Reagan as remembered by Russians

There was a mixed reaction in Russia to the news of Ronald Reagan's death. This is hardly surprising, because the late US president was in some ways like a coin for Russians, with one side glittering with the light of freedom and toppled tyranny, and the other soiled by the hatred kindled in US-Soviet relations during his first term in office.

New generations of Russians will remember Ronald Reagan as a superman who advanced the establishment of democracy in their countries. Yet for those who feel nostalgic about the Soviet Union's former influence, and, according to some estimates, they number up to 40% of the population, the 40th US president will remain a firm, almost possessed enemy of communism.

This section of Russian citizens once fell victim to Soviet propaganda that repeatedly convinced the masses that "the mediocre actor Reagan did not make more than a mediocre, none too bright president". Even now Russia knows more about the episodes in his career related to his anti-communist crusade and his role in the cold war.

This is all the more so given that there are many such episodes. Reagan's affinity for using phrases and irony has ensured that they have even made it into school textbooks. Many teenagers in Russia know that Ronald Reagan was the US president who called their country "the evil empire" and accused Soviet leaders of assuming the right to commit any crime.

Many elderly Russians still do not feel like forgiving Reagan for his awkward joke about giving orders to bomb Russia in five minutes. His memorable words at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall" were considered yet another unfriendly moment. After such demarches the Soviet press did not have any difficulty in finding readers who would unanimously denounce the young Reagan's efforts to persecute colleagues for their left-wing leanings when he headed the Screen Actors Guild.

The president's anti-communist rhetoric found its way into his geopolitics. Today, Russian historians remember how Reagan ordered US marines to land in Grenade, thus ending the Cuban presence there. During the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, he generously provided mojaheddin with money and weapons, which accelerated the Kremlin's decision to withdraw its troops.

In other words, many Russians, first of all of the older generations, have something to dislike Ronald Reagan for. However, even they always respected him, as Russians usually respect principled, passionate and firm enemies.

Attitudes towards Reagan within the dissidents of Soviet society, who dreamt of democracy, began to change in the mid-1980s. These people understood that the US president's design to inflate the US military budget to $1 trillion was drawing the Soviet Union into a competition the Soviet economy might not stand. Thus, Reagan blackmailed communism, bringing its collapse nearer. Russians, who rejected the totalitarian Soviet system, came to like this.

The embodiment of Reagan's tactics was the Strategic Defence Initiative, or Star Wars. If the project had been implemented, the Soviet Union would no longer have been able to live in peace protected by the theory of mutually assured destruction. Soviet missiles would not have been able to strike the initiator of the first nuclear attack. The country tensed all its industrials muscle, trying to find a counterbalance to SDI. This exhausted the Soviet economy to the state when the country's collapse was just a matter of the next decade.

Meanwhile, Reagan won his second term in 1984 and, apparently, decided to go down in history as a peacekeeper in Soviet-American relations.

His Geneva meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 and the Reykjavik summit a year later became the turning point from the arms race to detente and "new thinking". The Reykjavik summit launched a difficult, sometimes stalled and sometimes reversed, process of nuclear arms cuts.

Dialogue between the two superpowers replaced confrontation. Today Mikhail Gorbachev gives credit to his late colleague, saying, "Ronald Reagan was a statesman, who, despite all the disagreements, proved to be far-sighted and determined". He was "a great president", Gorbachev believes.

So do millions of Russians, who received a priceless gift from the late president, a serious blow to the communist system that helped open the door to democracy.

For those of my compatriots who have seen Reagan's early films, his life is reminiscent of a brave cowboy's entrance into a city seized by fear, his courageous punishment of the bad guys and the bright sunset into which the tired hero disappears.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team