MOSCOW — George H.W. Bush’s presidency will be forever linked with the Soviet Union’s collapse. But in Moscow, his death provoked an outpouring of nostalgia Saturday for an American leader who chose careful diplomacy over brinkmanship as the postwar order was thrown into disarray.
Russians recalled bygone days of summits, treaties and transatlantic statecraft — a contrast to a present tableau of disruptions and uncertainties from the Trump White House.
The news of Bush’s death arrived on the day that Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to meet President Trump in Argentina — until a last-minute cancellation-by-tweet.
Putin made no mention of those circumstances that in his letter Saturday to the president’s son, former president George W. Bush. But his condolences, released by the Kremlin, underscored how Russian officials view the current chaotic state of U.S.-Russian relations.
“George Bush Sr. was well aware of the importance of a constructive dialogue between the two major nuclear powers and took great efforts to strengthen Russian-American relations and cooperation in international security,” Putin said.
Konstantin Kosachyov, a Russian lawmaker who heads the foreign relations committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament, described the Bush era as “probably the peak of trust between our two states.”
And former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who marked an end to the Cold War together with Bush at their summit in Malta in December 1989, praised “the attention, amiability and ease in communication” of the entire Bush family.
“We had the opportunity to work together during the era of great changes,” Gorbachev said, according to the Interfax news agency. “It was a dramatic period, which required everyone to be tremendously responsible.”
Many Russians laud Bush for having treated their country with respect during the painful last years of the Soviet Union, drawing a contrast with what they often see as a disregard for Russian interests under the administrations that followed.
Bush and Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991, which drastically cut the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. Its successor treaty, New START, is due to expire in just over two years. The future of the arms-control groundwork laid by Gorbachev, Bush and his predecessor, President Ronald Reagan, is now increasingly in doubt. Trump has vowed to pull out of a 1987 treaty that limits intermediate and short-range nuclear weapons.
Although he praised Bush on Saturday, the 87-year-old Gorbachev had previously criticized the former president for not helping Russia get back on its feet as its economy reeled from the Soviet collapse. “There was a critical year during the Bush administration between 1989 and 1990 when substantial aid from the United States could have made a difference,” Gorbachev said in an interview for a 2011 book. “But Western leaders stood on the sidelines, remaining forever skeptical.”
In Germany, both Bush and Gorbachev are hailed for their key roles in bringing down the Berlin Wall. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday said Bush was “a true friend” of the German people. He “recognized the significance of that historic hour and gave us his trust and his support.”
Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf hailed his decision to lead the international coalition that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991. Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, said Bush never “forgot the Kuwaiti people and will remain in their memory,” according to the state-run KUNA news agency.
Neighboring Saudi Arabia described Bush as a “true friend.”
“The kingdom will never forget his resolve during the Gulf War of 1991,” said a statement from the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
British Prime Minister Theresa May called Bush “a great statesman” who had a pivotal role in “navigating a peaceful end to the Cold War he made the world a safer place for generations to come.”
Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.