Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev dies at 91

Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev said an attempt to destabilize his country’s political and economic system led to the collapse of the communist superpower and the end of the Cold War.

Interfax and the state-run TASS news agency cited the Moscow hospital where Gorbachev died. Central Clinical Hospital said his death followed a “serious and prolonged illness,” according to Tas.

After becoming leader of the Communist Party in 1985 at the age of 54, Gorbachev drove radical changes in the Soviet economy. His overhaul and openness policy, known as perestroika, or glasnost, unleashed a political avalanche that brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Ended Soviet rule two years later.

Gorbachev’s career collapsed in the process, leaving him on the sidelines of Russia’s political and economic development. In his farewell speech delivered on state television on December 25, 1991, the day the Soviet Union and his presidency were formally dissolved, Gorbachev said he had no regrets.

“We understood that initiating reforms of this magnitude in a society like ours would be the most difficult and risky undertaking,” he said. “But I am still convinced that the democratic reforms initiated in the spring of 1985 were historically justified.”

Until Gorbachev, most Kremlinologists predicted that the Soviet system, a one-party dictatorship running all aspects of public life, would only be dismantled by a civil war. Gorbachev, with his bald head and red birthmark, paved the way for the collapse of the Soviet Union. This has resulted in relatively little violence in Russia, and unrest has largely been confined to conflicts in regions such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Moldova.

unintended consequences

Archie Brown, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Oxford and author of Seven Years That Changed the World: A Perestroika Perspective, wrote in 2010: By 1988, he consciously set out to dismantle the Soviet regime. He never wanted the Soviet state to disappear. “

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at a commemorative event in Berlin in 2009.


Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev’s popularity had waned, in part because the public suffered as low oil prices undermined centrally-planned economies. The following year was especially difficult. The Russian economy shrank by almost 40% between his 1990 and his 1997, comparable to the US Depression of the 1930s.

“Gorbachev was a man who brought both change and trouble,” said Andrei Grachev, a former adviser to Gorbachev and author of the 2001 Russian-language biography Gorbachev.

Stalin’s legacy

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931 into a peasant family in the Stavropol region of southern Russia. His two grandfathers were imprisoned in the crackdowns carried out under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1950, he entered Moscow State University, the most prestigious educational institution in Russia, where he received a law degree and met his future wife, Raisa Titorenko.

Gorbachev passed the Communist Party. By 1970, he was the highest party official in Stavropol, the youngest regional boss in the Soviet Union. In 1978 he arrived in Moscow as the National Party Secretary in charge of agriculture.

Two years later, Gorbachev became the youngest full member of the Politburo, the power center of the Soviet Union, and a protégé of former KGB secret police chief Yuri Andropov, who succeeded Leonid Brezhnev as leader of the Soviet Union in 1982. there were.

Gorbachev was usurped from the top spot after Andropov’s death in 1984, but he was exposed abroad with trips to Britain and Italy.

After Chernenko

“I like Mr. Gorbachev,” British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said after the visit. “We can do business together.”

In 1985, after Andropov’s successor, Konstantin Chernenko, died a year after taking office, Gorbachev took over as general secretary of the Communist Party. His early goals were not revolutionary.

“Everyone, myself included, said that Perestroika was a continuation of October,” he wrote in 1988, referring to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. “The illusion that most people share with me was thinking that perfecting an existing system would accomplish the goal.”

Gorbachev called for transparency, or glasnost, to uncover the historical secrets of the Soviet Union and revive broader political debate after 70 years of totalitarian rule.

early capitalist

On the economic front, Gorbachev gave local factory managers greater powers and approved the establishment of “cooperatives.” This became Russia’s first capitalist incubator.

Gorbachev’s first major crisis occurred on April 26, 1986, when an explosion occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine. The delay in reporting and responding to the accident exposed the flaws in the secretive Soviet system.

“Chernobyl shed light on many of the diseases of our entire system,” Gorbachev wrote in his memoirs.

In December 1986, Soviet leaders exiled dissident Russian scientist and 1975 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov to the Russian city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod). I broke with the past by authorizing my release from

Banned books, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”, appeared in magazines and sold millions of copies. Citizens were allowed to travel west more freely.

Nobel Prize

Outside the Soviet Union, Gorbachev met with President Ronald Reagan in Geneva in 1985, Reykjavik in 1986, and a year later in Washington to sign a treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Along with Reagan, Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his efforts to develop US-Soviet relations and promote East-West reconciliation.

By May 1989, change was sweeping the republics of the Soviet Union. There have been ethnic clashes in Uzbekistan and Georgia, the Baltic states have declared sovereignty, and Azerbaijan was in the early stages of war with Armenia.

On November 9, the same year, the Berlin Wall fell, and the member countries of the Warsaw Pact, satellite states of Eastern Europe, were pulled out of the orbit of the Soviet Union one after another.

Domestically, Gorbachev tried to balance the old guard with new leaders like Boris Yeltsin.

the end of communism

In August 1991, conservative communist groups staged a coup to avoid signing a treaty on relations between the republics, which they believed would spell the end of the centralized Soviet Union. Gorbachev was placed under virtual house arrest at his Crimean summer residence. In Moscow, Yeltsin gathered popular support, repelled the cabal, and effectively sidelined Gorbachev.

In December 1991, Yeltsin signed an agreement with the leaders of Ukraine and the Republic of Belarus to bury the Soviet Union and end Gorbachev’s presidency.

Gorbachev remained a popular speaker at Western lectures, but he rarely appeared in public in Russia. When he ran for president in June 1996, he received less than 1% of the vote.

In an interview, Grachev said, “There are contrasts in his views from inside and outside Russia.” “In the end, the West could benefit from the benefits, but it was Russian society who had to bear the full costs of the transition.”

Gorbachev’s wife died of leukemia in 1999 in a hospital in Münster, Germany. Her illness brought a rare wave of sympathy to Gorbachev, and her devotion to Raisa earned him respect from the average Russian.

Putin critic

Gorbachev, a former KGB colonel who succeeded Yeltsin on New Year’s Eve 1999, was the leader of Russia under President Vladimir Putin, who once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” disillusioned with the future.

Gorbachev publicly criticized the Russian leader for the first time in 2011, urging him not to seek a third term as president. Putin won another six years in the Kremlin in 2012 after standing up to unprecedented protests, and in 2018 he was re-elected to a fourth term.

“If you try to imitate democracy and do everything at home without considering people, you will end up in a situation like Africa,” Gorbachev told Bloomberg News.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, lashed out at Gorbachev in 2011 while praising the Brezhnev era as a “huge plus” for Russia. Brezhnev ruled from his 1964 to his death in 1982.

The Gorbachev Foundation issued a statement in the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, saying, “We confirm the need for an early cessation of hostilities and an immediate start to peace talks. Human life is as precious as human life.” There are no things in this world.”

Voting result

Gorbachev’s status in the West was underscored by his 80th birthday celebrations held at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2011. Sharon Stone and Kevin Spacey hosted his four and a half hour event that included tributes from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bono and Sting.

In Russia, a survey released in March 2010 by an independent pollster found that 76% of respondents were hostile or indifferent to Gorbachev. According to the same poll, 45% wanted a return to the pre-perestroika Soviet era.

However, many middle-class Russians, especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg, have allowed their freedom and quietly assumed power, especially after protests and political crackdowns over Putin’s return to office in 2012. I highly valued Gorbachev as an abandoned leader. Until the Ukrainian War.

Russian newspaper publisher Alexander Lebedev, who along with Gorbachev supported the investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said, “From ancient Greece, where Socrates was sentenced to a bowl of poison, in every society there are people who surpass the society in thinking.” Stated. Interview in September 2012. “The majority of Russians would still think Stalin was good for the country. They’re lucky they didn’t suffer it.”

Gorbachev and Raisa had a daughter, Irina, who was named vice president of the Gorbachev Foundation, an independent policy research institute in Moscow.

©2022 Bloomberg LP

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