Gorbachev, the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union was General Secretary of the Communist Party from 1985 until 1991 and leader of the Soviet Union from 1990 to 1991. Now 88, he is widely praised for preventing World War 3 and bringing an end to the Cold War through diplomacy with US President Ronald Reagan. On Monday, he appeared on a BBC Radio 4 show ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse, where he warned the world is in “colossal danger” of nuclear wipeout.
The former USSR leader said: “As long as weapons of mass destruction exist, nuclear weapons, the danger is colossal.”
He also warned relationships between Russia and the West remain in a “chilly war” despite the official end of the inactive conflict three decades ago.
He said: “Look at what’s happening, in different places there are skirmishes, there are shootings. ”Ships and aircraft are being sent here, there and everywhere, this is not a situation we want.”
Mr Gorbachev is still a divisive figure in his homeland as many Russians still associate him personally with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The fall of the Berlin Wall is widely seen as the symbolic moment when communism in Eastern Europe – started by Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution in 1917 – was brought to an end.
However, Mr Gorbachev revealed his real thoughts on what caused the fall of communism during a 2006 interview, during which he claimed it was nothing to do with his desire for reform.
He also stopped short of highlighting the importance of the Berlin Wall coming down, instead noting the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 as the pivotal moment in the fall of the Soviet Union.
He said: “The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, even more than my launch of Perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.”
The Chernobyl disaster was a devastating nuclear accident that occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the city of Pripyat, Ukraine on April 25, 1986.
It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history and is one of only two nuclear energy disasters rated at seven—the maximum severity—on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
Initially, after the Chernobyl disaster, Mr Gorbachev and the Communist Party downplayed the incident both domestically and on the world stage, calling it a minor event that “requires no special measures to protect the population”.
Moscow’s handling of the disaster went on to expose the reality of human error within the Soviet system and introduced doubt and questions of competence directed at the Kremlin not seen since before World War 2.
Mr Gorbachev was unable to recover and as questions mounted so did the pressure, until eventually the regime collapsed and the Berlin Wall coming down will forever be seen as the moment symbolising the Soviet Union’s demise.
However, these comments suggest that Chernobyl was the real turning point in Soviet history and the disaster arguably made the wall coming down an inevitability.
The nuclear disaster saw 400 times more radioactive material than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki sent into the sky.
Pripyat was not evacuated until several hours after the explosion – despite widespread reports of illness.
Locals were told to bring only what was necessary for an evacuation of three days to accommodation readied in Kiev.
As a result, most personal belongings were left behind and can still be seen today.
Just 10 days after the accident, an “exclusion zone” was set up in a 20-mile radius by the Soviet Armed Forces, which is still in place today.
The forbidden area has since been increased to cover 1,000 square miles – mainly of Ukraine, but also Belarus – to protect people from the radioactive nuclear fallout.
Despite the warning signs and the legal implications of re-entering the zone, some residents decided to return.
Known in local dialect as “Samosely”, meaning “self-settlers” they are a group of roughly 200 residents who live in the contaminated “ghost towns”.
The majority of the Samosely are elderly people who have lived in their homes since their childhood.
When the population was evacuated, they either refused to leave or secretly resettled in the unprotected region.
The average age of these illegal residents was 63 in 2007 and, in 2012, local governments unofficially granted permission to the elderly to continue living in the area, but demanded younger inhabitants to move out.
This group live in private households, they cultivate vegetable and fruit gardens, fish on the Prypyat river and gather mushrooms – in spite of widespread contamination.