Gorbachev played a positive role, but 'under duress', Walesa says

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Rally in support of Poland's membership in the European Union, in Gdansk

GDANSK (Reuters) - Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, played a positive role in ending the Cold War, but he did it "under duress", as Communism was already disintegrating, former Polish president and Solidarity trade union leader Lech Walesa said on Thursday.

Gorbachev died at the age of 91 in a Moscow hospital on Tuesday. He was mourned in the West as a towering statesman who helped bring down the Iron Curtain, but his death received a cool response in Russia.

In six heady years between 1985 and 1991, he forged arms treaties with the United States, and partnerships with Western powers to remove the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War Two and bring about the reunification of Germany.

Walesa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner "for non-violent struggle for free trade unions and human rights" in the 1980s and Poland's first freely elected president after World War Two, said Gorbachev made a positive impact, but he had doubts about his motives.

"Of course, we should judge him positively, he played a positive role, but it was under duress," Walesa told Reuters. "It was not that he was willing to do it, that he wanted to do it, but he was forced by the situation," he said.

"Communism was falling apart, there was more and more trouble with that and he was looking for a way to save Communism. And to be honest, I am not sure if he hadn't cheated on us in the end, because he knew that the USSR could not be saved."

(Reporting by Malgorzata Wojtunik; Writing by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)