20 Years Post-Coup: Gorbachev Works On

When asked about the Soviet coup that ousted him in 1991, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachevhas said that if he had the chance to do one thing differently, he wouldn't have taken a vacation. We are now upon the 20-year anniversary of the coup and, as he repeated in his recent Washington Post op-ed, it was when he left for a vacation in the Crimea that his political opponents overthrew him. But perhaps the takeover by Boris Yeltsin was a blessing in disguise, because Gorbachev has gone on to do extraordinary things, such as founding Green Cross International (including its U.S. national affiliate, Global Green USA) and the establishment of the Gorbachev Foundation. Over the last two decades, both organizations have undertaken very positive steps to help us all survive in the post-Cold War period; the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow promotes socio-economic and democratic change in Russia, and Green Cross International in Geneva, Switzerland, advocates and facilitates global environmental remediation and protection.

As for his political legacy, Gorbachev deserves much credit for ending the Cold War and dismantling the Warsaw Treaty Organization, the military alliance that threatened Western Europe and NATO for four decades. He also established the major Green Cross program, Legacy of the Cold War, which I have helped lead for the past sixteen years. This effort, now entitled the Environmental Security and Sustainability Program, has helped to safely dismantle thousands of nuclear warheads, dozens of nuclear-armed and -powered submarines, and more than 45,000 tons of deadly chemical agents in millions of weapons in both Russia and the United States.  In addition, Gorbachev's leadership since 1991 has been an important catalyst for the bilateral 2002 Moscow Treaty and the 2010 New START agreement that is responsible for reducing strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads in each country -- about two-thirds below nuclear force levels in 1991.

In the coming two months, we will also recognize the 20th anniversary of the closure of the former Soviet nuclear testing site at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan and two decades without any nuclear testing in both the U.S. and Russia. The 25th anniversary of the historic Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, when both leaders discussed abolition of nuclear weapons, will be celebrated in mid-October.

We are grateful for his courageous and enlightened leadership, both before and after the 1991 Soviet coup, in building a more peaceful, secure, and sustainable world.

Stef McDonald