Mr Gorbachev ended the Cold War without bloodshed, but failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union. The former Premier of the USSR died on Tuesday at the age of 91.
Tributes have been paid from around the world with US President Joe Biden praising Mr Gorbachev’s remarkable vision and embrace of democratic reform.
His record stands in stark contrast with the current Russian president who has reignited war in Europe through his invasion of Ukraine, isolated his country from the West and cracked down on freedom in Russia.
Senior Russian journalist Alexei Venediktov, who knew the Nobel Peace Prize winner, told Russian Forbes in July: “I can tell you that he is upset. Of course, he understands that… this was his life’s work.
“Freedoms were brought by Gorbachev. Everyone forgot who gave freedom to the Russian Orthodox Church? Who was it? Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson highlighted the difference between Putin and his peace-making predecessor in a tribute.
He said: “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.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax that Putin had expressed his deepest condolences, adding: “Tomorrow he will send a telegram of condolences to his family and friends.”
After decades of Cold War tension and confrontation, Mr Gorbachev brought the Soviet Union closer to the West than at any point since World War Two.
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Former Russian liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky said: “He gave freedom to hundreds of millions of people in Russia and around it, and also half of Europe.
“Few leaders in history have had such a decisive influence on their time.”
Mr Gorbachev saw his legacy wrecked late in life, as the invasion of Ukraine brought Western sanctions crashing down on Moscow and politicians in both Russia and the West began to speak of a new Cold War.
Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “Gorbachev died in a symbolic way when his life’s work – freedom – was effectively destroyed by Putin.”
Russian state news agency TASS reports Mr Gorbachev will be buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife Raisa, who died in 1999.
Alexei Venediktov, head of a liberal media radio outlet which closed down after coming under pressure over its coverage of the Ukraine war, said: “We are all orphans now. But not everyone realises it.”
When pro-democracy protests rocked Soviet bloc nations in communist eastern Europe in 1989, Mr Gorbachev refrained from using force – unlike previous Kremlin leaders who sent tanks to crush uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The protests fuelled aspirations for autonomy in the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, which disintegrated over the next two years in chaotic fashion.
Mr Gorbachev – who was briefly deposed in an August 1991 coup by party hardliners – struggled in vain to prevent the collapse.
Vladimir Shevchenko, who headed Gorbachev’s protocol office when he was Soviet leader, told RIA news agency: “The era of Gorbachev is the era of perestroika, the era of hope, the era of our entry into a missile-free world.
“But there was one miscalculation: we did not know our country well. Our union fell apart, that was a tragedy and his tragedy.”
Mr Gorbachev’s biographer William Taubman, a professor emeritus at Amherst College in Massachusetts, said: “He was a good man – he was a decent man. I think his tragedy is in a sense that he was too decent for the country he was leading.”
Many Russians have never forgiven Mr Gorbachev for the chaos his reforms unleashed, considering the plunge in their living standards too high a price to pay for democracy.
Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in a part of Ukraine now occupied by pro-Moscow forces, said Gorbachev had deliberately led the [Soviet] Union to its demise and called him a traitor.