Tributes pour in for former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev

Soviet Union's final president dies at 91

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World leaders have paid tribute to former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev after he died at the age of 91.

Gorbachev has been hailed by western leaders for helping open up the Soviet Union to reforms during the 1980s when he was general secretary of the Communist party — landmark policies known as glasnost, or openness, and perestroika, or reform — while maintaining strong channels of dialogue with US president Ronald Reagan during times of high nuclear tension.

His policies, a departure from ideologically hard-line Communist leaders, are credited for a reduction in global nuclear arsenals and the peaceful break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, amid fears the union of states could slip into conflict with Russia — something that happened in later years leading to wars in Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine.

Praise for the late statesman was glowing, and even political rivals, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, sent condolences to Gorbachev’s family.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who was part of the Spanish government when the Iron Curtain fell, remembered Gorbachev as a man who “sent a wind of freedom through Russian society".

"We learnt this night that Mikhail Gorbachev has passed away. I was a member of the Spanish government when the Iron [Curtain] fell, and [during] the coup d'etat in Moscow, I remember very well these historic days. Well, Mikhail Gorbachev sent a wind of freedom to the Russian society," Mr Borell said.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock remembered Gorbachev as a man who “contributed to the end of the Cold War and to the reunification of Germany. And for this we are eternally grateful to him as the Federal Republic of Germany".

Biden tribute

In the US, President Joe Biden praised “a man of remarkable vision and a rare leader”. The president, who had been in US politics for 18 years when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, said “it was easy to understand why so many worldwide held him in such high esteem”. Mr Biden said the decisions Gorbachev made, at considerable personal risk during the Soviet Union's collapse when hardliners opposed its dissolution, were the “acts of a rare leader — one with the imagination to see that a different future was possible and the courage to risk his entire career to achieve it”.

Former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who was an expert on the Soviet Union in the George HW Bush administration in the run-up to the fall of the Communist state, said Gorbachev was “a man who tried to deliver a better life for his people. His life was consequential because, without him and his courage, it would not have been possible to end the Cold War peacefully”.

In Asia, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that “Gorbachev had played an important role in overcoming a post-World War Two division in Europe and the East-West confrontation”.

Updated: August 31, 2022, 3:26 PM