The Soviet Union ceased to exist in December 1991. On December 25, Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and last president of the USSR, resigned from his post. Twenty five years after his resignation the former Soviet leader in an interview with TASS explained why he had not arrested the heads of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus who dissolved the USSR and said that a new Union state is possible.
― Who is still responsible for the Soviet Union's collapse?
― I do not decline my share of responsibility. But my conscience is clear. I was defending the USSR till the very end. Reforming and refreshing the Soviet Union was necessary and possible.
― When did it go wrong and what could have been changed?
― I think the coup attempt (in August 1991) had most serious consequences. The coup was a protest of bureaucracy. I had to break up with that gang, that's the only word that describes them. Boris Yeltsin got ill-tempered, he just did not realize that his role was important but it does not imply what he started to do. And what he started to do was the struggle against the Union's center.
He was a very ambitious person, endlessly ambitious. He was very disappointed and displeased that he was not a Politburo member. That was the reason for all his protests. Once he got into a temper at a plenum (of the Communist Party's Central Committee). He even said our political situation was reminiscent of the creation of "Gorbachev's personality cult." He was seeking such (words) to strike a chord, to make people react to him.
I think he was a man of great potential but his uncontrollable striving for power, it never stopped... I left him a plenum member but dismissed him from the post of the Central Committee's Secretary, I left him on the post similar to ministerial. He had to be dealt with... That's all.
Everyone should recall how he behaved, what he was doing or not doing during those fatal days. I'd like to remind you that the overwhelming majority of the Russian Supreme Council's deputies voted for the Belavezha Accords, including Communists, who are now crying foul about the catastrophic consequences and accusing Gorbachev of everything.
― A question is often raised during the discussion of the causes of the Soviet Union's collapse - why Gorbachev did not order to arrest Boris Yeltsin, Ukrainian leader Leonid Kravchuk and Belarusian parliament chairman Stanislav Shushkevich in Belovezh Forest.
― I did not know what was the purpose of that gathering.
― So, the special services did not report anything?
― No. And I talked to him (Yeltsin). He said he was going there (to the Belovezha Forest) at an invitation of the locals, Shushkevich. The Ukrainian leader was also supposed to go there. I said that he should talk to them, especially, the Ukrainian leader as the Soviet Union was impossible without Ukraine. Meanwhile, he (Yeltsin) took part in the drafting of the new treaty, and there are his signatures and he agreed to everything. But he was playing along...
― But could you have arrested them?
― I think this would smell of a civil war. It would have been dangerous to do this to retain power instead of using democratic methods.
My credo is democracy, resolute changes in favor of democracy, expulsion of the totalitarian regime with no blood. But there was blood. There were local conflicts. And we see what happens when very resolute people set to work. The resolution should be different. The resolution should be in the defense of principles. That's what happened at the Congress (of the USSR people's deputies).
The price of preserving the Soviet Union in a way that you are talking about... I think it would smell of big trouble. The fire would have engulfed the whole country.
I did a different thing ― I gave up power. I resigned to avoid bloodshed. That's all. And they became the leaders.
― Did Washington support the collapse of the USSR, was it their goal?
― I cannot say they were doing this, especially, in the beginning. No one thought that the Soviet Union could be eliminated. And then they started helping... And were rubbing their hands as they were fighting with Russia for almost 100 years and it fell into pieces by itself...
― Is the Soviet Union's restoration possible? What do you think?
― The Soviet Union cannot be restored. But a new Union can be established.
― In the former borders?
― In the former borders, with the same members, on the basis of free will. I think a new Union is possible.
(Interviewed by Boris Klin)