Vladimir Putin has sent official condolences to the family of Mikhail Gorbachev in the first official Kremlin statement on the passing of the last leader of the Soviet Union.
“Mikhail Gorbachev was a politician and statesman who had a huge impact on the course of global history,” Putin said in the telegram, which was published on the Kremlin website.
The carefully worded message dwelled on Gorbachev’s legacy while eliding past the more pointed criticisms that Putin has made about the decisions that led to the fall of the Soviet Union.
“He led our country over the period of complex, dramatic transformations and extensive foreign political, economic, and social challenges. He had a profound understanding of the need for reforms and sought to propose his solutions to the pressing problems.”
Putin had a strained relationship with Gorbachev, who initiated policies that ultimately led to the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin has called the country’s collapse the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”.
Gorbachev had also criticised Putin, carefully at times, for rolling back democratic reforms and reintroducing elements of repression that at times recall the Soviet era.
The Kremlin said no decision had been made yet as to whether Gorbachev would receive a state funeral. It would be highly unusual for a former Kremlin leader, even one as controversial in Russia as Gorbachev, not to receive one.
“No decisions have been made at this point,” said Dmitri Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, adding that the issue would be addressed on Wednesday.
In separate remarks, Peskov had called Gorbachev a “extraordinary, unique man”.
“Gorbachev gave an impetus for the end of the cold war and sincerely wanted to believe that it would be over and an eternal romantic period would begin between the new Soviet Union and the world, the collective west, as we call it,” Peskov said in unofficial, televised remarks.
“That romanticism did not materialise. No romantic period and ‘century of honey’ took place. The bloodlust of our opponents has shown itself. It’s good that we realised and understood it in time.”