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World leaders gave their final farewells to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union whose reformist national and international policies helped end the Cold War but also resulted in the collapse of the USSR, CBS News reported Wednesday.
Russian media said the former leader passed away at the age of 91 after suffering an unspecified “long and grave illness.”
Gorbachev came to power in 1985 and introduced a series of reforms that provided more openness to the repressive Communist regime in an effort to restructure the country’s society and ailing economy, the New York Times added. But these changes resulted in a chain of events that eventually led to the fall of the Soviet Union.
He is fondly remembered in the West for signing a series of agreements with the US that eliminated for the first time an entire class of nuclear weapons, and began the withdrawal of most Soviet tactical nuclear weapons from Eastern Europe.
To many in the West, Gorbachev has been hailed a hero: US President Joe Biden described him as “a man of remarkable vision,” while his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, called Gorbachev “a man of peace whose choices opened the way to freedom for Russians.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the last Soviet leader played “a crucial role to end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain.”
“It opened the way for a free Europe. This legacy is one we will not forget,” she added.
But at home, his legacy is one mixed with praise and condemnation because of the USSR’s fall: Many Russians – including President Vladimir Putin – have lamented the end of not only the Soviet Union’s existence, but its position as a global superpower.
Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
Still, the Russian leader offered his “deepest condolences,” noting that Gorbachev “had a huge impact on the course of world history.”
“I will especially note the great humanitarian, charitable, and educational activities that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev has been conducting in recent years,” he said in a message shared on the Telegram social media app.
Meanwhile, Chinese officials offered a more neutral response to Gorbachev’s death, whose legacy is seen as a cautionary tale for China’s ruling Communist party, CNN noted.
For an entire generation of Chinese leaders, Gorbachev has come to symbolize the dangers of embracing democratic reforms, with officials long predicting that Communist-ruled China would suffer a fate similar to that of its former ideological cousin, the USSR, if internal politics are not reined in.
Gorbachev’s death comes six months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that declared independence shortly after the dissolution of the USSR.
While he made no public statements on the invasion, his foundation called for a “speedy cessation of hostilities.”
But radio journalist Aleksei A. Venediktov, a friend of the late leader, said in an interview that Gorbachev was “upset” about the war, viewing it as having undermined “his life’s work.”