For his part, Putin, who served as leader of the KGB in East Germany during Gorbachev’s time, has made it clear over the years that he sees the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in Europe as humiliating for Russia considered.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a comparison between the two men that Putin found unflattering as he expressed his admiration for Gorbachev’s part in ending the Cold War.
“At a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, [Gorbachev’s] tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society continues to be an example to all of us,” Johnson said.
Other leaders pitted Putin against Gorbachev in their messages of condolence. sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who met Gorbachev in both Russia and the United States, described him as “a bold leader who was not afraid to face reality.”
Gorbachev “would never be the war criminal that Putin is,” Leahy said.
sen. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) said Gorbachev’s “absence has become widespread amid Putin’s bloody, unprovoked war in Ukraine”.
On Twitter after his death, she paid tribute not only to Gorbachev’s loved ones, but also to pro-democracy Russian opposition leaders, including Alexei Navalny.
Elsewhere in the United States, Representative Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) recalled stopping his car on the Minneapolis highway in 1990 as Gorbachev’s motorcade passed.
“There seemed to be a new, more peaceful and promising world on the horizon,” Phillips said. “I mourn his passing and his courage, as much as I mourn the country he tried so hard to reform.”
Former Secretary of State James Baker III, one of the last remaining Gorbachev-era world leaders, told Reuters: “History will remember Mikhail Gorbachev as a giant who steered his great nation toward democracy. He played the pivotal role in a peaceful end to the Cold War through his decision not to use force to keep the empire together.”
European leaders honored Gorbachev as the leader who ended Russia’s dominance of Eastern Europe, ushering in an era of stability that lasted largely until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
European Union President Ursula von der Leyen celebrated Gorbachev’s legacy in “bring”[ing] along the Iron Curtain. It opened the way for a free Europe.”
Also in Europe, Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin said he was “saddened” by Gorbachev’s death.
“His sense of history and commitment to openness, reform and building bridges with the West have changed the world,” Martin wrote on Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron wrote in French that Gorbachev was “a man of peace” who “changed our common history”.
And British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss — the frontrunner to become Britain’s next prime minister — also praised Gorbachev’s work with the West.
“More than ever, this legacy of cooperation and peace must prevail,” Truss said.