Gorbachev was a rare world leader who regretted it, but some are still bitter

BERLIN (AP) – Mikhail GorbachevThe last leader of the Soviet Union was hailed on Wednesday as a rare leader who changed the world and brought hope for peace among the superpowers, many of whom restored democracy in then-communist European countries.

But died on Tuesday at 91 He was reviled by many nationalities who blamed him for the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and its decline as a superpower. Emerging from its Soviet past, the Russian nation has shrunk in size as 15 new states have emerged.

The loss of pride and power eventually led to the rise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has spent the past quarter century trying to restore Russia to its former glory and beyond.

US President Joe Biden praised Gorbachev as open to democratic changes. Gorbachev He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for ending the Cold War.

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“After decades of brutal political repression, he embraced democratic reforms. He believed in glasnost and perestroika — openness and restructuring — not as mere slogans, but as the way forward for the people after years of isolation and deprivation in the Soviet Union,” Biden said.

Biden added, “These were the actions of a rare leader — the imagination to see that a different future was possible and the courage to risk his entire life to achieve it. The result was a safer world and more freedom for millions of people.”

Although Gorbachev was widely celebrated abroad, he remained a pariah at home. Putin admitted that Gorbachev “Had a profound influence on the course of world history.”

Putin sent his condolences to Gorbachev’s family in a short telegram saying, “He led the country during difficult and dramatic changes, amidst huge foreign policy, economic and social challenges.”

Putin said Gorbachev “realized the need for reforms and tried to offer his solutions to serious problems.”

Reactions from Russian officials and lawmakers were mixed. They praised Gorbachev for his role in ending the Cold War, but blamed him for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Oleg Morozov, a member of the main Kremlin party United Russia, said Gorbachev “should be sorry” for mistakes against Russia’s interests.

“He was a willing or unwilling co-author of the unjust world order that our soldiers are now fighting on the battlefield,” Morozov said, referring to Russia’s current war in Ukraine.

Lech Walesa, leader of Poland’s pro-democratic Solidarity movement in the 1980s and the country’s president from 1990-1995, had a more nuanced view of Gorbachev. He said that he “admired and liked him, but did not understand (him)”.

“He believed until the end that communism could be reformed, but on the contrary, I don’t believe it’s possible,” Walesa Virtualna told Polska media.

Walesa added: “He knew the Soviet Union could not last long, and he did everything he could to prevent the world from bringing Russia to account for Communism. And he succeeded there.

World leaders paid tribute to a man some described as a brilliant and courageous leader.

In Germany, Gorbachev is considered one of the fathers of the country’s reunification in the 1990s and is popularly referred to as “Gorby”, with former Chancellor Angela Merkel hailing him as “a unique world politician”.

“Gorbachev wrote world history. As the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, he recalled fearing that Russian tanks might roll into East Germany, where he lived.

Current German Chancellor Olaf Scholz praised Gorbachev for paving the way for the reunification of his country, although he also pointed out that Gorbachev died at a time when many of his achievements were being erased.

“We know that he died at a time when not only democracy has failed in Russia – there is no other way to describe the current situation – but Russia and Russian President Putin have started a terrible war by drawing new trenches in Europe. A neighbor, Ukraine,” said Scholz.

Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “During Putin’s occupation of Ukraine, (Gorbachev’s) tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society is an example to us all.”

French President Emmanuel Macron called Gorbachev “a man of peace, whose choices opened the way to freedom for Russians. His commitment to peace in Europe changed our shared history.”

Others in Europe challenged the positive memories of Gorbachev.

“Lithuanians will not glorify Gorbachev,” tweeted Gabrielius Landsperkis, son of Vytautas Landsperkis, who led Lithuania’s independence movement in the early 1990s, and Lithuania’s top diplomat.

Memories are still fresh in the Baltic nation of January 13, 1991, when hundreds of Lithuanians stormed a television tower in Vilnius and crushed an attempt by Soviet troops to restore the country’s independence. In the ensuing clash, 14 civilians were killed and over 140 injured. In August of that year, Moscow recognized Lithuania’s independence.

“We will never forget the simple fact that his army killed civilians to perpetuate his regime’s occupation of our country. His soldiers opened fire on our unarmed opponents and crushed them under his tanks. That is how we will remember him,” Landsbergis wrote.

But another Baltic leader, Latvian President Egils Levits, noted that Gorbachev’s policies led to the eventual independence of the three Baltic states.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Gorbachev “the kind of politician who changed the course of history” and “did more than any other individual to bring about a peaceful end to the Cold War.”

“The world has lost a towering global leader, a tireless advocate for multilateralism and peace,” the UN said.

Gorbachev’s contemporaries pointed to the end of the Cold War as one of his achievements.

“Mikhail Gorbachev played a key role in the peaceful end of the Cold War. At home, he was a historic figure, but not in the way he thought,” said Robert M. Gates, who headed the CIA from 1991 to 1993 and later became US defense secretary.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who called Gorbachev “a brave leader and a great politician”, said the last Soviet leader “opened the gates of the Soviet Union to a great wave of Jewish immigration to Israel in the 1990s”.

In Asia, Gorbachev is remembered as a leader with the courage to bring about change.

China has recognized Gorbachev’s role in healing relations between Moscow and Beijing. Gorbachev was an inspiration to reform thinkers in China in the late 1980s, and his visit to Beijing in 1989 marked a watershed in bilateral relations.

“Mr. Gorbachev made positive contributions to the normalization of relations between China and the Soviet Union. We mourn his passing and extend our condolences to his family,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

However, China’s Communist Party leaders view Gorbachev’s liberal approach as a dangerous display of weakness and a form of capitulation to his moves toward peaceful coexistence with the West.

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Patrick Quinn reports from Bangkok. Andhra journalists from around the world contributed to this report.

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More AP stories on Mikhail Gorbachev here: https://apnews.com/hub/mikhail-gorbachev

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