From Vedomosti, Sept. 1, 2022, https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2022/09/01/938612-spustya-30-let-posle-raspada-sssr. Condensed text:
The memorial service for Mikhail Gorbachev, the last secretary general of the CPSU and the only president of the USSR, will take place in the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions on Sept. 3. The venue saw the farewell ceremonies of all the Soviet leaders except for Nikita Khrushchev. With Gorbachev, this tradition will continue and at the same time end.
After the ceremony, Gorbachev will be buried at Novodevichy Cemetery.
The man who launched perestroika and basically ended the cold war died at the Kremlin’s Central Hospital on Aug. 30.
Immediately after Gorbachev’s death, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin would send a cable to the family the next morning expressing his condolences.
On the morning of Aug. 31, the Kremlin published the text of the cable, where the president refers to Gorbachev as a politician and a statesman who made an enormous impact on the trajectory of world history. “He headed this country at a time of complicated and dramatic change and large-scale international, economic and social challenges. He realized that reforms were necessary and sought to offer solutions to long-standing problems,” the cable read.
In the past, Putin repeatedly decried the results of Gorbachev’s presidency, which ended in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union.
For example, Putin described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a tragedy and the “downfall of historical Russia” in “Russia: Contemporary History,” a documentary aired by Rossia 1 [television] in December 2021. “We became an entirely different country. Suddenly, Russia lost a lot of the things it had been building up for 1,000 years,” Putin said in the film. But his most well-known comment on the issue dates back to 2005, when in his Message to the Federal Assembly Putin called the 1991 events that followed the failed coup a major geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Putin clarified in 2017: “After the break-up of the Soviet Union, 25 million [ethnic] Russians suddenly found themselves living abroad, and this was truly one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century.”
Other top government officials followed the president’s example, expressing their condolences. “Mikhail Gorbachev initiated many important reforms. He was the face of profound changes happening in Russia and throughout the world. He always ardently and argumentatively stuck to his positions, always putting the country first,” said Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.
“[Gorbachev] laid the foundation for profound transformations throughout the world. Later on, after Russia entered a new era, he continued providing valuable assessments and recommendations based on extensive knowledge and experience,” former [Russian] president Dmitry Medvedev, [now] deputy chairman of the Security Council, wrote in his cable, as quoted by government news agencies. However, Medvedev did not post this on his Telegram channel, which is reserved primarily for his militant anti-Western rhetoric.
Medvedev was the most prominent United Russia member who made a positive comment about Gorbachev.
Mixed reactions from politicians.
Gorbachev liberated hundreds of millions of people in Russia and in neighboring countries, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said. A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov was amiable with his comments as well: He described Gorbachev as a much-needed breath of fresh air and hope for momentous change. “He made ‘glasnost’and ‘perestroika’international words that no longer require translation,” Mironov told the media.
On the other hand, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Leonid Slutsky said that, “as a Christian,” he felt “sorry” for Gorbachev. “But I also feel sorry for the great country that was torn down in the days of perestroika and [the emergence of] ‘new thinking,’ to the joy of those who were eager to wipe the Soviet Union off the political map,” he added. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov spoke along the same lines. Instead of expressing his condolences, he dismissed Gorbachev as “essentially a political traitor, akin to [Nazi collaborator Gen. Andrei] Vlasov and his men.”
Most Russians have a rather negative view of Gorbachev, Grigory Kertman, lead analyst at the Public Opinion Foundation, told Vedomosti. In 2021, 18% of the people polled described his historical role as positive and 61% as negative. The overall ratio has been the same for many years, Kertman said. There is an interesting detail, however: The share of young people who view Gorbachev favorably has increased. In 2021, 15% of respondents described Gorbachev as a prominent leader of the 20th century, while 67% did not agree with such a characterization. However, for those aged 18 to 30, the share of those who think Gorbachev was a prominent leader was higher, at 23%, while only 42% did not agree.
When asked to elaborate, those who said Gorbachev played a positive role brought up things like perestroika, glasnost, democracy, the lifting of the Iron Curtain, and a peaceful transition of power. Those who said Gorbachev played a negative role cited the breakup of the Soviet Union. “Young people have a favorable view of Gorbachev because they appreciate the fact that the whole world is open to them. People who dislike Gorbachev feel nostalgic about the Soviet past,” Kertman explained.
This is why the conservative voters of the Russian establishment won’t appreciate any kind remarks about Gorbachev, said political analyst Aleksei Makarkin. This doesn’t apply to Putin as president or Medvedev as a former president, though, because it is only appropriate for them to express their condolences on such an occasion. Political commentator Mikhail Vinogradov thinks that overall, bureaucratic politesse calls for a markedly respectful attitude toward Gorbachev.
To Western leaders, Gorbachev is a great statesman and reformer. German leaders are particularly complimentary of the last Soviet leader, because he made the reunification of their country possible.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted on Aug. 31: “We Germans have an infinitely great deal to thank him for, because his policy of perestroika laid the foundation for overcoming the cold war, clearing away barriers between countries, and reuniting Europe and Germany.” French President Emmanuel Macron called Gorbachev a “man of peace” who “opened the path of freedom to the Russians.”
Reactions from across the Atlantic were also uniformly laudatory. “He believed in glasnost and perestroika – openness and restructuring – not as mere slogans, but as the path forward for the people of the Soviet Union after so many years of isolation and deprivation,” US President Joe Biden said in his statement. Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said: “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.”
Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko expressed his condolences to the family, and stressed that Gorbachev “made a major contribution to easing geopolitical tensions and to global nuclear disarmament.”
Comments by Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas stood out in stark contrast. He told the Delfi [news site]that Gorbachev was a criminal who brutally suppressed popular protests in early 1991 after Lithuania declared independence. “He never repented for that. That’s how he will be remembered. The only good thing about him is that he signed the capitulation of the Soviet Union,” Anusauskas said.
Gorbachev’s legacy is controversial, and people will continue debating over his policies for many years to come, Russian International Affairs Council director Andrei Kortunov said in summary. According to Kortunov, the West admires Gorbachev for “bringing Russia very close to the West.” In addition, Gorbachev is praised because he chose not to use military force in an effort to stop the Soviet Union from falling apart.