Great interview by Der Spiegel with Mikhail Sergeyevich on the final days of the Soviet Union. Click here for full interview. Here are a few nuggets:
SPIEGEL: Perhaps you could fill us in on a detail from the decisive Politburo meeting following Chernenko’s death in March 1985. Ironically, it was Foreign Minister (Andrei) Gromyko who nominated you as the new party leader. Why did he do it? He didn’t like you and was envious of you. And there were other candidates?
Gorbachev: Because Gromyko was a very clever and serious person. Why was he envious of me? I don’t know. But he had recognized the signs of the times. When Chernenko was ill, I was often called upon to manage the work of the Secretariat and the Politburo, and it went well, which didn’t go unnoticed. In that regard, Chernenko even helped me. And I gathered important experience in the process. If I may modify something Voltaire once said about God: If Chernenko hadn’t existed, someone would have to have invented him…
SPIEGEL: You never discussed important issues with your wife at home?
Gorbachev: You had to go outside. We also never discussed important things openly at the dacha. When I cleared out our Moscow apartment after stepping down as president, they found all kinds of wiring in the walls. It turned out that they had been spying on me all along…
SPIEGEL: (Boris) Yeltsin, who, as Russian president, later chased you out of office, was someone you did know well.
Gorbachev: Okay, let’s talk about Yeltsin. I did in fact know him a little. Even as district leader in Sverdlovsk
SPIEGEL: … which is now Yekaterinburg …
Gorbachev: … he was already very, very self-confident. When we wanted to bring him into the national party, many advised us against it. They later elected him as party leader in Moscow. I supported it. He was energetic, and it took a long time for me to recognize my mistake. He was extremely infatuated with power, haughty and thirsting for glory, a domineering person. He always believed that he was being underestimated, and he constantly felt insulted. He should have been shunted out of the way and made an ambassador in a banana republic, where he could have smoked water pipes in peace…
SPIEGEL: Then came the coup. But the Americans had already warned you against it early enough — two months earlier, in fact. And they had even named names, including that of KGB chief Kryuchkov. Is that true?
Gorbachev: Bush called me. He referred to information from the Moscow mayor, Gavriil Popov.
SPIEGEL: You didn’t believe him?
Gorbachev: The conservatives had announced several times that they wanted to get rid of Gorbachev, and they had already tried it in various committees, but without success. By then, we had the anti-crisis program, which was supported by all republics. The new union treaty was to be signed on Aug. 20, and an extraordinary congress was to reform the party. The opponents of perestroika had suffered a defeat, and then they organized the coup.
SPIEGEL: And you chose to go on vacation in Crimea at a time like that?
Gorbachev: I thought they would be idiots to take such a risk precisely at that moment, because it would sweep them away, too. But unfortunately they were truly idiots, and they destroyed everything. And we proved ourselves to be semi-idiots, myself included. I had become exhausted after all those years. I was tired and at my limits. But I shouldn’t have gone away. It was a mistake.