Zimbabwe’s former president, 95, died in Singapore, where he had been receiving medical care for months, on Friday morning – almost two years after he was ousted in a military coup.
His death was celebrated in the streets of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.
Many foreign governments overlooked the murder, corruption, human rights abuses, persecution of political opponents, famine and vote-rigging that dominated his reign of terror.
The Russian president, who wants to set up a strategic military base in the African country, was among those who heaped praise on his old ally.
Putin said in a statement: “Many important events in contemporary history of Zimbabwe are linked with the name of Robert Mugabe.
“He made a major personal contribution to the struggle for your country’s independence and to building institutions of Zimbabwean statehood.
“The people of Russia will remember him as a consistent advocate of developing friendly relations between our countries and a person who had accomplished a great deal to strengthen mutually beneficial bilateral co-operation.”
China offered a similar statement that will likely outrage those who suffered under Mugabe’s iron-fisted rule.
Mugabe presided over the former British colony for almost four decades after it gained independence in 1980.
He was championed as a liberation hero but he became a villain who was once banned from entering Britain after a dodgy election in 2002 and stripped of his honorary knighthood in 2008.
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “There will be mixed emotions in Zimbabwe at today’s news.
“We of course express our condolences to those who mourn but know that for many he was a barrier to a better future.
“Under his rule the people of Zimbabwe suffered greatly as he impoverished their country and sanctioned the use of violence against them.
“His resignation in 2017 marked a turning point and we hope that today marks another which allows Zimbabwe to move on from the legacy of its past and become a democratic, prosperous nation that respects the human rights of its citizens.”
The Foreign Office recognised the “mixed emotions” in Zimbabwe as a result of Mugabe’s death.
A spokesman said: “We express our condolences to those who mourn Robert Mugabe’s death.
“However, Zimbabweans suffered for too long as a result of Mugabe’s autocratic rule.
“We hope that, in this new era, Zimbabwe can continue to be set on a more democratic and prosperous path.”
Labour MP Kate Hoey, former chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe and a longtime critic of Mr Mugabe, tweeted: “Mugabe brought independence to Zimbabwe and then killed in the Gukurahundi – up to 80,000 of his own citizens in Matabeleland and brought his country to its knees economically. A hero to a brutal dictator.”
Current Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa confirmed Mr Mugabe’s death on Friday, calling him a “pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people”.
He said: “His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
Cars began honking horns and people cheered in the streets of Harare as the news spread.
The power-obsessed autocrat was forced to resign in November 2017 after he was put under house arrest by his own military amid fears that he could transfer the presidency to his deeply unpopular wife Grace, who was known for her lavish shopping sprees in London.
He was the world’s oldest head of state at the age of 93.
Born in then-Rhodesia, Mugabe was a guerrilla leader who co-founded the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) in 1963, a resistance movement against British colonial rule.
He became prime minister of the new Republic of Zimbabwe in 1980 and assumed the role of president seven years later.