Former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, now in the US to attend the funeral of his Cold War foe President Ronald Reagan, has said that their interests to make peace with each other coincided, as "we all lost the Cold War and won only when it ended."
Gorbachev, who struck a friendship with Reagan during the critical years of the crisis within the Soviet Union stood in front of Reagan's coffin in the Rotunda of the Capitol, and, as he himself put it, "I gave him a pat," reenacting before reporters the caress he had given Reagan's coffin.
Reagan, said Gorbachev, was "an extraordinary political leader" who decided "to be a peacemaker" at just the right moment -- the moment when Gorbachev came to power in Moscow.
He, too, wanted to be a peacemaker, so "our interests coincided." He brusquely dismissed the suggestion that Reagan had intimidated either him or the Soviet Union or forced them to make concessions.
Asked by The Washington Post whether it is accurate to say that Reagan won the Cold War, Gorbachev replied: "That [question] is not serious."
"I think we all lost the Cold War, particularly the Soviet Union. We each lost $10 trillion," he said, referring to the money the Soviet Union and the United States spent on an arms race that lasted more than four decades.
"We only won when the Cold War ended."
Gorbachev said the Soviet Union had learnt of an intelligence report from Washington in 1987, reporting on a meeting of the (US) National Security Council.
He learnt that senior US officials had concluded that Gorbachev's growing credibility and prestige did not serve the interests of the United States and had to be contained. A desire in Washington not to let him make too good an impression on the world did more to promote subsequent Soviet-American agreements than any American intimidation, he said.
"They wanted to look good in terms of making peace and achieving arms control," he said of the Reagan Administration.
Gorbachev insisted that the changes he wrought in the Soviet Union, from ending much of the official censorship to sweeping political and economic reforms, were undertaken not because of any foreign pressure or concern but because Russia was dying under the weight of the Stalinist system.
"The country was being stifled by the lack of freedom," said Gorbachev. "We were increasingly behind the West, which was achieving a new technological era, a new kind of productivity. And I was ashamed for my country -- perhaps the country with the richest resources on Earth, and we couldn't provide toothpaste for our people."
Reagan, said Gorbachev, was "the pre-eminent anti-communist" at the end of the first term.
"Many people in our country, and in your country, regarded him as the quintessential hawk."
But, he said, a big change came during Reagan's second term. Reagan, the Soviet leadership concluded, wanted to go down in history as a peacemaker and to work with Moscow to do so.
"A particularly positive influence on him -- more than anyone else -- was Nancy Reagan," Gorbachev said. "She deserves a lot of credit for that."
Once Reagan decided to try to make peace, said Gorbachev, he found an eager partner in Moscow.
"The new Soviet leadership wanted to transform the country, to modernise the country, and we needed stability, we needed cooperation with other countries. And we both knew what kind of weapons we had. There were mountains of nuclear weapons. A war could start not because of a political decision but because of some technical failure."
A lot of forces on both sides had an interest in prolonging the arms race, including military-industrial lobbies on both sides, he said.
His predecessors in Moscow had concluded that continuing the race was the only way they could achieve security for the Soviet Union. But by his new calculation in 1985, the situation was ripe for change.
His first meeting with Reagan in Geneva in November 1985 "confirmed the correctness of our assessment of the situation. This was the first Soviet-American summit in seven years and it did not begin well."
After the first session, said Gorbachev, his comrades asked for his impressions of Reagan. "He is a real dinosaur," Gorbachev quoted himself as saying. "And then I learned. There was a leak from the American delegation, and Reagan described Gorbachev as 'a die-hard communist."
But just a day and a half later, the two men signed an agreement that stated their mutual conviction that nuclear war was unthinkable. They initiated a batch of new cooperative enterprises to improve relations. "That was the beginning of hope," Gorbachev said.
At subsequent meetings at Reykjavik (Iceland) the next year, in Washington in 1987 and in Moscow in 1988, relations got better and better.
By the time he came to Moscow in 1988, Gorbachev recalled, "Reagan had changed his views. He replied in the negative when asked by an American reporter if he still regarded Soviet Union as an Evil Empire.