|The death of Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president whose reforms ultimately led to the fall of the USSR and the demise of communism in central and eastern Europe, was met with an outpouring of praise – at least in the west.
Effusive leaders hailed Gorbachev as a “one-of-a-kind” head of state whose “courage and conviction ended the cold war” and whose “commitment to peace in Europe changed our shared history”. He was described as a “rare” and “towering” figure.
In Russia, however, the reaction was much cooler – unsurprisingly, perhaps, because for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s current president, the end of the USSR remains a “genuine tragedy” and “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”.
Putin is the anti-Gorbachev. Where the latter pursued glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) and sought a detente with Washington, Paris and London, the former heads a brutally authoritarian regime at semi-declared war with the west.
So Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine might be seen as the final end of Gorbachev’s dream – that (as Jonathan Steele put it in his obituary) of a Russia that “gave Russians room to breathe” and “a grand reconciliation between east and west”.
Recommended reading on the death of the man Steele, a former Guardian Moscow correspondent, called “the most important world figure of the last quarter of the 20th century”: Pjotr Sauer on “dual reality”, and Julian Borger on a legacy destroyed.
Despite being celebrated across liberal democracies, the former Soviet leader was reviled and unpopular in Russia
Welcome to ‘the end of abundance’
In the week that Ukraine finally launched its counteroffensive against Russian forces in the south (with an outcome that is anything but certain), concern about surging energy prices began to seriously ramp up in Europe’s capitals.
France’s Emmanuel Macron told the French to prepare for the “end of abundance”; Germany approved a bylaw restricting the heating of public buildings as part of a far-reaching national drive to save energy; Shell’s boss says we should expect several tough winters.
The European Commission, meanwhile, said it is working “flat out” on urgent relief for consumers and fundamental reform of Europe’s energy markets – possibly including a decoupling of electricity prices from gas – before an emergency summit next week.
And, as if to underline the scale of the threat this winter, Russia switched off the vital Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Europe for three days, citing a disputed need for repairs. Strap in, this autumn is going to be quite a ride.
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