Mikhail Gorbachev banned from Ukraine over Crimea pro-annexation comments

By Amy R. Connolly   |   May 27, 2016 at 1:08 PM
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KIEV, Ukraine, May 27 (UPI) -- Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, was banned entry into Ukraine after he supported Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea during a newspaper interview.

Gorbachev, 85, has been banned from entering Ukraine for five years after he said he would have done the same thing as Russian President Vladimir Putin in seizing Crimea, a peninsula that borders Russia and Ukraine. He was quoted in The Sunday Times saying, "I'm always with the free will of the people and most in Crimea wanted to be reunited with Russia."

In 2014, Crimea was annexed into Russia after a majority support from voters in a move widely seen as illegal, sparking violence in eastern Ukraine. In response, the United States and European Union levied wide-ranging sanctions against Russia. Gorbachev said he would have acted no differently than Putin in seizing Ukraine.

"The only true reason I wouldn't have is because, had I still been in power, the Soviet Union would still exist and Crimea would be a part of it," he said.

Elena Hitlyanskaya, spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Security Service, said Gorbachev's ban is part of "state security."

"There have been an awful lot of phone calls from the media in regard to Gorbachev's entry ban. We have blocked his entrance for five years in the interests of providing state security, in particular for his public support of the military annexation of Crimea," she said.

Anton Geraschenko, a member of Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's unicameral parliament, called for Gorbachev to be declared persona non-grata, saying the former Soviet Union leader and Russian president's comments "calls to violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine" and shows "disrespect of common human values."

Gorbachev shrugged off the ban and said he "doesn't visit Ukraine, and has no plans to do so."

Gorbachev led the U.S.S.R. from 1985 until 1991, when he resigned. During his tenure, he led his country to openness and change, winning the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in ending the Cold War. At the same time, Gorbachev is widely disliked in his country.

In his interview with The Times, he said when the Soviet economy collapsed as a result of his reforms, the United States should have helped. He said the United States is to blame for the breakdown in relations with Putin's Russia. The United States squandered chances to build trust, Gorbachev said.

"Under the table, the Americans were rubbing their hands with glee. They thought,'We're victorious, we won the Cold War,' instead of accepting the huge role we played in ending it," Gorbachev said."They thought,'Now we're the boss of the world.'They weren't genuinely interested in helping Russia develop into a stable and strong democracy. They thought they'd cut Russia down to size. In the process, they've squandered the trust we'd built."

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