Gorbachev, who during his seven years in power made dramatic reforms that paved the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, died Tuesday at a Moscow hospital at 91.
Mulroney said in an interview that while U.S. president Ronald Reagan gets a lot of credit for ending the Cold War without a shot, “it takes two to tango,” and Gorbachev was an indispensable leader on the other side.
“President Gorbachev will go down in history as an iconic leader and one who accomplished a great deal for humanity,” he said.
The former prime minister says he first met Gorbachev in March 1985 and found him to be a breath of fresh air compared to the “stuffy and stultified and un-visionary” Soviet leaders he was used to.
“He was quite charming and direct, alert, and you could tell then that he wanted to do business,” Mulroney said.
He remembers meeting with Reagan a few days later in Quebec City and telling the president that he expected Gorbachev to be an excellent interlocutor.
“I said, ‘you know, Ron, there’s a new game in town, here,”’ Mulroney reminisced. “’This is very much a fellow that we’re going to be able to get along with and accomplish things with.”’
Gorbachev’s approach to diplomacy forms a sharp contrast to the “bellicose, mediocre leadership that you see today in Moscow,” Mulroney added. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is “exactly the antithesis of what Gorbachev wanted.”
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Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his role in ending the Cold War and easing nuclear tensions, but he was derided at home as the Soviet Union fell apart. The country had fallen apart in his hands.
His power sapped by an attempted coup against him in August 1991, Gorbachev spent his last months in office watching republic after republic declare independence until he resigned on Dec. 25, 1991, and the Soviet Union wrote itself into oblivion a day later.
By the end of his rule, he was powerless to halt the whirlwind he had sown. Yet Gorbachev may have had a greater impact on the second half of the 20th century than any other political figure.
“I see myself as a man who started the reforms that were necessary for the country and for Europe and the world,” Gorbachev told The Associated Press in a 1992 interview shortly after he left office.
“I am often asked, would I have started it all again if I had to repeat it? Yes, indeed. And with more persistence and determination,” he said.
His run for president in 1996 was a national joke, and he polled less than 1 percent of the vote. In 1997, he resorted to making a TV ad for Pizza Hut to earn money for his charitable foundation.
But he was lauded outside of Russia and Mulroney said they deepened their friendship on the international speaking circuit. In more recent years, they would meet in Houston or New York or Montreal.
“I would see a fair amount of him. And I enjoyed him a great deal personally. We had a wonderful personal relationship,” he said. “I was witness to the fabulous relationship he had with his wife and family. He was, in my judgment, a great man.”
—With files from The Associated Press