and sail warships in close proximity to each other, which is asking for trouble.
The spirit of moral equivalence wafted through the air, bringing back the times olden. To Gorby, both Russia and the US are naughty boys shouting “Oh yeah?” at each other before schoolyard fisticuffs.
The wise schoolmaster looks down on them from the vertiginous height of his institutional and intellectual ascendancy and tells them to stop immediately. He brushes aside mutual accusations along the lines of he-started-it. As far as the schoolmaster is concerned, they’re both to blame equally.
That sort of reasoning was mendacious when the war was cold and remains so now, when it’s supposed to be merely chilled. Three Western countries stockpiled nuclear weapons only because of the Soviet threat. The threat is now Russian, rather than Soviet, but none the less dire for it.
NATO perceived then, as it doubtless does now, that only the US nuclear umbrella could protect Europe from impending Russian aggression. A conventional response has always been unrealistic.
In the Cold War days, the Soviets had 50,000 tanks, a force NATO simply couldn’t contain without resorting to cataclysmic weaponry. Its own conventional presence in Europe was so grossly outnumbered that it could at best only hope to slow the Russians down.
These days the Russian forces bristle with a more compact 15,398 battle tanks – not including the tens of thousands of mothballed machines from previous generations that can become battle-worthy overnight. The three largest European armies, British, French and German, have less than 1,000 among them.
The US tank force in Europe has diminished from 5,000 in 1989 to, in round numbers, zero today. Transporting tanks back in sufficient numbers should hostilities break out would take months, by which time the war would be over.
As Russia has shown over the past several years, she is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy, either attacking or threatening her neighbours and fomenting anti-Western sedition all over the world, including in the West itself.
Since some of Russia’s neighbours are NATO members under the aegis of collective security, the world is indeed a dangerous place, made more so by Russia — and less so by NATO nuclear weapons.
Rather than letting Gorbachev spout the old anti-nuke saws unchallenged, the interviewer should have pointed out that, of all European countries, only Russia has occupied vast tracts of foreign territory since the last war. And only the threat of nuclear response can prevent her from grabbing more.
Had I been the interviewer, such weighty matters wouldn’t have come up at all or, if they had, I wouldn’t have let Gorby get away with general banalities, all smacking of Soviet partisanship. Instead I would have asked him to share some factual information with inquisitive viewers.
For example, I’d be curious to know how a man whose top salary had been $600 a month could directly upon his retirement endow a foundation initially capitalised at nine billion dollars.
Yes, one could save a pretty penny by taking bag lunches, but the amount still sounds impressive. And if the money wasn’t Gorby’s, whose was it?
My next question would involve his pre-Moscow tenure as First Secretary in Stavropol, one of the two most corrupt provinces in the Soviet Union.
Is it true that Gorby’s nickname there was Mishka konvert (Mickey Envelope) in reference to his preferred way of doing business? And did his wife only ever intercede with her husband on behalf of supplicants bearing egg-sized gems?
Also, how did Gorby manage to ingratiate himself to KGB head Andropov, who guided his whole career with an avuncular hand?
When Andropov became General Secretary, the first thing he did was transfer Gorby to Moscow, filling the vacancy formed by the sudden demise of two Politburo members, one of a suspicious cardiac arrest, the other of an even more suspicious road accident. Why such affection?
On Gorbachev’s watch, billions of party dollars were transferred to the West and laundered through new holding companies and brassplates. Did he supervise that activity or, barring that, was he aware of it?
The same question, if you please, Mr Gorbachev, about the transfer of power from the party to the KGB that gathered speed during your tenure. Was it a planned and controlled process or did it just happen?
And how do you explain sending special forces into Vilnus when independence was in the air, to bust demonstrators’ heads with entrenchment tools? And by the way, how does he justify lying to the world about the Chernobyl disaster and continuing to do so until satellite evidence became incontrovertible?
Oh well, enough of that. Now you know why I could never be a BBC interviewer. I’d make distinguished old gentlemen too uncomfortable.