MOSCOW – Europe has squandered the opportunity created by the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago for a new era of cooperation between East and West, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said on Wednesday.
Gorbachev, who presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union, said he and other world leaders had hoped that the Wall's fall in 1989 would allow Europe to become a model of security and peace for the rest of the world, but this had not happened.
We have wasted the last 20 years, Gorbachev, 78, told a news conference at his charitable foundation in central Moscow. We have not done everything we should have done. It's a great pity.
Gorbachev sharply criticized those in the West who claimed to have won the Cold War by defeating the Soviet Union, instead of viewing the end of East-West confrontation as a mutual decision made for the benefit of all.
Dressed in a dark blazer and open-neck blue shirt, Gorbachev at times stumbled for words and paused for thought as he took the mainly foreign audience of reporters on a long amble through the history of the Cold War's final years.
Russians remain nostalgic for the superpower empire of the Soviet Union and polls show they loathe Gorbachev for allowing its collapse -- an event Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described once as the biggest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century.
Gorbachev said it was unrealistic to hope for the Soviet Union to be rebuilt but called for the four key states which formed its economic heart to unite again to form a free trade area.
It is not yet too late to look again at creating a free economic area between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, he said, adding that this would strengthen European security.
The former Soviet leader complained that Europe still failed to understand Russia properly. It is complete nonsense that Russia is aggressive or imperialist, he said. Russia doesn't want to go to war with anyone.
Gorbachev has little political influence in Russia today, but he reiterated plans to help form a new party to challenge the overwhelming dominance of the Kremlin's main political machine, United Russia.
People understand that something is going wrong. And as for that monopoly of one party -- we know all about that, he said. As is well known, all monopolies are rotten.
He said more than 10,000 letters supporting the idea of a new party had been received and that it would be set up soon, though he said he would not be the leader.
Gorbachev described United Russia, which enjoys a constitutional majority in the lower house of parliament, the Duma, as a worse version of the Soviet Communist Party.
Western-style liberal opposition parties are mostly ignored by Russia's mainly state-controlled media and struggle to fight elections against the huge political patronage of United Russia. Polls put their support in the low single digits and they have almost disappeared from elected legislatures around the country.
President Dmitry Medvedev has proposed some modest tinkering with the country's electoral system to allow symbolic representation for the liberal opposition in parliament and to make it slightly easier to register new parties.
Gorbachev said he wished Medvedev well but added that he still needs to gather strength politically.