Gorbachev’s contradictory legacy: The West praises him, Russia does not mourn

With laudatory comments, the Western world bids farewell to the last leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachevhighlighting the contribution of the architect of perestroika and glasnost to world peace, at the end of Cold War and to the relaxation of authoritarianism in his homeland. In the same Russiabut accounts typically range from skepticism to disdain, as politicians and ordinary citizens alike cannot forget their country’s rapid decline during the days of a politician who was in the 1980s the leader of an empire and the following decade its promoter Pizza Hut and her Louis Vuitton.

The intentions of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, were good. He introduced reforms in his country and brought a peaceful end to the Cold War. However, he did not manage to prevent the collapse of his homeland and in the memory of many he is the former communist who starred in a Pizza Hut advertisement.

He described the deceased as a “rare leader”. US President Joe Bidenwhile the one born in East Germany Angela Merkel she stated that Gorbachev “wrote world history” and profoundly influenced her own life as well. Along the same lines, her successor in the German chancellorship, Olaf Scholz, expressed the gratitude of the Germans for the contribution of the last president of the USSR to the bloodless German unification, not failing to distinguish him from Putin and the war he is waging in Ukraine. Differentiating the pacifist Gorbachev from the “imperialist” Putin was the common denominator in the messages of several Western leaders, such as the Italian caretaker prime minister Mario Draghi and the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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In Russia, official reactions were cautious. In his short condolence telegram o President Putin noted that Gorbachev was a man of “enormous influence on the course of world history”, who “realized the need for reforms to deal with acute problems”. Recording the obvious, without any positive or negative evaluation. More eloquent was Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who accused him of “romantic, unfulfilled expectations” for the behavior of a “bloodthirsty” West towards Russia. Officials of the ruling party blamed him for the dissolution of the USSR, while K.K. called him a “traitor”. Only the marginally influential liberal party Yabloko and Alexei Navalny praised him.

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German-born Angela Merkel said Gorbachev “wrote world history” and influenced her own life. [EPA / JESCO DENZEL]

Western leaders distinguish the architect of perestroika from the authoritarian Putin, but Russians see him differently.

Ukraine and Lithuania

Surprisingly, but not unreasonably, negative assessments were also expressed by countries that are among the fiercest critics of today’s Russia. The Ukrainians they haven’t forgotten that Gorbachev, despite his criticism of Putin’s authoritarian turn at home, welcomed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, prompting Kyiv to bar him from entering the country. For his part, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis recalled that Gorbachev ordered Soviet troops to invade his country in January 1991 to crush the independence movement, leaving behind 14 dead and 140 wounded.

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Cordial relations with the then leader of East Germany Erich Honecker, who welcomed him at the airport of H. Berlin in 1987. [Α.Ρ.]

Yesterday afternoon, the Gorbachev Foundation announced that the funeral of the deceased will take place on Saturday, September 3 in Moscow, specifically in the Hall of Columns, in the House of Trade Unions, where several leaders of the Soviet Union, including Joseph Stalin, were laid to rest. The body of Mikhail Sergeevich will be buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery, next to his wife, Raisa. Poets, intellectuals and leading politicians such as Boris Yeltsin and Nikita Khrushchev rest in the same cemetery – the rest of the USSR leaders were buried within the Kremlin walls. It was not known until last night whether a state funeral would be held, nor whether Vladimir Putin would attend the ceremony.

Vladimir Putin
President of Russia

“Mikhail Gorbachev had a huge impact on the course of world history, having realized the necessity of radical reforms. At the same time, we cannot ignore the important philanthropic, humanitarian and educational work of his wife, Raisa.”

President of the USA

“Gorbachev had the courage to admit that things had to change. These were the acts of a rare leader, with the imagination to envision a new future and the courage to risk his career to achieve it. The result was a safer world and greater freedom for millions of people.”

President of France

“The former leader of the USSR will go down in history as a man of peace and an important reformer, whose choices opened the way to freedom for Russians. His commitment to maintaining peace in Europe changed the shared history of our continent.”

Prime Minister of Great Britain

“I am saddened by the news of the death of Mikhail Gorbachev. I have always admired the courage and integrity he displayed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion. At a time when Putin is attacking Ukraine, his insistence on opening up Soviet society continues to set an example for us all.”

The article is in Greek

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