World reacts to death of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev

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Leaders from around the world continued paying tribute Wednesday to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, after his death at the age of 91 was confirmed the previous day. President Joe Biden called Gorbachev "a man of remarkable vision," praising the reforms the Soviet leader enacted in the final years of the USSR.

"These were the acts of a rare leader — one with the imagination to see that a different future was possible and the courage to risk his entire career to achieve it," Mr. Biden said in his statement. "The result was a safer world and greater freedom for millions of people."

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called Gorbachev "a one-of-a kind statesman who changed the course of history."

"The world has lost a towering global leader, committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace," Guterres wrote on Twitter.

The president of the European Union Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted: "Mikhail Gorbachev was a trusted and respected leader. 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."

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he "always admired the courage & integrity he showed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion," and France's Emannuel Macron said in a tweet, posted in both French and Russian, that Gorbachev had been "a man of peace whose choices opened the way to freedom for Russians."

After rising to power in 1985, Gorbachev introduced policies that brought reform and new openness to the Communist regime, ultimately leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet state in 1991.

That legacy has made Gorbachev a less-loved former leader among many in his own country, however. Many Russians — including current President Vladimir Putin — have lamented the end not only the Soviet Union's existence, but its position as a global superpower.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) talks to former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on December 21, 2004, before a press conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Putin at Gottorf castle in Schleswig, Germany. / Credit: JOCHEN LUEBKE/DDP/AFP/Getty
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) talks to former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on December 21, 2004, before a press conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Putin at Gottorf castle in Schleswig, Germany. / Credit: JOCHEN LUEBKE/DDP/AFP/Getty

Putin issued a message to Gorbachev's family on Wednesday, nonetheless, offering his "deepest condolences" on the passing of his predecessor.

"Mikhail Gorbachev was a politician and statesman who had a huge impact on the course of world history. He led our country during a period of complex, dramatic changes, large-scale foreign policy, economic and social challenges. He deeply understood that reforms were necessary, he strove to offer his own solutions to urgent problems," said Putin in the message shared on the Telegram social media app. "I will especially note the great humanitarian, charitable, and educational activities that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev has been conducting in recent years."

While in office, Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987.

President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 8, 1987, as they met for the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. / Credit: Ron Sandler/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 8, 1987, as they met for the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. / Credit: Ron Sandler/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

In a statement Tuesday, Fred Ryan, the chairman of the board at the Reagan Foundation and Institute, wrote about how the two leaders went from adversaries to friends.

"It was General Secretary Gorbachev with whom President Reagan would finally have that long-sought opportunity to form a relationship which led to a lessening of tensions between Washington and Moscow, and eventually to meaningful arms reduction," Ryan wrote.

He added that former first lady Nancy Reagan was touched when Gorbachev attended her late husband's funeral in Washington, D.C. in 2004.

The George and Barbara Bush Foundation wrote on Twitter that the leaders "worked closely to ensure the end of the Soviet Union would be peaceful, leading to freedom for millions throughout Eastern Europe."

"President Bush often said that President Gorbachev 'stuck his neck out at a critical time in history to guarantee world peace.' Our thoughts & prayers are with the Gorbachev family," the foundation said.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also served as national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration and was an expert on Soviet affairs, remembered Gorbachev as "a man who tried to deliver a better life for his people."

"Without him and his courage," she tweeted, "it would not have been possible to end the Cold War peacefully."

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