Dinner with Gorby

23 September 2017, Moscow

At short notice, a spontaneous invitation to join close mutual friends for an intimate (six people) dinner with Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev at a well-known restaurant near his country home outside Moscow. “Gorby” … first and last President of the USSR, last Secretary-General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; one of the 21st Century’s monumental figures, despised and reviled in his own country as the man who destroyed the USSR (wrong – that title belongs to Boris Yeltsin; that’s not a value judgement – just a statement of fact). I came home late that evening, slightly boozed and on a high, and penned these lines to a friend in a far-away country – one of the few people who would understand what I was writing and what lay between the lines.

Begins …

At 86, Gorby’s mind is clear, even if his speech is not. He is sharp. He doesn’t miss much, if anything.

Big, strong hands, thick wrists and solid fingers – a man who did hard physical work in his youth. Good appetite. Happy to take vodka but steered more towards juice.

Keen eye for the girls, but utterly devoted to Raisa Maximovna [note: his late wife] even now, 20 years after her death. As one of Venik’s staffers was showing him how to use the iPad, he was watching intently, occasionally glancing at her face and cleavage. Seated at the other end of the table, opposite him, I could see his hand was resting on her knee. After a few minutes’ observing her manipulation of the device he quietly asked “am I disturbing you?” He knew exactly what he meant!

The steely resolve and, I suspect, ruthlessness which must have been an essential part of climbing to the top, is evident still. No point thinking he was “a nice guy”, even though he clearly was a realist and more liberally inclined than others. He obviously was, and still is, used to commanding and being the one to take decisions – especially as they relate to him.

He related in detail war stories his father – who had fought in the Soviet army – had told him, with a distinct undertone of regret that he hadn’t been old enough to take part. Venik told me later that Gorby usually talks about Raisa, his student life, or his post-presidential life (but doesn’t comment on contemporary politics).

Gorby seemed interested in and pleased to meet me, including because I had lived in the USSR when he was in charge and was familiar with – and showed empathy for – what his country had experienced. He sort of invited himself to my residence – now to make that happen.

… ends

Comments On “Dinner with Gorby”

  1. Peter Tesch

    Sorry it has taken me so long to return to “DMM” …Indeed, too few people understand that the man who brought down the Soviet Union was not Gorbachev – as most are educated nowadays to believe and condemn – but, rather, Yeltsin. That is not to Yeltsin’s discredit, of course, but Gorbachev merits better press than he is given in his own country. He and Shevardnadze, whom I was fortunate also to meet after his resignation as Soviet foreign minister, and whose elegant and stylish grand-daughter I came to know somewhat in more recent times, faced choices: they took a path which delivered the world from potential cataclysm, even if they were not cognisant of the forces they were unleashing within their own brittle empire. Compared to them, and to Reagan and G H W Bush, those who bestride our contemporary world’s stage are stunted narcissists.

  2. Come Carpentier de Gourdon

    I met Gorbachev once in Switzerland. He looked surprisingly soft and even vulnerable for a man of his stature. I understood how he had been upstaged and outplayed by the Politburo and by Yeltsin Raisa was his pillar of strength. He was also betrayed by the British and the Americans who exploited his weakness.



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