Mikhail Gorbachev — the last leader of the former Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991 — has died at the age of 91. Gorbachev died following a prolonged illness, according to Russian state news agencies. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to Gorbachev’s family and friends.
The world leaders paid tribute to Gorbachev on Tuesday, with Joe Biden calling him a “man of extraordinary foresight” and Ursula von der Leyen saying his reforms led to a “free Europe.”
Gorbachev broke the mold of Soviet leaders, who had hitherto mainly been remote, glacial figures. He sought significant reforms to make the system operate more effectively and democratically.
Gorbachev had humble beginnings, working alongside his father as a combine harvester operator and becoming a Communist Party member in 1952. He earned his law degree from Moscow University in 1955.
Gorbachev rose through the party hierarchy to become one of the top leaders and was chosen to become a candidate for Politburo membership the following year. He became a foe of corruption and inefficiency and eventually became the party’s top post in 1985.
Gorbachev tried to redirect resources into the civilian sectors of the Soviet economy. Still, he underestimated the depths of the economic crisis and had a blind spot about the strength of the question of nationhood.
Gorbachev, confronted with Ronald Reagan, suggested eliminating all U.S.-Soviet long-range missiles. The treaty that emerged, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, persisted for three decades as the mainstay of arms control until the US officially withdrew from it in 2019.
Gorbachev’s arms control agreements with the US and the breakaway of some countries of Eastern Europe angered old-school Communists, who staged a revolt against Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin, the president of the most prominent Soviet republic — Russia — came to Gorbachev’s rescue, defeating the coup plotters. But across the Soviet Union, republics — one after another — were declaring independence, and on December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president.
Gorbachev later ran against Yeltsin for president of Russia in 1996 but received less than 1 percent of the vote. Three years later, he lost his wife of 46 years to cancer but continued to speak up for nuclear disarmament, the environment, poverty, and children’s cancer.
Gorbachev was the leader of Russia’s social democratic party from 2001 until 2004 and was the head of a new political movement in 2007 that established the opposition Democratic Party of Independent Russia.
In a 2019 interview with CNN, Gorbachev said the United States and Russia should try to avoid the development of a “new cold war” and expressed hopes that arms control agreements might be revived.
Gorbachev earned several awards after leaving the USSR, including a Grammy for a spoken word album he recorded with Bill Clinton and Sofia Loren.
Gorbachev was respected in foreign countries more than he was in Russia and was a Nobel Peace prize winner for helping to end the Cold War.
For more coverage on this story, check the following additional news sources:
- Mikhail Gorbachev, who steered Soviet breakup, dead at 91 The Associated Press
- Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet leader who helped end Cold War, dies | LiveNOW from FOX LiveNOW from FOX
- Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet president who took down the Iron Curtain, dies CNN
- Opinion | Mikhail Gorbachev lost the Soviet Union but changed the world The Washington Post
- Gorbachev’s tragedy – a flawed reformer on an impossible mission Reuters