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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 11:24 GMT
Gorbachev comes in from the cold

A 70th birthday card on the Gorbachev Foundation site
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev won a glowing tribute from Russian President Vladimir Putin on his 70th birthday, and widespread acclaim from the formerly hostile Russian media.

A whole epoch is rightfully linked to your name

Vladimir Putin
Throughout the 1990s, despite his popularity in the West, Mr Gorbachev was despised by Russian liberals for having tried to save the Soviet Union, and by Russian conservatives for having presided over its collapse.

His relations with President Boris Yeltsin were strained, but Mr Yeltsin's successor told him on Friday that a "whole epoch is rightfully linked to your name".

Mikhail and Irina Gorbachev 26/2/01
With daughter Irina at a concert in his honour
Mr Putin thanked him for introducing an era of reform and for continuing now to promote "civil dialogue and a democratic society" through his Gorbachev Foundation.

"It was an epoch in which deep changes were introduced to our country, changes that fundamentally transformed the political map of the world," Mr Putin wrote in a goodwill message.

Praise came too from Gorbachev's former politburo ally Alexander Yakovlev, often considered the co-founder of Mr Gorbachev's perestroika.

Banners in Moscow

Mr Yakovlev said his old ally was "the first leader in Russian history to take action against a totalitarian regime and introduce human rights".

Gorbachev was the most beautiful flower that could have grown on the rotting compost of the (Communist) nomenklatura

Itogi magazine
He added: "I look forward to the day you receive the recognition in Russia that you are due."

Signs of recognition were evident in Moscow where banners were unfurled in several streets earlier in the week wishing "Mikhail Sergeyevich a happy birthday."

Recent opinion polls have indicated a gradual warming to the politician who scored a mere 0.5% in the 1996 presidential election.

TV career

The weekly Itogi described him as "the most beautiful flower that could have grown on the rotting compost of the (Communist) nomenklatura."

Mikhail Gorbachev and former champion gymnast Larisa Latynina
Celebration: Dancing with former champion gymnast Larisa Latynina
The first signs of an upturn in Mr Gorbachev's popularity came at the death of his wife, Raisa, last year.

Raisa had been deeply unpopular even during the early years of perestroika, before Mr Gorbachev's own rating began to plummet, but her death brought a re-evaluation.

Russians also responded to Mr Gorbachev's sincerely expressed emotion at her funeral.

In May he established a new party, the Russian Social Democratic Party.

He is currently working on a television series, "Secrets of Power", featuring interviews with other key world leaders, which he will present.

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See also:

02 Mar 01 | Europe
European press review
23 Feb 01 | Europe
Gorbachev turns TV presenter
15 Sep 00 | Europe
Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev
25 May 00 | Europe
Gorbachev registers new party
24 Dec 97 | West Asia
Gorby gets teeth into fast food ad
20 Sep 99 | Europe
Raisa Gorbachev dies
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