Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said last night that the United States developed a "victory complex" after the Cold War that has proved costly to the goal of building a more peaceful world.
Gorbachev received several rounds of applause from a packed house at the Kentucky Center's Whitney Hall when he called for the United States to seek nonmilitary solutions to such looming crises as environmental degradation and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"The attempt to rule the world from one power center, it was an illusion ... for which we are all paying, for which the United States is also paying the price," Gorbachev said. "Not a single problem that the world faces today can be solved by one country alone. Only if we act together can we solve that problem."
He criticized America's taking military action in Iraq despite opposition from the United Nations.
"This was really a blow to the entire international system," he said.
Gorbachev - who led the Soviet Union from 1985 until its breakup in 1991 - is on a multicity tour leading up to an international meeting in New Orleans of the Green Cross International, an environmental group he founded.
His Louisville visit was sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Kentucky/Southern Indiana.
Gorbachev began his wide-ranging speech with a history of his political career, admitting that he took part in oppressing religious and other dissident groups as he rose to power as a regional governor.
But he said he was deeply influenced by efforts by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to open the society after its oppression under Josef Stalin - lessons that served as a model for Gorbachev as he later introduced democratic as well as economic reforms.
In fact, Gorbachev, who later granted religious freedom in the Soviet Union, received an award honoring those efforts last night from the Center for Interfaith Relations in Louisville.
Gorbachev credited the American presidents he negotiated with, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, for cooperating to end the Cold War relatively peacefully.
But then "a new generation of American political leaders regarded the breakup of the Soviet Union as America's victory," he said.
"We have not used the 15 years after the end of the Cold War in the best possible way," he said.
Gorbachev defended the policies of current Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has drawn criticism for his authoritarian rule and confrontational stance toward the United States.
"Russia is a country with which America can get along," Gorbachev told reporters before the speech. "This is a reliable partner, but of course it will defend its national interest."
He said Putin deserves some criticism, but that in general he's stabilizing the country after the chaotic 1990s.
"We have everything we need ... to make Russia a successful country," Gorbachev said. "We only need some time. ... Perhaps there are some who don't want Russia to become stronger."
Asked by an audience member last night about his legacy, he said: "What I would like history to say was that Gorbachev was a good guy who wanted to do good things for the people. He did not fully succeed, but he is someone who is worth remembering."
Afterward, audience member Laura Verwest, who is studying Russian at the University of Louisville, said she liked how Gorbachev "brought attention to globalization and global warming. People need to address these things if we expect to have a good future."
But Dennis Danilov, a UofL student and native of the former Soviet republic of Moldova, said Gorbachev's vision of global cooperation is "too utopian and unrealistic."
Countries will defend their self-interest, he said. "It's always been that way."
© 2007 The Courier Journal