Mikhail Gorbachev praised Russian restraint in Crimea  (Getty)
Mikhail Gorbachev praised Russian restraint in Crimea.Getty

Former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev has warned of the dire consequences of an escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and praised Russian restraint in not becoming further involved.

"If our country intervenes, such a fire could break out that the whole world wouldn't be able to put it out. And it is right that the politicians are upholding their position," Gorbachev told Russian radio station RSN.

Western governments have accused Vladimir Putin's government of exacerbating the crisis by arming pro-Russian rebels, and in recent days sending troops over the border into eastern Ukraine.

Gorbachev warned of the catastrophic consequences of other countries being dragged into the conflict, which according to the UN has claimed 2,200 lives between 16 July to 17 August.

"If [other] states get involved, the scope may widen and everyone would want a hand there – we may end up with a terrible slaughter in Europe," he said. "We can't afford it."

He called on all the parties involved in the conflict to take steps to resolve the crisis.

"They must do everything possible to stop murdering each other; it is one nation," said the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is of mixed Russian and Ukrainian ancestry.

'Slave drivers and herdsmen' in Russia – Gorbachev

He criticises the UN and EU for inaction, whilst praising Russia's attempts to form 'corridors' allowing Ukrainian troops to leave areas of fighting where they were trapped.

"Our proposal was to open corridors, to take people away from all those mousetraps. But no, no. Some prefer staying in warm offices and commenting from there. And what is happening to the people [in Ukraine] in the meantime – to kids, women? Maternity hospitals are being shelled, and schools and hospitals are being destroyed."

In March, he told the Telegraph that he supported a referendum in Crimea, in which the majority voted in favour of the region becoming part of Russia.

"This time in Crimea, everything happened by the people's will and at their request. It's a good thing they chose the path of a referendum and showed that people really want to return back to Russia, showed that nobody is forcing people there," he said.

President Obama claimed that the referendum was illegitimate.

In the interview, Gorbachev said that Obama needed to overcome the "triumphalism" that the US
succumbed to after the end of the Cold War.

He also criticised Putin for beginning to "lean towards autocracy".

"There are again slave drivers and herdsmen everywhere," he said of his native country.