Breakup of USSR was inevitable

You and Mikhail Gorbachev have been blamed for the breakup of the Soviet Union. Do you think it could have been avoided? Do you feel any personal guilt over it, or do you think it was for the best? I have known Mikhail Sergeyevich since the time of [Leonid] Brezhnev when [Gorbachev] was the Central Committee member responsible for farming policy and I was party secretary in Georgia. Afterward, when he became the Soviet party leader, he invited me to Moscow and asked me to become foreign minister. Although I thought the job should go to a Russian, my refusal was not accepted, so I bowed to his will and took the post. It was after that that we argued. He did not properly evaluate the risk from reactionary forces trying to wrest power from him. Afterward I made my speech to the congress of people’s representatives when I drew attention to the risk of an imminent counter-revolution and announced my resignation. Later, Bill Clinton told me that at that time, when he was governor of Arkansas, he had watched the television coverage of the congress and when he heard me announce my resignation he got up from his armchair and applauded. He also told me that my warning was a service to the democratic process in Russia. Sooner or later the Soviet Union had to break up. There were huge centrifugal forces within the country. Kazakhstan for example – how can you control a country which is five times the size of France? Or Uzbekistan, with its huge population? I was certain that we could not preserve the Soviet Union, but I never thought it would dissolve so quickly. According to my estimates, it should have taken about 10 years. When it did break up I was no longer in power. So it was a positive thing? Yes, but unfortunately it happened too fast. If it had taken over a decade the people would have been better prepared for the changes.