Boris Johnson has paid tribute to the “courage and integrity” of Mikhail Gorbachev following his death at the age of 91.
The prime minister joined political figures from around the globe in praising the pivotal contribution the former Soviet leader made in ending the Cold War in the 1980s.
In a Twitter post, Johnson contrasted Gorbachev’s leadership with that of Russian president Vladimir Putin,
He said: “I’m saddened to hear of the death of Gorbachev.
“I always admired the courage and integrity he showed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion.
“In a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all.”
Speaking outside a police station in Lewisham, south east London, this morning, Johnson went further, saying Gorbachev had “changed the world and unquestionably changed it for the better”.
He said: “When you look at what he did to make Europe whole, free, to give freedom to the countries of the former Soviet Union – it was quite an extraordinary thing.
“And of course, Mikhail Gorbachev is one of those people who triggered a change, a series of changes, that perhaps he didn’t anticipate.
“Maybe he paid his own political price for it but when history is written, he will be, I think, one of the authors of fantastic change for the better in the world.
“And what I worry about today is that the current leadership in Moscow is intent on undoing the good of Mikhail Gorbachev, and is intent on a revanchist attempt, a revenge driven attempt, to recreate that Soviet empire, and you’re seeing that in Ukraine.
“That’s the tragedy, something that Mikhail Gorbachev would have thought was absolutely unthinkable, unwarranted.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said Gorbachev was “one of the great figures” of last century who will “forever be remembered”.
In a tweet, he said: “One of the great figures of the 20th Century, Mikhail Gorbachev’s pursuit of reform forged a path for diplomacy over conflict.
“He will forever be remembered as the last leader of the Soviet Union who had the courage and conviction to end the Cold War.”
Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss, widely expected to succeed Johnson as prime minister next week, tweeted: “Mikhail Gorbachev was a remarkable statesman who made a profound contribution to global security and stability, working with Western leaders to end the Cold War. Now more than ever, this legacy of cooperation and peace must prevail.”
Truss’s Tory leadership rival, Rishi Sunak, tweeted this morning: “Gorbachev’s courage and vision helped bring peace to Europe and built a freer, more open society for millions. His legacy will be remembered by us all.”