The Lens: A death mourned around the world – who are the leaders in this photo, and why are they relevant?

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  • Each week, we choose a picture from the news and provide questions to help you dive deeper into the topic
  • This photo contains two leaders who have had enormous influence on world politics – make some observations before reading the news snippet to learn more
Yanni Chow |
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The last leader of the Soviet Union before it dissolved died last week at the age of 91. Photo: AP

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Observe and read

  • Do you recognise the two people in this picture? Which country are they from?

  • Based on the news snippet below, what feat is the man on the left most remembered by?

News snippet

Mikhail Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War without bloodshed but failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, died on August 31 at the age of 91, hospital officials in Moscow said.

The Soviet Union was formed in 1922 as a communist state, and in 1991, with Gorbachev as the last Soviet leader, it dissolved into 15 independent states.

Gorbachev forged arms reduction deals with the US. He built partnerships with Western powers to bring about the reunification of Germany and to remove the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe after World War II.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his “deep sympathies over the death of Mikhail Gorbachev”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

In this photo from April 7, 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev (left) converses with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at the end of Gorbachev’s official visit to Britain. Photo: AFP

Gorbachev was mourned in the West as a towering statesman who helped to end the Cold War. But his death received a cool response in Russia, which is now engaged in a war with Ukraine to regain some of the power it lost when Gorbachev presided over the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Putin said in 2018 he would reverse the Soviet Union’s disintegration if he could, news agencies reported.

US President Joe Biden called Gorbachev “a man of remarkable vision” and, like other Western leaders, emphasised the freedoms he introduced, which Putin has steadily eroded.

French President Emmanuel Macron called Gorbachev “a man of peace whose choices opened up a path of liberty for Russians”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz commented on Gorbachev’s death: “He died at a time when not only has democracy in Russia failed ... but also when Russia and Russian President Putin have dug new graves in Europe and begun a terrible war.”

Yanni Chow and Reuters

Research and discuss

  • What are the differences between Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Gorbachev?

  • How has Gorbachev influenced Putin?

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