Former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev died Tuesday, more than three decades after his memorable Cold War-era visit to San Francisco that politico Willie Brown recalled upon hearing of the Russian leader’s death.
Gorbachev’s visit to the Bay Area on June 4, 1990, included a stop at the Fairmont San Francisco hotel for a visit with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce attended by many dignitaries, including Brown, then the state Assembly Speaker and eventual mayor of San Francisco.
Brown can be seen in a C-SPAN video of the visit, following Gorbachev as he entered the event.
“Without any regret, we are saying farewell to the Cold War, and I think and hope that we have already entered a long period of peace,” Gorbachev said via translation at the event, a sentiment that stands in stark contrast to the current state of U.S.-Russia affairs.
Brown said Tuesday that Gorbachev was “almost singularly responsible for helping to change the nature of the Cold War,” calling his visit to San Francisco “just an exceptional experience.”
Gorbachev led what was then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics amid a turbulent time that saw its former republics like Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania leave the USSR. Gorbachev resigned in December 1991 as the USSR dissolved.
“By 2017, the world had so dramatically changed, no one at the U.S. level or Russia level had the kind of sensibilities about world peace that Gorbachev exhibited.”Willie Brown, former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco mayor
The dream of “a long period of peace,” as Gorbachev described it in the 1990 San Francisco visit, had been dashed by 2017 when the Russian consulate office on Green Street in San Francisco was ordered to close amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia and a decision by the Russians to reduce the number of American diplomatic staff allowed in their country.
“By 2017, the world had so dramatically changed, no one at the U.S. level or Russia level had the kind of sensibilities about world peace that Gorbachev exhibited,” Brown said.
The former state Assembly Speaker and city mayor compared Gorbachev favorably with former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, who Gorbachev himself praised at the 1990 diplomatic event in San Francisco after acknowledging Shultz was “my opponent for quite a few years.”
Brown said the Russian leader he met 30-plus years ago would not be like the country’s current leader, Vladimir Putin.
“He has been so vilified by the leadership of Russia currently,” Brown said of Gorbachev. “I would predict that if Gorbachev was alive and in charge, there would not be a war in Ukraine right now.”