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Gorbachev urges West to stop 'isolating' Russia

AFPAFP 21/04/2016

Gorbachev (pictured) argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin in his set-piece annual phone-in session last week had "shown a striving towards normalising relations with the West" © Provided by AFP Gorbachev (pictured) argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin in his set-piece annual phone-in session last week had "shown a striving towards normalising relations with the West" The last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Thursday urged the West to stop isolating Russia and take a more "constructive" approach in response to President Vladimir Putin's moves towards normalising relations.

The 85-year-old who presided over the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War argued that Moscow has an "important and positive" role to play on the world stage, writing in Rossiiskaya Gazeta government daily.

"It's time for the West to stop attempting to isolate it," he wrote.

Russia and the West have seen ties slump to their worst level since the Cold War over Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its alleged responsibility for a bloody insurgency in the east of the country.

Gorbachev, however, argued that Putin in his set-piece annual phone-in session last week had "shown a striving towards normalising relations with the West."

Putin softened his rhetoric during his annual phone-in on April 14 by pointing to examples of positive cooperation with the West and evaded some cues for populist America-bashing, even describing President Barack Obama as a "decent person."

"Can our partners reset themselves to a more constructive wavelength? That's unclear so far but I urge them to do so," Gorbachev wrote.

No one should assume that Russia will accept a "second tier role in the world," he said, adding that "everyone would only lose from a new Cold War."

Formerly a harsh critic of Putin for his perceived rolling back of democratic freedoms, Gorbachev has in recent years taken a more conciliatory stance towards the Kremlin strongman and supported his takeover of Crimea.

Gorbachev said that Russia and US cooperation on finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria has "already led to some relaxing of tensions in relations betweeen Russia and the West.

"If this trend continues, we need to broaden it into other spheres of relations," Gorbachev said, while warning this would be a "lengthy and difficult process."

He gave the example of the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, saying that the crisis cannot be left as "an abscess spreading fever in Europe and the world."

"Europe might not be able to stand another frozen conflict," he argued, saying he was repeating a 2014 call to Obama and Putin to "meet and discuss this ongoing crisis."

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