Gorbachev, at iconic Cold War site, warns of new East-West tensions

Gorbachev, at iconic Cold War site, warns of new East-West tensions

Friday, November 7, 2014 7:27 pm

Mikhail Gorbachev. BBC News Photo

Mikhail Gorbachev. BBC News Photo

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned in Germany on Friday of new East-West tensions sparked by the Ukraine crisis, speaking ahead of ceremonies commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“We now have to watch out that we don’t miss the right moment, that we get a grip on the tensions that have emerged recently,” he said at Berlin’s former Checkpoint Charlie border crossing, an iconic Cold War site.

Gorbachev — who is set to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel during his visit — stressed the importance of good relations between Moscow and Berlin, which has been a key interlocutor in the Ukraine standoff.

“We always have to think of the lessons of the past,” the 83-year-old said, according to a German translation.

“And we have learned from the past that when Russians and Germans understand each other … when our relationship is good, then everyone is well off, not just our two peoples.

“That means, we should be careful it stays that way.”

Moscow is locked in a confrontation with the West over its support for separatists in neighbouring Ukraine, with Washington and Brussels imposing several rounds of sanctions on Russia.

Gorbachev said on Thursday he would seek to defend President Vladimir Putin’s policies while in Germany, saying he was “absolutely convinced that Putin protects Russia’s interests better than anyone else”.

It was Gorbachev’s reforms, including a loosening of Soviet control over its former communist satellites, that triggered the events that led to the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

His policies of glasnost and perestroika (openness and restructuring), earned him admiration in the West and the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, but disdain from many of his countrymen who blame him for ending the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev, greeted with cheers at the Berlin event, was asked to place his hands into a wet plaster cast bolted onto an original piece of the Wall, which opened 25 years ago on Sunday.

Dressed in simple blue jeans and a coat, he was humble about his role in the momentous events, telling a crowd of onlookers, tourists and journalists that “I am proud I could contribute a little bit to fact that we live like this today”.

He praised how Berlin had changed and recalled his very first visit to the city, in 1966.

“I remember a gloomy, shattered city, the scars of the drama we all experienced. They were the marks of the great and bloody war,” he said.

When event organisers played some historical TV footage — including of former US president Ronald Reagan’s 1987 challenge at Berlin’s Brandenburg gate to Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” — the former Soviet leader took a little swipe, saying he had often been asked about those words during visits to America.

“I have always said: Honestly, we didn’t take it all that seriously. After all he was an actor and it was a clever production.”

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