Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev accused the United States of "rubbing its hands with glee" over the demise of the Soviet Union.
Mikhail Gorbachev, last Soviet Union president, dead at age 91
02:48 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The death of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, known for his pivotal role in ending the Cold War and introducing key reforms to the USSR, has prompted an outpouring of condolences and tributes from world leaders.

Gorbachev died age 91 on Tuesday following a long illness, according to Russian state news agencies. He was the final leader of the Soviet Union, serving from 1985 until its collapse in 1991.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences and sent a message to Gorbachev’s family and friends on Wednesday.

In an official letter published on the Kremlin’s website, Putin expressed his “deepest condolences” to Gorbachev’s relatives and friends, saying the former Soviet leader “had a huge impact on the course of world history.”

He said Gorbachev led “our country during a period of complex, dramatic changes, large-scale foreign policy, and economic and social challenges,” adding that “he deeply understood that reforms were necessary.”

“I will especially note the great humanitarian, charitable, and educational activities that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev has been conducting in recent years.”

The two leaders were often ideologically opposed, with Putin, who served in the KGB security agency during Gorbachev’s time in office, referring to the demise of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the twentieth century during a 2005 speech.

Earlier this year, the Gorbachev Foundation, a research institute set up by the former leader to promote “democratic values,” issued a statement two days after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine calling for “an early cessation of hostilities and (the) immediate start of peace negotiations.”

“There is nothing more precious in the world than human lives,” the statement said.

European leaders, meanwhile, praised Gorbachev’s legacy, with French President Emmanuel Macron calling the former Soviet leader “a man of peace whose choices opened a path to freedom for Russians.”

“His commitment to peace in Europe changed our common history,” Macron said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg praised Gorbachev’s “historic reforms” on Wednesday, saying they “opened the possibility to a partnership between Russia and NATO.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: “We will never forget that perestroika (restructuring) made possible that Russia could try to establish democracy and that democracy and freedom became possible in Europe, that Germany could be united, that the Iron Curtain disappeared.”

Scholz added that Gorbachev died during a time when “not only the democracy in Russia has failed … but also Russia and the Russian President Putin draws new trenches in Europe.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in a statement: “His desire for peace and his opposition to an imperialist vision of Russia earned him the Nobel Prize. These are timely messages in the face of the tragedy of Ukraine’s invasion.”

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said on Twitter that Gorbachev had “opened the way for a free Europe.”

“He played a crucial role to end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain,” she wrote.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement, “I always admired the courage and integrity he showed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion.

“In a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all.”

In a statement on Tuesday, United States President Joe Biden called Gorbachev “a man of remarkable vision.”

“As leader of the USSR, he worked with President (Ronald) Reagan to reduce our two countries’ nuclear arsenals, to the relief of people worldwide praying for an end to the nuclear arms race,” Biden said.