Tributes paid to ‘courage’ of Gorbachev as PM hits out at current Russia leaders

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Boris Johnson has warned that the Kremlin is “intent on undoing the good” of Mikhail Gorbachev, as he paid a warm tribute to the legacy of the former Soviet leader.

Mr Gorbachev’s death at the age of 91 has inspired an outpouring of tributes from world leaders.

Many made reference to the timing of his death during the worst period of relations between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

The Prime Minister said: “Mikhail Gorbachev is one of those people who changed the world and unquestionably changed it for the better. When you look at what he did to make Europe whole, free, to give freedom to the countries of the former Soviet Union – it was quite an extraordinary thing.

“And of course Mikhail Gorbachev is one of those people who triggered a change, a series of changes, that perhaps he didn’t anticipate.

“Maybe he paid his own political price for it, but when history is written, he will be, I think, one of the authors of fantastic change for the better in the world.

In a Twitter post late on Tuesday night, Mr Johnson had said he was “saddened” to hear of Mr Gorbachev’s death, at a “time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Gorbachev was “one of the great figures” of the last century who will “forever be remembered”.

In a tweet, he said: “One of the great figures of the 20th century, Mikhail Gorbachev’s pursuit of reform forged a path for diplomacy over conflict.

“He will forever be remembered as the last leader of the Soviet Union who had the courage and conviction to end the Cold War.”

Former prime minister Sir John Major said Mr Gorbachev was “instrumental” in bring the Cold War to an end.

“At the moment it was needed, he acted and spoke for peace, and stood on the right side of history,” Sir John said.

Politics – G7 Summit – QEII Centre, London
Mikhail Gorbachev and then prime minister John Major (Rebecca Naden/PA)

“At a time when the threat to the world of nuclear destruction was very real, he saw the urgent need for rapprochement with the West and for greater openness and reform – glasnost and perestroika – in the then Soviet Union.

“His leadership helped to end the arms race between the East and West, end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since the Second World War.”

In a Twitter post, Ursula von der Leyen said: “He 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. RIP Mikhail Gorbachev.”

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said Mr Gorbachev “performed great services” but was “not able to implement all of his visions”, telling BBC’s Newsnight: “The people of eastern Europe and the German people, and in the end the Russian people, owe him a great debt of gratitude for the inspiration, for the courage in coming forward with these ideas of freedom.”

Mr Kissinger, after again acknowledging that Mr Gorbachev was unable able to implement his full vision, added: “He will still be remembered in history as a man who started historic transformations that were to the benefit of mankind and to the Russian people.”

Conservative leadership contender Rishi Sunak also joined the tributes, as the former chancellor said the legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev will be “remembered by us all”.

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