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Dignitaries around the world remember the historic legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader whose reforms helped end the Cold War and liberate Eastern Europe from communism.

Gorbachev died on August 30 in Moscow at the age of 91 following a long illness.

The news sparked an immediate wave of praise from foreign leaders, particularly in the West, for the man who sparked a watershed moment in world history.

The reception in Russia and some of the other former Soviet states has been much colder, with Moscow yet to commit to a state funeral for the former leader.

Gorbachev was ‘a unique statesman who changed the course of history. He did more than any other individual to bring about a peaceful end to the Cold War,’ says UN secretary-general , Antonio Guterres.

“The world has lost an imposing world leader, a committed multilateralist and a tireless defender of peace,” said Guterres, who also served as Portugal’s prime minister from 1995 to 2002.

US President Joe Biden called Gorbachev “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”.

Biden said the former Soviet leader – who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 – made the world safer and freer for millions.

Gorbachev, born in southern Russia in 1931, took over as head of the Communist Party and the Soviet leadership in 1985 at a time of growing tension between the Soviet Union and the West.

A generation younger than many of his contemporaries, he ushered in political and economic changes known as glasnost (opening up) and perestroika (restructuring) that helped trigger the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of the Germany and, ultimately, the demise of the Soviet Union.

On August 31, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hailed Gorbachev’s role in reunifying Germany, but lamented that his attempt to establish lasting democracy in Russia had “failed”, a thinly veiled criticism of Putin, which rolled back many of the freedoms liberated by glasnost.

“The democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe took advantage of the fact that he was then in power in Russia,” Scholz said. However, Gorbachev “died at a time when democracy failed in Russia”.

The former Soviet leader’s death comes as Putin continues his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, jailing citizens who speak out against the war or even refer to it as anything other than a “special military operation”.

Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also slammed the current Kremlin leader by praising Gorbachev.

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

French President Emmanuel Macron said Gorbachev was a “man of peace” whose decision opened a “road to freedom” for Russians and “changed” European history.

China, like the Soviet Union a one-party state, praised Gorbachev but not for his political reforms.

Beijing has highlighted its role in improving ties between Beijing and Moscow in the 1980s and 1990s after decades of tension over ideological differences and competing geopolitical interests.

“Mikhail Gorbachev has made positive contributions to the normalization of Sino-Soviet relations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press conference, adding, “We mourn his death and express our condolences. his family”.

Gorbachev’s critics noted the sometimes violent response of the Soviet authorities to the impending breakup of the Soviet Union, the economic collapse that engulfed many states, and the decline of Moscow’s geopolitical influence.

In January 1991, Soviet troops killed 14 people in Lithuania’s main television tower in an attack Gorbachev denied ordering. In Latvia, five demonstrators were killed by Soviet special forces.

“Lithuans will not glorify Gorbachev”, tweeted Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, son of Vytautas Landsbergis, who led the Lithuanian independence movement in the early 1990s.

“We will never forget the simple fact that his army murdered civilians to prolong his regime’s occupation of our country. His soldiers fired on our unarmed protesters and crushed them under his tanks. This is how we will remember him,” he added.

WATCH: Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who died aged 91, presided over the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of the Cold War.

Gorbachev was politically weakened by a radical coup in August 1991 that failed largely due to popular resistance led by Boris Yeltsin.

At the end of December, he resigned as President of the Soviet Union, ending Moscow’s empire.

Russia’s transition to a market economy after the Soviet collapse was accompanied by runaway inflation, widespread job losses and poverty.

In an attempt to find a scapegoat, many Russians have pointed to the reforms introduced by Gorbachev and his successor Yeltsin.

Putin’s reaction

Putin, who called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century”, issued an unbiased statement after Gorbachev’s death.

“Mikhail Gorbachev was a politician and statesman who had an enormous influence on the course of world history,” reads the message of condolence to relatives released by the Kremlin on August 30.

Gorbachev led the country through a time of “dramatic change” and recognized the great need for reform at the time, according to Putin’s message.

“I would particularly like to highlight the great humanitarian, charitable and educational activity that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev has carried out over the past few years,” he added.

A more critical assessment of Gorbachev’s legacy came from Oleg Morozov, a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, or Duma, representing Putin’s ruling United Russia party.

He called Gorbachev one of “co-authors” of a new world order this in Moscow’s eyes was “unfair”.

Gorbachev will be buried on September 3 in Moscow next to his wife. It is unclear whether he will receive a state funeral.

Otherwise, he would be the first former Kremlin leader not to receive a state funeral since the ousting of General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, who died in 1971.

Grigory Yavlinsky, a liberal politician who as a Soviet economist drafted a plan for the transition from a communist state to a free-market state, said Russians critical of Gorbachev needed to do some soul-searching.

Gorbachev “gave freedom to hundreds of millions of people in Russia and near abroad as well as to half of Europe”.

“How we in Russia used the freedom that was given to us — [how we used] this great opportunity – it is our responsibility,” he said.

With reporting from Izvestia, TASS, Interfax, Reuters, Forbes and The New York Times

Rose D. Jones