Britain should pull out of Afghanistan, says Gorbachev

The ex-Soviet leader argues the US must take some blame for fanning Islamic fundamentalism

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, has called for fundamental change to world politics against the background of uprisings across North Africa, saying that the will of the people can no longer be ignored.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Independent on Sunday, marking his 80th birthday on Wednesday, Mr Gorbachev also calls on David Cameron to withdraw British troops from Afghanistan. And, in comments that risk provoking outrage in the US, he portrays the war against Islam as a conflict partly of the US's own making.

"It's called the historical and political boomerang," he says, referring to the US's secret funding of Islamic extremists during the 1980s, when the Americans were fighting communism. "[The Americans] were working in secret with those forces with whom they are now fighting. They should accept their part of the blame. Let them say so. I think God has some mechanism that he uses to punish those that make mistakes."

The former communist also expressed disgust at the extravagances of Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea Football Club, saying he felt "ashamed" to read of his wealth.

Drawing on his experience of six years governing the USSR, from 1985 to 1991, when he helped end the Cold War and oversaw the collapse of communism, Mr Gorbachev condemns the Western occupation of Afghanistan, and issues a direct appeal to Mr Cameron to act. "I am using this interview to appeal to the Prime Minister to go in the right direction on Afghanistan," he says. "I am appealing to him to set that goal. And I am not saying that he should do it exactly the same way we did it."

Mr Gorbachev became President after Soviet forces had occupied Afghanistan, and oversaw the eventual withdrawal of troops in 1989. He points out that Britain advised against the Soviet invasion, saying the Afghans are a special people who live by their own rules, and that Britain should now heed its own advice.

Earlier this month, Mr Gorbachev welcomed the uprising in Egypt: "The people have spoken and made clear they do not want to live under authoritarian rule." In today's interview, he appeals to a generation of young people to enter politics and the media, to regain control, and to restore democracy, describing himself as an idealist.

At a press conference in Moscow last week, Mr Gorbachev criticised Vladimir Putin's administration as "a sham democracy", saying: "We have institutions, but they don't work. We have laws, but they must be enforced." In today's interview, he repeats this, calling on Russia's leaders to reflect. "Sometimes it's difficult to accept, to recognise one's own mistakes, but one must do it," he says. "I was guilty of overconfidence and arrogance, and I was punished for that.... I am sharing my experience with [Putin and Medvedev], because I don't want them to go astray by making similar mistakes."

Asked if Russia would ever be a superpower again, he says: "I don't think this should be Russia's goal. I think even the US doesn't need to be a superpower. China doesn't need to be a superpower. It's a different world. Relations in the world are different.

"When certain people arise and get power, with such ideas of superpowership, I think such people should be rejected. They should not be allowed to have the mandate of support."

At last week's press conference, Mr Gorbachev also announced the launch of an annual award honouring people "who have changed the world".

Mr Gorbachev has enjoyed strong links with Britain since Margaret Thatcher declared he was a man she "could do business" with. In the interview, Mr Gorbachev reveals his admiration for Mr Cameron and the Big Society. "I welcome David Cameron's work. This idea, or programme, as I understand it, means that the gaps between different groups of people should be bridged. I think this is a very democratic idea, and I support that. So may Britain have its own 'perestroika', but I'm sure the British will find their own way of calling it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick