World leaders reacted to the death of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, in Moscow at the age of 91 on Tuesday, with Western leaders hailing him for opening up the Soviet Union and creating the conditions for the end of the Cold War.
To say he risked his career is perhaps an understatement — the dislike toward Gorbachev among many Soviet loyalists was so clear that it became the focus of a Pizza Hut commercial in which he starred.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his “deepest condolences,” a spokesman told the Interfax news agency, adding that Putin will “send a telegram of condolences to his family and friends.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Gorbachev “is a statesman who will forever remain in the history of our country. Many argue about the role he played. But the fact that he was an extraordinary person, a unique person, is unequivocal. He is known, remembered and will be remembered all over the world.
“Gorbachev gave impetus to the end of the Cold War, and he sincerely wanted to believe that it would end and that an eternal romantic period would begin between the new Soviet Union and the West,” Peskov continued, and used the occasion to slam the West, which has backed Ukraine in its fight against invading Russia. “This romanticism did not come true ... the bloodthirstiness of our opponents showed itself.”
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said he was “deeply saddened” by Gorbachev’s passing. “Mikhail Gorbachev was a one-of-a kind statesman who changed the course of history,” he wrote on Twitter. “The world has lost a towering global leader, committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace.”
In China, where the Communist Party views Gorbachev’s reforms as a cautionary tale to be avoided, reactions were muted with only brief obituaries in the state press and the Foreign Ministry lauding his “active contributions toward the normalization of China-Soviet relations.”
The state-run outlet Global Times, however, cited online reaction among Chinese citizens and academics and wrote that “in a historical reflection, Gorbachev is naive and immature,” adding that he would be remembered as “a tragic figure who catered to the US and the West without principle.”
Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, an expert on the Soviet Union and Russia, said on Twitter that Gorbachev’s life was “consequential because, without him and his courage, it would not have been possible to end the Cold War peacefully.”
Fred Ryan, chairman of the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, said in a statement that former first lady Nancy Reagan had been “extremely touched” when Gorbachev attended Reagan’s state funeral.
“It was yet one more confirmation that the two men had really formed a friendship and not just a business relationship,” said Ryan, who is also publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post.
“Against all odds, ‘Ron and Mikhail,’ as they eventually came to call each other, had found a way to make the planet safer together,” he said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a news conference that “Gorbachev played an important role in overcoming a post-World War II division in Europe and the East-West confrontation.” Kishida, who hails from Hiroshima, said Gorbachev had “left behind great [accomplishments] as a world leader supporting the abolishment of nuclear weapons.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter that “in a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, [Gorbachev’s] tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all.”
Mary Ilyushina and Lyric Li contributed to this report.