Mikhail Gorbachev Warns Against "New Cold War" at Moscow Premiere of Doc About His Life

Courtesy of TIFF
Still from 'Meeting Gorbachev'

The last Soviet leader speaks out as Werner Herzog's film about the politician screened in the Russian capital.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union's last leader, has used the Moscow premiere of a new documentary about his life, made by German filmmaker Werner Herzog, to warn against a return to the Cold War days.

Before the screening of Meeting Gorbachev, jointly directed by Herzog and British filmmaker Andre Singer, the former Communist party boss referenced a New York Times op-ed he penned last month, in which he denounced U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to quit a key bilateral nuclear reduction treaty signed in 1987.

"I am convinced we can stop a new Cold War," Gorbachev said Thursday. "I will do everything for this." The 87-year old former Soviet leader added: "We must hold back. And not just from a Cold War. We have to continue the course we mapped. We have to ban war once and for all. Most important is to get rid of nuclear weapons."

Gorbachev's comments follow Trump's announcement last month that the U.S. would unilaterally pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, signed in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1987 by Gorbachev and then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

The treaty, which banned mobile nuclear weapons with a range of between around 300 and 3,400 miles, led to the dismantling of more than 2,500 U.S. and Soviet warheads. Trump claims that in today's multilateral world a bilateral nuclear treaty makes no sense and accuses Russia of being in breach of the treaty. Moscow levels the same accusation at Washington.

Gorbachev sees the 1987 treaty as a key foreign policy triumph that should be used as the basis for better, more stable agreements to preserve world peace. "Most dangerous would be a return to confrontation, the start of a new arms race," Gorbachev added at the screening. "They are already talking about a nuclear war as if this is something entirely acceptable; it is being prepared, scenarios are being discussed."

Gorbachev, who is increasingly frail, had left a Moscow hospital where he is undergoing medical procedures to attend the premiere Thursday night.

Meeting Gorbachev is an affectionate portrait of Gorbachev, filmed over three brief meetings in Moscow. Relying on extensive archive footage and narrated by Herzog himself, the film verges on hagiography of a man largely regarded in Europe and the U.S. positively, though his legacy in Russia — where he is blamed for the chaotic breakup of Communist power and the collapse of the Soviet Union — is viewed less charitably.

Pavel Palazhchenko, Gorbachev's longstanding interpreter and adviser, told The Hollywood Reporter that the 150 people in the audience at a Moscow Imax theater gave Gorbachev a standing ovation after the film.

"Mr. Gorbachev said he liked the film and that the main task now is to avoid a new Cold War and for Russia and the U.S. to work towards a positive relationship," Palazhchenko said.

Herzog was not in the audience as he was "stuck in Patagonia," Palazhenko said, but his co-director Singer was there. A Russian release of the film is under negotiation with a major local distributor and theater chain, he added.