Last Soviet leader Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War and won the Nobel Prize, dies aged 91

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Aug 30 (Reuters) – Mikhail Gorbachev, who brought the Cold War to an end without bloodshed but failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, died on Tuesday at the age of 91, reports announced officials of the Moscow hospital.

Gorbachev, the last Soviet president, entered into arms reduction agreements with the United States and partnerships with Western powers to remove the iron curtain that had divided Europe since World War II and bring about the reunification of Europe. Germany.

But his internal reforms helped weaken the Soviet Union to the point where it collapsed, a moment that President Vladimir Putin called the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

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“Mikhail Gorbachev died this evening after a serious and prolonged illness,” the Central Clinical Hospital of Russia said.

Putin expressed “his deepest condolences”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax. “Tomorrow he will send a condolence telegram to his family and friends,” he said.

Putin said in 2018 that he would reverse the disintegration of the Soviet Union if he could, news agencies reported.

World leaders were quick to pay their respects. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Gorbachev, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, paved the way for a free Europe.

US President Joe Biden said he believed in “glasnost and perestroika – opening up and restructuring – not as mere slogans, but as the way forward for the people of the Soviet Union after so many years isolation and deprivation”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, citing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, said “Gorbachev’s tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example for all of us”.

WESTERN PARTNERSHIPS

After decades of Cold War tension and confrontation, Gorbachev brought the Soviet Union closer to the West than at any time since World War II.

“He gave freedom to hundreds of millions of people in and around Russia, as well as half of Europe,” said former Russian liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky. “Few leaders in history have had such a decisive influence on their times.”

But Gorbachev saw his legacy destroyed late in life, as the invasion of Ukraine brought down Western sanctions on Moscow, and Russian and Western politicians began talking about a new Cold War.

“Gorbachev symbolically died when his life’s work, freedom, was effectively destroyed by Putin,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He will be buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife Raisa, who died in 1999, Tass said, citing the foundation the ex-Soviet leader set up once he left office.

“We are all orphans now. But not everyone realizes that,” said Alexei Venediktov, director of a liberal radio station that shut down after coming under pressure over its coverage of the war in Ukraine.

When pro-democracy protests rocked Soviet bloc nations in communist Eastern Europe in 1989, Gorbachev refrained from using force – unlike previous Kremlin leaders who sent tanks to crush uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But the protests fueled the self-rule aspirations of the Soviet Union’s 15 republics, which disintegrated chaotically over the next two years. Read more

Gorbachev – who was briefly deposed in an August 1991 coup by hardliners – struggled in vain to prevent this collapse.

TURBULENT REFORMS

“The era of Gorbachev is the era of perestroika, the era of hope, the era of our entry into a world without missiles… but there was a miscalculation: we did not know good for our country,” said Vladimir Shevchenko, who headed Gorbachev’s protocol office when he was a Soviet leader.

“Our union collapsed, it was a tragedy and its tragedy,” he told the RIA news agency.

When he became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, at just 54, he set out to revitalize the system by introducing limited political and economic freedoms, but his reforms spiraled out of control. Read more

“He was a good man – he was a decent man. I think his tragedy is in a sense that he was too decent for the country he ruled,” said Gorbachev biographer William Taubman, a professor emeritus at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

Gorbachev’s policy of “glasnost” allowed for previously unthinkable criticism of party and state, but also emboldened nationalists who began pushing for independence in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and elsewhere.

Many Russians have never forgiven Gorbachev for the turmoil his reforms have unleashed, seeing the subsequent fall in their standard of living as too high a price for democracy to pay.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in part of Ukraine currently occupied by pro-Moscow forces, said Gorbachev had ‘deliberately led the (Soviet) Union to its demise’ and called him a traitor .

“He gave us all freedom – but we don’t know what to do with it,” liberal economist Ruslan Grinberg told the armed forces newspaper Zvezda after visiting Gorbachev in hospital in June.

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Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Mark Trevelyan in London, Roselle Chen in New York, Elaine Monaghan and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Written by Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Rosalba O’Brien and Richard Pullin

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

David Ljunggren

Thomson Reuters

Covers political, economic and general news from Canada as well as breaking news across North America, previously based in London and Moscow and winner of Reuters Treasury Scoop of the Year.


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