Former Soviet leader Gorbachev says Ukraine must hold together through crisis

The political turmoil in Ukraine looks like "a real mess," but it is important that the country hold together in the battle for influence between Russia and the West, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Monday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the 82-year-old Gorbachev emphasized the need for outside mediation to ease tensions in Ukraine, which became an independent country following the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union that he once led.

Ukraine today is deeply divided between largely pro-Russian eastern regions and western areas that long for closer ties with the European Union.

"No one wants it to come apart. I think that today it's important not to tear it apart," Gorbachev said of Ukraine. "I recently appealed to the leaders of the United States and Russia to act perhaps as mediators. And that would also include the European Union."

The mediators, he continued, could play a role in ensuring "that the crisis we see in Ukraine does not result in this kind of dramatic breakup. Let us give the people a chance to agree on something."

Gorbachev made the comments during a visit to the United Arab Emirates city of Sharjah, which sits along the Persian Gulf coast just north of Dubai. He was in the country to address the International Government Communication Forum, an annual gathering of policymakers, former political leaders and communications professionals.

Gorbachev became the Soviet leader in March 1985 and soon began promoting the policies of using "glasnost," or openness, and "perestroika," or restructuring.

His aim had been to reform the stagnant Soviet system, but the policies he put in place brought about democratic changes that eventually led to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

He won the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in helping to end the Cold War.

In his speech to the conference Sunday, he said the political tumult in Ukraine was ultimately the result of the Ukrainian government's failure to act democratically, engage in dialogue and fight corruption.

Demonstrators first began protesting late last year after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned an agreement that would have strengthened the country's ties with the European Union in favor of seeking closer cooperation with Moscow.

"It looks like there is a real mess there and that the leaders of Ukraine proved unable to reach a kind of consensus in the country, in Ukrainian society. And that's why those issues became so acute," Gorbachev said. "There's a new Ukraine and it should find its own niche."

Ukraine's acting government is seeking the arrest of Yanukovych, whose whereabouts are uncertain, over accusations of mass crimes against protesters. Snipers fired on demonstrators last week during the bloodiest violence in Ukraine's post-Soviet history.

Gorbachev suggested Monday that no single outside power could dominate Ukraine's future.

"If the European Union wants to have things its own way, the United States wants to have things their own way, and Russia wants to have things its own way, I think that would be wrong," he said. "No one should claim domination over Ukraine."

Gorbachev, whose poor health has led him to miss a number of events in recent months, had assistance walking after delivering his speech Sunday.

"There is not enough stability in the world, and there is not enough stability in my health," he quipped Monday when asked about how he is feeling.