Mikhail Gorbachev has backed Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea and accused America of “rubbing its hands with glee” over the demise of the Soviet Union.
In an interview in today’s Sunday Times magazine, the last Soviet leader says he would have acted the same way as Putin if he had found himself in a similar situation.
“I’m always with the free will of the people and most in Crimea wanted to be reunited with Russia,” Gorbachev says.
Putin seized the peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 in the chaos that followed the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin President, in a popular pro-western uprising.
Gorbachev, now aged 85, is frail, suffers from diabetes and poor hearing and walks with a stick.
He has just released a volume of memoirs and remains bitter about the collapse of his country 25 years ago.
“I regret that a great country with huge possibilities and resources vanished,” he says. “Most Russians think, like me, they don’t want it back, but they are deeply sorry that it collapsed.”
He is also angry at the US reaction. “Under the table, the Americans were rubbing their hands with glee,” he says.
Gorbachev’s support for Putin’s annexing of Crimea belies a cooling of the relationship between the two men.
Although initially supportive of the present Russian leader when he came to power in 2000, Gorbachev has since criticised Putin for staying too long in power and rolling back democratic reforms.
“We always had normal relations,” he said. “Now I wouldn’t describe them as normal. We have no relations.”