Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has accused NATO of preparing for a “hot” war against Russia and says rhetoric from alliance’s leaders is pushing the two sides toward a military confrontation.
"NATO has begun preparations for escalating from a Cold War into a hot one," Gorbachev was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying on July 9.
His comments came as NATO leaders met in Warsaw for the final day of a summit, where the alliance endorsed a new major deployment of armed forces to Eastern Europe that Moscow has fiercely criticized.
NATO says the move is a response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and its backing of separatists fighting Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on July 9 that the alliance does not see any “imminent threat” against its member states but that it does not enjoy the "strategic partnership" with Russia that it pursued after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev, who presided over the Soviet collapse, said that NATO leaders "only talk about defense, but actually are preparing for offensive operations."
"All of the rhetoric in Warsaw simply clamors for all but declaring war on Russia," he was quoted as saying.
NATO leaders have repeatedly rejected Russia’s accusations that the alliance is ratcheting up tensions. They say the bloc is not seeking confrontation but rather boosting its defenses in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states, like Georgia, where the Kremlin backs separatist-controlled regions.
Despite being receiving a Nobel Prize and praise in many Western capital, the 85-year-old Gorbachev is widely reviled among many Russians, who see his role in the disintegration of the Soviet Union as an act of cowardice and betrayal. He speaks out regularly on Russian politics, though his criticism of the Kremlin has become muted in recent years.
With reporting by Interfax and Reuters