On 9 August 1999, Yeltsin announced the appointment of Vladimir Putin as acting prime minister and named him as his successor. It was then that the ‘Putin Era’ of post-Soviet history began. Putin, had assumed the presidency in very difficult circumstances and during his first years in the presidency, Gorbachev gave him, his “not unconditional but unwavering” support. He was truly convinced that Putin was committed to democratic governance and had no intention in establishing some kind of authoritative regime. His conviction didn’t last long. In 2004, in Putin’s second term, it was already clear that Russia was becoming an authoritarian country.
In this last book, The New Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev argues that with the abandonment of Perestroika, the policy of shock therapy brought about an abrupt polarization of society in Russia. There was a sudden privatization of 225,000 or so state-owned businesses, a sudden release of price and currency controls, withdrawal of state subsidies, and trade liberalization, which provoked the rise of Russia’s oligarchic class. The rise of Putin in power, Gorbachev claims, has further corrupted the achievements of perestroika and created an authoritative and corrupted political system which offers no future for Russia.
Since the late 1980s, Gorbachev has been trying to develop and apply to the conditions of a rapidly changing world. A New Thinking that “incorporates the important principles of international cooperation” is what is needed, he argues. New Thinking made possible to put an end to the Gold War, and it is exactly that that kind of thinking that the world still very much needs today.
“We need a new model of development”, says Gorbachev. “Our world is in a major transition to a new symbiosis of peoples” and this gives rise to pressing and perplexing global problems, such as poverty and inequality, terrorism and the elimination of nuclear weapons, and climate change. He also provides an insight in regional problems, including the Ukraine conflict, Egypt and Syria, and Russia’s relations with Japan.
“History is not always fated”, says the optimist Gorbachev. There are “always alternatives, alternative solutions”, that can be found to the atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation.
Gorbachev has provided us an insightful analysis of the profound changes in the Russian society over the past 25 years. The New Russia includes letters, interviews, articles and publications, published in the past 20 years, material useful not only to the historians, but also to any concerned citizen.
The New Russia by Mikhail Gorbachev, Polity Press, 400 pages.
Disclaimer: Maquina Lectora received a free uncorrected digitised proof from the publisher via NetGalley. No other compensation was received for this review. All images appear here by courtesy of the publisher or NetGalley.