Former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev urged the United States to pull out of Afghanistan and work with Russia and other countries to create a new world order in a lecture at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library Tuesday night.
Gorbachev spoke as a part of the Harry Middleton Lectureship series, an initiative by the LBJ Foundation to expose students to high profile speakers. He gave his thoughts on Iran, Afghanistan and Barack Obama. When asked about Russia’s current political state, Gorbachev said he thinks current Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin should not run for a third term as president. Putin served as president of Russia from 2000 to 2008 and has remained as prime minister.
Gorbachev said Putin inherited a very difficult situation from former president Boris Yeltsin and implemented an extreme authoritarian style of government as his way of addressing the needs of the nation. It was perhaps understandable that Putin used certain authoritarian styles in his leadership because of political and economic unrest, Gorbachev said, but using authoritarian methods in general is wrong.
“Whenever you have leaders that rule 20 years or more, the only thing important to those leaders is holding on to power,” Gorbachev said.
Although Gorbachev said he does not make it a habit to give advice to other countries, he said the U.S. should learn from the mistakes of countries like Russia when dealing with issues in Iran and Afghanistan.
“I hope you will consider this because we are making these suggestions in good faith,” Gorbechev said. “Russia never intended to fight America, and our policy resulted in a division in the world.”
Gorbachev said one of the main reasons for the current U.S. domestic unrest and situation in the Middle East and Europe date back to the end of the Cold War when the U.S. declared victory. Gorbachev said America acted arrogantly and tried to build a new empire instead of working together with other countries and needs to think in terms of cooperation for the future.
Referencing the late Pope John Paul II, Gorbachev said the world needs a world order that is more stable, more just and more human.
“We need to start to think of how to live in a new world [where we address] security, poverty and challenges to the environment,” Gorbachev said.
Gorbachev is considered an influential leader in history for his role in ending the Cold War in 1989 and introducing widespread democratic reform in Russia. Gorbachev said the introduction of his Perestroika and Glasnost policies, which democratized the Communist political system, eased economic restrictions and granted people freedom of speech and press, was his administration’s response to his people’s cry for change.
He received the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Cold War in 1990 and currently heads the Gorbachev Foundation, an organization dedicated to aid the spread of democracy and economic liberty. He is also the head of Green Cross, a group that addresses poverty, security and environmental degradation.
When asked about President Barack Obama, Gorbachev said he supports the current president and that current U.S. conflicts do not fall onto Obama’s shoulders alone because he inherited problems from other presidents. Gorbachev said it is not only a strong leader, but a strong country, that is important when the country calls for change.
LBJ Library spokeswoman Anne Wheeler said the LBJ Library worked to find a date for Gorbachev to speak at the library for nearly a year. She said more than 1,000 people attended Gorbachev’s lecture.
LBJ Library director Mark Updegrove moderated the discussion with Gorbachev. Updegrove said he hoped students at the event would learn about the importance of Gorbachev’s role in history and his legacy as a man of peace.
“What we know is all of Gorbachev’s predecessors resisted the openness and reforms that were the hallmark during his tenure in office,” Updegrove said. “While it’s difficult to speculate on what would have happened [had Gorbachev not been in control], chances are the Cold War may have ended in bloodshed.”
Yekaterina Cotey, a comparative literature graduate student who grew up in Russia, said she remembers Gorbachev’s economic reforms and how they affected her family. Cotey said she and her family have mixed feelings about Gorbachev, but understand he played a large role in their lives.
“It’s not possible to imagine life without him,” Cotey said. “If it wasn’t for him and disintegration of the Soviet Union, I wouldn’t be here right now.”