Soviet leader Gorbachev played pivotal role in solidifying ties with India

Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel peace prize for negotiating a historic nuclear arms pact with the then United States President Ronald Reagan.

Published: 31st August 2022 08:42 PM  |   Last Updated: 31st August 2022 08:56 PM   |  A+A-

Mikhail Gorbachev. (Photo | AFP)


NEW DELHI: Mikhail S Gorbachev, whose social and economic reforms led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which eventually resulted in the end of the Cold War, played a pivotal role in laying a strong foundation for deeper bilateral relations between Moscow and New Delhi.

Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Gorbachev was hailed as an iconic leader by the Western powers, but he was a target of scorn by millions of Russians as they blamed him for the collapse that triggered widespread economic woes.

The former Soviet leader died at a hospital in Moscow on Tuesday at the age of 91 after a "serious and prolonged illness", according to Russian media.

His death prompted an outpouring of condolences and tributes from leaders across the world.

Gorbachev, who was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until its collapse in 1991, was a strong votary of deeper strategic ties between Moscow and New Delhi, particularly in the areas of defence and economic engagement.

He visited India in 1986 as well as in 1988.

Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel peace prize for negotiating a historic nuclear arms pact with the then United States President Ronald Reagan.

Gorbachev's first visit to India in 1986 was seen as very significant from the point of view of the geopolitical powerplay in the region as the US was getting increasingly close to Pakistan.

During the visit, the Soviet leader, accompanied by an over-100-member delegation, held extensive talks with then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, vowing to expand bilateral cooperation and reaffirming their commitment to nuclear disarmament.

The visit was historic as it was Gorbachev's first trip to any Asian country after he assumed the top post in the Soviet Union.

The "Delhi Declaration" released following the talks referred to a broad framework of cooperation, including to achieve long-term global peace.

It also referred to India and the Soviet Union's commitment for a nuclear weapon-free and non-violent world.

"When friends come calling, our hearts light up. We are delighted to have you amidst us," Gandhi said at a joint press conference with Gorbachev.

Both Gandhi and Gorbachev were known to have developed a friendship and a sense of camaraderie and it began when the Indian leader travelled to Moscow in 1985.

"We will not take any step in our foreign policy that could damage India's interests," Gorbachev said at the media briefing in Delhi.

The tenure of Gorbachev as the Soviet leader also saw the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) supplying various key military platforms to India, including T-72 tanks.

Gorbachev and his wife Raisa were greeted by thousands of people when they arrived at the airport here, in reflection of the growing warmth in the ties between the two countries.

Posters of Gorbachev and Gandhi also adorned the streets of Delhi during the Soviet leader's visit.

Gorbachev returned to India for a second time in 1988 when he and Gandhi reviewed the implementation of the "Delhi Declaration" and vowed to further strengthen bilateral cooperation in the areas of defence, space and infrastructure, among others.

Congress leader and former diplomat Shashi Tharoor said Gorbachev will be remembered by many as a pragmatic leader who "transformed the Soviet Union and led it to democracy but by others, as the man who caused its collapse" with his policies of "perestroika" (restructuring) and "glasnost" (openness).

"I had the privilege of meeting Mikhail Gorbachev twice, both times in Italy at small conferences," Tharoor said on Twitter.

"He was pleasant, charming and affable, and had no airs. My last conversation with him was in Rimini, where i spoke about India at the Pio Manzu conference he chaired in October 2009. RIP," he added.

A number of global leaders condoled Gorbachev's death.

US President Joe Biden said Gorbachev was a "man of remarkable vision".

"As leader of the USSR, he worked with President Reagan to reduce our two countries' nuclear arsenals, to the relief of people worldwide praying for an end to the nuclear arms race," Biden said.

"After decades of brutal political repression, he embraced democratic reforms. He believed in glasnost and perestroika -- openness and restructuring -- not as mere slogans, but as the path forward for the people of the Soviet Union after so many years of isolation and deprivation," he added.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said Gorbachev was a "trusted and respected" leader." He played a crucial role to end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain.

It opened the way for a free Europe," she said, adding, "This legacy is one we will not forget." 


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