Praise and Blame: How Russia Reacted to Gorbachev’s Death

The death of last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev drew mixed reactions from Russians on Wednesday, with criticism voiced alongside tributes, reflecting the Nobel Prize-winning leader’s polarizing legacy in the country he called home.

Many supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin – who described the collapse of the Soviet Union overseen by Gorbachev as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” – were quick to list Gorbachev’s failures, while prominent opposition figures characterized the death of the Soviet leader. as a personal loss.

In brief condolence letter On Wednesday, Putin called Gorbachev “a statesman who had a huge impact on the trajectory of world history.”

“He led the country in a time of difficult and dramatic changes,” Putin said. “He knew very well that reforms were needed and sought to offer his own solutions.”

Others were open with their disdain for Gorbachev’s political legacy.

“As a Christian, I mourn… Just as I mourn the great country that has been shattered by processes of perestroika and the new thought, which helped those who wanted to erase the USSR from the political map of the world”, said Deputy of the State Duma Leonid Slutsky.

Putin’s official spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called Gorbachev’s death a “great loss for our country”, while denouncing the ex-leader’s alleged naivety vis-à-vis the West.

“There was no romantic period… The bloodlust of our adversaries was revealed. It’s a good thing we realized that and figured it out in time.” cited Peskov as saying in apparent reference to Russia’s justifications for its invasion of Ukraine.

According to historian Vladislav Zubok, author of “Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union.”

“When you’re going through that, you kind of have to blame somebody, and people blame Gorbachev,” Zubok told the Moscow Times.

Unsurprisingly, Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said on Wednesday that Gorbachev was a leader whose rule brought “absolute sadness, misfortune and trouble” to “all the people of our country,” the report said. official TASS news agency. reported.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin was among those who had a more favorable view of Gorbachev, saying in a statement that the ex-leader was a “brilliant statesman”.

Meanwhile, Russia’s main opposition voices were largely united in mourning the loss of someone they saw as a liberal ally and supporter of democracy.

“We all became orphans. But not everyone realized it”, wrote ex-editor of the Ekho Moskvy radio station Alexei Venediktov.

Exiled tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky said Gorbachev’s death was a “personal loss”.

And imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny – who said he learned of Gorbachev’s death over loudspeakers in his prison – described Gorbachev’s willingness to leave office peacefully as “a great achievement by former USSR standards”.

“I am sure that his life and his story, which played a central role in the events of the end of the 20th century, will be evaluated far more favorably by posterity than by contemporaries,” Navalny said.

Nobel Prize-winning editor of Novaya Gazeta Dmitry Muratov wrote in an article Wednesday that Gorbachev gave the Russians “thirty years of peace without the threat of global nuclear war.”

“The man named Gorby no longer stands between the world and a nuclear explosion. Who could replace him? Who?” Muratov said.

Others recalled the more specific achievements of the former leader, with former Chief Rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmid, who left Russia over his opposition to the invasion of Ukraine, praising Gorbachev for having lifted the travel restrictions imposed on Soviet citizens.

“Three million Soviet Jews owe their freedom to him”, Goldschmid tweeted.

The Kremlin has yet to decide whether there will be a state funeral for Gorbachev, according to Putin’s spokesman Peskov, the Interfax news agency reported.

“The procedure will depend on the wishes of relatives and relatives. There is no information yet,” Peskov said.

But, according to unidentified sources cited by Interfax earlier Wednesday, the last Soviet leader is unlikely to be buried with state honors.

If true, such a move would be indicative of the Kremlin’s reluctance to commemorate the country’s former leaders and its ambiguous feelings for Gorbachev’s legacy.

“It’s outrageous…but I’m not surprised,” said historian Zubok.

“There is no longer a state called the Soviet Union…so it would be a bit like having a state funeral for Emperor Franz Joseph in Austria-Hungary after it collapsed.”

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