Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, was shocked and confused by the conflict in Ukraine in the months before his death and in recent years has been psychologically crushed by Moscow’s deteriorating ties with Kyiv, his translator said yesterday, as quoted by Reuters and BTA.
Pavel Palazhchenko, who worked with the former Soviet president for 37 years and accompanied him to numerous high-level meetings, spoke by phone with Gorbachev a few weeks ago and said he and others were struck by how much he was traumatized by the events in Ukraine. “Not only the (special military) operation that started on February 24, but the whole evolution of relations between Russia and Ukraine in recent years, was a really heavy blow for him. It really crushed him emotionally and mentally,” Palazhchenko said in an interview with Reuters . “In our conversations with him, it was very clear to us that he was shocked and confused by what was happening (after Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February) for a variety of reasons. He believed not only in the closeness between the Russian and Ukrainian people, he believed that these two peoples were intertwined,” he added.
In photos from the 1980s with US President Ronald Reagan, a bareheaded, mustachioed Palazhchenko is always by Gorbachev’s side, bent over to hear and translate every word, Reuters notes. The 73-year-old former translator was well aware of the late Soviet leader’s thoughts in the period before his death, having met with him and kept in touch with his daughter Irina in recent months.
Palazhchenko said Gorbachev’s family was connected to Ukraine. The father of the ex-Soviet leader’s wife Raisa is Ukrainian and, according to the former translator, Gorbachev would never have waged a war to restore the country he led from 1985 to 1991. “Of course in his heart of mind the mental map for him and most people of his political generation is still an imaginary country of which most of the former Soviet Union is a part. I can’t imagine him saying ‘this is it and I will I will do whatever it takes to enforce it,” he added.
Gorbachev’s relationship with Ukraine was sometimes difficult, Reuters notes. Kyiv barred him from entering the country in 2016 after he said in an interview with Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper that he would have acted in the same way as Putin over the 2014 annexation of Crimea. “I always support the free will of the people, and most of them in Crimea wanted to become part of Russia again,” Gorbachev said at the time, referring to the results of the referendum, which Kyiv and the West consider illegal. Some Ukrainians also blame him for the initial Soviet attempts to cover up the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.
Palazhchenko said that Gorbachev believed that history would judge him correctly. “He liked to say that history is a capricious lady. I think he believed and expected that the final assessment for him would be positive”.