US senators use Gorbachev’s death to bash Russia

Several Democrats used the ex-Soviet leader’s death to denounce the current leadership in Moscow

Current and former US officials praised former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev following the news of his passing on Tuesday, though some used the occasion to criticize current Russian President Vladimir Putin and praise his political enemies.

Gorbachev “changed world history by embracing democracy and a constructive relationship with the US and Europe,” Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) tweeted, using the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats account. “I express my condolences to his family and the Russian people, who today suffer under a dictator hell-bent on rewriting the map of Europe.”

“He was a bold leader who was unafraid to confront reality and to envision an historic, constructive and humane path forward for his country and for the world,” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said, bringing up how he had met Gorbachev personally. “He believed in a modern Russia and would never be the war criminal that Putin is.”

Senator Jeannie Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) called Gorbachev “a man who put peace and the well-being of his country and people before personal ambitions.” 

“It was because of him that we closed the chapter to the Cold War and tore down the iron curtain, ushering in a freer, democratic future for former Soviet nations to prosper,” she added, naming Aleksey Navalny, Vladimir Kara-Murza and other as “Russian activists following in his footsteps for a country accountable to them.”

President Joe Biden, who met Gorbachev in 2009 at the White House, had not issued an official statement as of 8pm on Tuesday. 

Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was among the first to react to the news, tweeting that she was “saddened” to hear of Gorbachev’s passing. 

“He was a man who tried to deliver a better life for his people. His life was consequential because, without him and his courage, it would not have been possible to end the Cold War peacefully,” said Rice, who was secretary of state between 2005 and 2009, and before that George W. Bush’s national security adviser.

Henry Kissinger, who held both posts under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, told the BBC that Gorbachev “performed great services but he was not able to implement all of his visions,” adding that he “was in part destroyed by the developing ideas for which his society was not yet fully ready.”

Former US Ambassador to Moscow (2012-14) Michael McFaul tweeted multiple times about Gorbachev, saying every time how difficult it was to imagine anyone else who had “changed the course of history” in a better way. 

“I was a deep admirer of Gorbachev,” McFaul said in one tweet. “Always enjoyed our conversations,” he said in another.

Gorbachev, 91, died on Tuesday in Moscow. He was the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1990, when he became the first president of the USSR. He turned out to be the last as well, when the Soviet Union broke up at the end of 1991.