Boris Johnson has warned the Kremlin is ‘determined to undo the good’ of Mikhail Gorbachev, as he pays a warm tribute to the former Soviet leader’s legacy.
Mr Gorbachev’s death at the age of 91 has prompted an outpouring of tributes from world leaders.
Many have referred to the timing of his death during the worst period in Russian-Western relations since the end of the Cold War.
Mr Johnson, speaking in Lewisham, south-east London on Wednesday, used Mr Gorbachev’s death to warn of the ‘revenge-motivated’ threat posed by Vladimir Putin as he accused Russian leaders to attempt to recreate the Soviet Union.
The Prime Minister said: “Mikhail Gorbachev is one of those people who changed the world and unquestionably changed it for the better. 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 something quite extraordinary.
“And of course, Mikhail Gorbachev is one of those people who triggered a change, a series of changes, which he perhaps had not anticipated.
“Perhaps he paid his own political price for it, but when history is written he will, I think, be one of the authors of fantastic change for the better in the world.
“And what worries me today is that the current leadership in Moscow is intent on undoing the good of Mikhail Gorbachev, and is determined to attempt revenge, an attempt at revenge, to recreate this Soviet empire. , and you see that in Ukraine – this is tragedy, something that Mikhail Gorbachev would have thought absolutely unthinkable, unjustified.
In a post on Twitter on Tuesday evening, Mr Johnson said he was “saddened” to learn of the death of Mr Gorbachev, at a “moment of aggression by Putin in Ukraine”.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Gorbachev was “one of the great figures” of the last century who will “be remembered forever”.
In a tweet, he said: “One of the great figures of the 20th century, Mikhail Gorbachev’s pursuit of reform paved the way for conflict diplomacy.
“He will forever be remembered as the last leader of the Soviet Union who had the courage and conviction to end the Cold War.”
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Mikhail Gorbachev, one of the most important political figures of the late 20th century.
“At a time when the threat of nuclear destruction to the world was very real, he saw the urgent need for rapprochement with the West and for greater openness and reform – glasnost and perestroika – in the Soviet Union from then.
“His leadership helped end the arms race between East and West, end the Cold War and bring down the iron curtain that had divided Europe since World War II.”
The President of the European Commission hailed the late politician’s legacy as “one we will not forget”.
In a post on Twitter, Ursula von der Leyen said: “He played a crucial role in ending the Cold War and bringing down the Iron Curtain.
“It paved the way for a free Europe.
“This legacy is one we will not forget. RIP Mikhail Gorbachev.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said Mr Gorbachev “had done great service” but was “not able to implement all of his visions”, telling BBC Newsnight: “The peoples of Eastern Europe and the German people, and ultimately the Russian people, owe him a great debt of gratitude for the inspiration, for the courage to present these ideas of freedom.
Mr. Kissinger, after again acknowledging that Mr. Gorbachev was unable to implement his full vision, added: “He will go down in history as a man who started historic transformations that were at the benefit of humanity and the Russian people”.
Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak also joined in the tributes, as the former chancellor said Mikhail Gorbachev’s legacy will be “remembered by all of us”.