West mourns Gorbachev as peace champion, Russia remembers defeats According to Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev attends a Victory Day parade, marking the 73rd anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at Red Square in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2018 REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov / File Photo
By Kevin Liffey
LONDON (Reuters) – Mikhail Gorbachev was mourned in the West on Wednesday as a stalwart statesman who helped end the Cold War, but his death has received a cold response in Russia, corruption entered the war with Ukraine to regain some of the power that the country had lost. when he presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, died at the age of 91 in a Moscow hospital on Tuesday after two years of a serious illness.
During six tumultuous years from 1985 to 1991, he forged arms treaties with the United States and partnerships with Western powers to remove the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War II. second and brought Germany to reunification.
But his internal reforms, which combined economic and political liberalization, helped weaken the Soviet Union (USSR) to the point of disintegration – a moment President Vladimir Putin once called a “geopolitical disaster.” greatest” of the 20th century.
US President Joe Biden called Gorbachev “a remarkable visionary” and, like other Western leaders, emphasized the freedoms he offered, which Putin has gradually eroded.
“As leader of the Soviet Union, he worked with President (Ronald) Reagan to reduce the nuclear arsenals of our two countries… After decades of brutal political repression, he accepted democratic reforms,” Biden said.
“The result is a safer and freer world for millions of people.”
It took Putin more than 15 hours to release the contents of a condolence cable in which he said that Gorbachev had “a tremendous impact on the course of world history” and “deeply understood that reform was necessary.” ” to solve the problems of the Soviet Union. in the 1980s.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Gorbachev “a man of peace, whose choices have opened the way to freedom for Russians”.
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in communist-ruled East Germany, said she feared that Gorbachev’s Moscow would crush an uprising against the communist regime in 1989, as it had done. elsewhere in Eastern Europe in previous decades.
“But… no tanks rolled, no shots fired.”
In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chancellor Merkel’s successor, Olaf Scholz, abandoned decades of derision to make Germany’s foreign and defense stance much stronger.
‘DEMOCRACY HAS Fail’
He said that Gorbachev’s “perestroika” reforms helped bring down the Iron Curtain and unify Germany, adding:
“He died at a time not only when democracy in Russia had failed … but also when Russia and Russian President Putin had dug new graves in Europe and started a terrible war.”
While Western news agencies reported at length, Russian media paid little attention to Gorbachev’s death.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told an educational forum that Gorbachev’s “romanticism” about cooperation with the West was misplaced. “The bloodlust of our opponents has shown itself,” he said.
The Interfax news agency quoted the Kremlin as saying it had not yet decided whether Gorbachev would be allowed to hold a state funeral.
“‘Perestroika’ has long been history, but today it is history,” said Sergei Naryshkin, the director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service and one of the “siloviki” or powerful people close to Putin. We all have to deal with its consequences.
“Gorbachev had to lead the country during a very difficult period, facing many external and internal challenges, without finding an appropriate response.”
After decades of tension and confrontation during the Cold War, Gorbachev brought the Soviet Union closer to the West than at any point since World War II.
But his legacy was finally destroyed when the February 24 invasion of Ukraine brought Western sanctions on Moscow, and politicians in both Russia and the West began talking about a new Cold War – or worse.
“We are all orphans,” said Alexei Venediktov, head of the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, which closed after coming under pressure to cover the Ukraine war.
When pro-democracy protests rocked the Soviet bloc countries in communist Eastern Europe in 1989, Gorbachev refrained from using force, breaking the legacy of previous Soviet leaders here, who sent tanks to defeat the uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
But the series of largely bloodless revolutions fueled aspirations for self-rule in the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, which disintegrated within two years in turmoil.
Gorbachev – who was briefly deposed in August 1991 by party hardliners attempting a coup – fought in vain to prevent that collapse.
“The era of Gorbachev was the era of perestroika, the era of hope, the era of our entry into a world without rockets … but there was a miscalculation: we didn’t know well about it. country,” said Vladimir Shevchenko, head of Gorbachev’s protocol office when he was leader of the Soviet Union.
The RIA news agency quoted him as saying: “Our union broke up, it was a tragedy and it was his tragedy.
When he became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, at the age of 54, Gorbachev set out to restore the system by introducing limited political and economic freedoms, but the reforms of the Soviet Union. he was out of control.
His policy of “glasnost” allowed previously unthinkable criticism of the party and state, but also encouraged nationalists to begin pushing for independence in the Baltic republics such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and other places.
Many Russians never forgave Gorbachev for the turmoil his reforms had caused, seeing the subsequent drop in their standard of living as too high a price to pay for democracy.
Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the part of Ukraine now occupied by pro-Moscow forces, said Gorbachev had “deliberately led the Union (USSR) to collapse” and called him a traitor. multiple.
Ruslan Grinberg, a freelance economist and friend, told Zvezda news agency after visiting Gorbachev in the hospital: “He gave us all our freedom – but we didn’t know what to do with it. ”