RIP Mikhail Sergeyvich Gorbachev – An Obit with Significa and Insignifica

Image by Victoria_Borodinova from Pixabay 


The Berlin Wall fell during Gorbachev’s six-year tenure as the leader of the Soviet Union. Image by Anja-#pray for ukraine# #helping hands# stop the war from Pixabay 

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, the eighth and final leader of the former Soviet Union, died yesterday in Moscow at the age of 91. The man who rose to power following the deaths of Leonid Brezhnev (1982), Yuri Andropov (1984), and Konstantin Chernenko (1985) and was paramount leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the last years of Cold War I had been in poor health since 2020. Nevertheless, he is the longest-lived Russian political leader, having outlived former post-Tsarist Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky (who died in 1970 at 89) and Vasili Kuznetsov (who also was 89 when he died in 1990).

Gorbachev – or “Gorby,” as he was nicknamed in the West – was the youngest leader of the Soviet Union (he was named as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on March 10, 1985, eight days after his 54th birthday) and, unlike his predecessors, was the only one born as a Soviet citizen. (Lenin and his six successors, Stalin, Malenkov, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko, were born in Tsarist Russia).

Although he was popular in the West and even some of the countries behind the Iron Curtain, Gorbachev was – and remains – a controversial figure in Russia and its political history. A believer in the Marxist-Leninist brand of socialism, Gorbachev tried to keep the USSR (and the Warsaw Pact) intact while at the same time reforming it. Unfortunately, his political idealism and naïve belief that Communism would work if the CPSU loosened the reins it had on Russian society (and the Soviet Empire beyond the boundaries of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic), the ideas of Marx and Lenin would come to fruition.

Fans of this guy don’t like “Gorby” much. Image by Роман Распутин from Pixabay 

But, like all ideologues, even intelligent reformers like Gorby, his faith in a flawed political-economic system that just needed “tweaking” was proved wrong when the Soviet Union, already crippled by the military expenditures of the Cold War and the rot of corruption that still hobbles the Russian Federation today, collapsed, doomed by the failure of its state-controlled economic model and its dehumanizing authoritarian rule over Soviet citizens.

Many in the West – including millions of Americans – admired Gorbachev for his willingness to work with then-President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and other Western leaders to ease Cold War tensions and prevent a war between the Soviet Union and the Free World.

Gorbachev “retired” this flag on December 25, 1991. Six days later, it was lowered for the last time from the Kremlin towers, and the country it represented dissolved. Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay 

In Russia? Not so much. He had his supporters in the younger generation of Soviet citizens and Eastern Europeans who lived in the Soviet “satellite” nations that were, de facto, occupied by the Red Army because he seemed to be a true reformer and wanted everyone in the Soviet empire to lead better, happier lives without abandoning his commitment to Communism.

But the conservatives in the CPSU, especially those in the all-important ministries of defense, interior, and heavy industries, were opposed to Gorbachev’s two most famous policies: Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (restructuring), which were intended to (a) lift the veil of secrecy that made the Soviet Union such a dreary closed society to foreigners, and (b) make the Soviet Union’s economy more efficient and consumer-based without, of course, abandoning the core beliefs of Marxism-Leninism.

It is worth noting that Glasnost was, in no small part, a policy change spurred on by the Chernobyl disaster of April 1986 in which one of four reactors at a Soviet-built nuclear plant not far from Kiev, in what was then called the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, exploded in the worst nuclear accident in world history. At first, Gorbachev reacted in the same way as previous Soviet leaders responded to bad news within the USSR: his government tried to keep the rest of the world in the dark about Chernobyl, knowing that if they admitted that Soviet reactors were poorly designed (to save money) and badly administered, it would be seen as a sign that Soviet “progress” and the wisdom of the Party leadership weren’t “all that.”

But when the highly radioactive fallout from the exploded reactor drifted to Western Europe, carried westward by the prevailing winds and Western scientists and the media alerted the world that, yes, there was a lot of deadly radiation leaking out from the site of the accident and posing a clear and present danger to people far from Russia, Gorbachev probably realized, “Shit, this closed society stuff…maybe it’s no so good anymore, Comrades.”

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Image by Andre Drechsel from Pixabay 

As mentioned earlier, Gorbachev tried to save Communism by reforming it, but pushback from conservatives (who had a lot to lose, especially power and money, if Gorbachev succeeded) and the inherent flaws of its socioeconomic model led to the decline of the Soviet system. Even after Gorbachev realized that holding on to Eastern Europe was a losing proposition and began the withdrawal of Red Army forces from Germany, Poland, and other countries where they had never been all that welcome by the general population, reforms to the CPSU and the Soviet economy proved too little, too late, and the hard-liners, fearing not just the end of their death grip on the reins of power but their very existence, tried to reverse Gorbachev’s policies and ending his rule via a clumsy and ultimately failed coup in August of 1991.

The Soviet Union died of systemic failure on December 31, 1991, and even though Gorbachev’s fans in the West admired him for dissolving the regime, millions of Russians still hate him for it.


After-Action Report from Dissonance, the first Operation in Regiments. (All game elements in this and other screenshots from Regiments are (C) 2022 Bird’s Eye Games and MicroProse)

Clio, the Muse of History, tells us that 1989 was a red-letter year in world history because – due to the late Mikhail Gorbachev’s doomed efforts to save the Soviet system by easing tensions with the U.S. and her allies in Western Europe – the first Cold War started winding down when Moscow loosened its grip on Eastern Europe and allowed the people in its former subject nations to choose a path that was not necessarily Communist.

Not only were there free elections in Czechoslovakia (which has since been divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Poland, and Hungary, but Gorbachev did not lift a finger to save East Germany’s repressive (and most loyal to the Soviet cause) regime, led by Communist Party leader Erich Honecker when ordinary citizens, encouraged by Gorby’s liberalization policies, clamored for more freedom, less State-sponsored surveillance, and better living standards. To everyone’s surprise, the Kremlin did not intervene when public protests resulted in the fall not only of Honecker’s government but also of that most hated symbol of Cold War division – the Berlin Wall.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

But what if Gorbachev had not deviated from the paths of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev and stuck to the traditional doctrines of the CPSU during his term in office? What if Soviet policies in Eastern Europe had remained stagnant, and social pressures within the “Evil Empire” simmered and simmered until, in a different version of 1989, events within East Germany led to a mutiny within the East German army that, inadvertently, caused war to break out between East and West?

That seems to be the “alternate history” in Regiments, the new real-time tactical wargame created by Bird’s Eye Games and published two weeks ago by MicroProse.

In real life, these tanks would be a bit farther apart for better dispersion.

I mention this because – since I don’t have anyone to hang out with (socially, romantically or even “friends with benefits-wise”) in the Tampa Bay area – I played Regiments twice yesterday.

My results, sadly, were mixed. I won one fictional engagement near Grasleben, West Germany with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (11th ACR), then lost another – the same location, but with a different American unit and different time of day/weather conditions – a couple of hours later.

I don’t know if it’s the difference in units’ Table of Organization and Equipment or TO&E (which is pronounced tee oh and ee, and not toe), my tactics, or the game’s AI and the way victories are calculated, but it is not easy to earn a victory in Regiments. I have won a few battles, particularly in Operations that are part of the campaign game, but to be honest, I lose more Skirmish battles than I thought I would.

Granted, I don’t have any formal military education, but I have played several Cold War-turned-hot games that simulate combined arms warfare between the Warsaw Pact and NATO in West Germany. I’m no Patton, Guderian, Rommel, Abrams, or McMaster, but I’ve read enough on the topic and played M1 Tank Platoon, Armored Brigade, and Flashpoint Campaign: Red Storm that I can grasp the basic principles of armored warfare in the late Cold War era.

I don’t have the time or inclination (or the stamina, because today I’m not feeling all that great) to go over my latest defeat. I didn’t even do a screengrab of the After-Action Report from my last session of Regiments, so I can’t even give you exact numbers when it comes to casualties.

I can say that the second attempt to win a battle near Grasleben was not the kind of embarrassing defeat where the Red force holds all or most of the Objective Zones (OZs)  and wiped the floor with my Blue force. On the contrary. When the timer ran out on my last Skirmish at the 30-minute mark, I had captured five (of nine?) OZs and had routed a Soviet/East German force so badly that if I had had more time on the clock, I might have captured all of the OZs.

The fight is on, and both sides are trading autocannon and anti-tank guided missiles as the U.S. 11th ACR begins its attack against Objective Zone Bravo (on the left side of the image). A scout section already scored a kill (note the chevron next to its NATO map symbol), but it has lost two vehicles and is suppressed by Soviet fire.

Once again, the main reason the Red force won wasn’t how much real estate I held at the end of the battle; it was the price (in men and equipment) I paid for the ground I took.

I am not, of course, going to return the game to Steam and ask for a refund. I genuinely like the look of the game and the basic concept behind it, and I’m slowly getting used to its way of distributing friendly forces.

But, geez, that scoring system in Regiments sure is cold and unforgiving.

I suppose, though, that the game designers created it that way to get players to figure out ways to improve their strategy and tactics. Plus, I am sure that war in real life is even colder and more unforgiving.

At least in Regiments the violence, the mayhem, the panic, and the casualties are simulated. The scenario, too, is simulated, at least as far as 1989 is concerned.

War, the real thing, is not simulated or just a cool intellectual exercise, as the Russians and Ukrainians fighting in Putin’s war – a consequence of post-Gorbachev Russian foreign adventurism if I ever saw one – are finding.

Rather, in the words of William T. Sherman, a general who fought in the Union Army during the American Civil War, “War is all hell.”

I like this screenshot because it shows dismounted infantry (this unit is from the Belgian contingent of NATO) digging in behind a thin treeline.
A wider-angle screenshot that better shows the Objective Zones that Blue forces must capture and hold in the Grasleben Skirmish.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

8 thoughts on “RIP Mikhail Sergeyvich Gorbachev – An Obit with Significa and Insignifica

  1. That’s a very interesting write-up obituary. Another thing, did you notice that in the email to followers (I assume you are following yourself) the image caption are not entirely underneath the image. The first word in the caption is to the right of the image instead of underneath. There’s nothing wrong with the actual post on your website.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that email with the weird graphics/cutline issue looks odd, but I suppose it’s a compatibility thing between the email and WordPress that makes the thumbnails from the “Gallery” graphics option look bad. Like you say, the actual post looks okay. I just hope that I don’t see any typos when I re-read it later.

      Re the obit: thanks for the kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Do you know of any (good) alternate history books that have been written under the premise that Gorbachev did not end the Soviet Union? It would be very interesting, especially in light of the rise of Middle-Eastern terrorism in the following years.


    1. None that comes to mind. There was one novel (not particularly good, at least in my view) by Joe Weber that came out either in 1988 or 1989 in which hardliners opposed to glasnost hire Libyans to shoot down his plane near the CPSU’s VIP airport, and then his successor starts a conflict with the US. “Defcon One,” was the title. (Killing Gorbachev to prolong the Cold War was a cliche in movies then, too. Even Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country borrows that theme from the movie The Package.)

      As for alternative history novels with the what-if the Cold War had not ended, I don’t know if good ones exist. There are technothrillers by Larry Bond that predicted a falling out with Russia after a “mission-less” NATO dissolves and hardliners in France and Germany form an anti-US confederation with like-minded officers in the post-Soviet army – Cauldron, but that was more near-future speculation than alt-history. (After the collapse of the USSR, and even shortly before it, Tom Clancy and other writers in his genre had to try to get away from the “Russia Bad, West Good” paradigm. For the most part, Clancy focused more on Jack Ryan as President, and two fictional covert ops agencies (Rainbow Six and The Campus) so he had some success; other writers, like Harold Coyle, had to imagine conflicts in places like reunified Germany (a former Hitler Youth member becomes Chancellor and starts acting like his childhood idol – sounds silly but Coyle’s The Ten Thousand is a pretty good book) and Colombia.

      Alt-history wargames, though…well, you know I have two, Cold Waters and Regiments.

      Novels a la Turtledove? I bet there might be one or two, but I am not sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It would be a good topic for an alt-history novel; in order for it to work, it would require not just a good hook and storyline, but a lot of research into life in the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s.

        Turtledove could do it if he chose to. Maybe even the co-writer of some of the last Tom Clancy novels before he died in 2012 (a guy named Mark Greaney, who also wrote a couple of the posthumous “Tom Clancy” novels and created his own Gray Man series of books).

        Liked by 1 person

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