Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev dies at 91

Mikhail Gorbachev, who set out to rebuild the Soviet Union but ultimately unleashed the forces that would lead to the collapse of communism, the dissolution of the state and the end of the Cold War, died Tuesday. The last Soviet leader he was 91 years old.

Gorbachev died after a long illness, according to a statement from Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital. No other details were given.

In less than seven years in power, Gorbachev brought about a breathtaking series of changes. But they soon overtook him, leading to the collapse of the authoritarian Soviet state, the liberation of Eastern European nations from Russian rule, and the end of decades of East-West nuclear confrontation.

US President Joe Biden described Gorbachev as “a man of amazing vision” who “had the imagination to see that an alternative future was possible and the courage to risk his entire career to achieve it.” He called him a “rare leader.”

“The result is a safer world and more freedom for millions of people,” Biden said in a statement.

Michael McFaul, a political analyst and former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, said on Twitter that “it is hard to imagine anyone more positively changing the course of history” than Gorbachev.

His decline was humiliating. His power was hopelessly undermined by an attempted coup against him in August 1991. He spent the last few months watching over the republic until he resigned on December 25, 1991, after the republic declared independence. The Soviet Union fell into oblivion the next day.

A quarter-century after its collapse, Gorbachev told the Associated Press that he had never thought of using large-scale force to unite the Soviet Union because he feared chaos in the nuclear powers.

“The country was flooded with weapons, and that would have plunged the country into civil war at once,” he said.

By the end of his reign, he had lost the power to stop the whirlwind he started.

In an interview shortly after his resignation in 1992, Gorbachev said, “I consider myself the one who initiated the necessary reforms for this country, for Europe and for the world.

“People often ask me, if I had to do the same thing over and over again, would I have started over? Yes, I did. And with more persistence and determination,” he said.

Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his work in ending the Cold War, and in his later years attracted accolades and awards from around the world. However, he was widely despised in his household.

Russians blamed him for the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. His former allies deserted him, making him a scapegoat for the country’s troubles.

His 1996 presidential run was a national joke, receiving less than 1% of the vote. In 1997, he created a TV commercial for Pizza Hut to raise money for a charitable foundation.

Gorbachev never set out to dismantle the Soviet system. he wanted to improve it.

As soon as he came to power, Gorbachev launched a campaign to end his country’s economic and political stagnation, using “glasnost” or openness to achieve the goals of “perestroika” or restructuring. did.

In his memoirs, he said he had long felt frustrated with tens of millions of people living in poverty in a country with vast natural resources.

Free political prisoners, allow open debate and multi-candidate elections, give our citizens freedom to travel, end religious persecution, reduce nuclear weapons, and establish closer ties with the West. and did not object. The fall of a communist regime in a satellite country of Eastern Europe.

However, the power he unleashed soon escaped his control.

Long-repressed ethnic tensions have risen, sparking wars and unrest in conflict areas such as the Southern Caucasus region. Strikes and labor unrest followed rising prices and shortages of consumer goods.

The highly competitive elections also produced a new group of populist politicians challenging Gorbachev’s policies and authority. Chief among them was his former protégé and eventual nemesis Boris Yeltsin, who became Russia’s first president.

“The process of rebuilding this country and bringing about fundamental change in the international community has turned out to be far more complex than originally anticipated,” Gorbachev told the nation upon his resignation.

“But let us acknowledge what has been achieved so far. Society has gained freedom. It has been liberated politically and spiritually. And this is the most important achievement.”

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931 in the village of Privornoye in southern Russia. By the age of 15, he was helping his father drive the combine after school and during the region’s brutally dusty summers.

For his achievements, he earned the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, a rarity for a 17-year-old. The award and his parents’ political background helped him enter the country’s top university, Moscow State University, in 1950.

There he met his wife, Raisa Maximovna Titorenko, and joined the Communist Party.

His early career coincided with the “thaw” started by Nikita Khrushchev. As a young Communist Party propaganda bureaucrat, he was tasked with explaining the 20th Party Congress, which revealed to local party activists the oppression of millions by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

He was elected to the powerful Party Central Committee in 1971, took over Soviet agricultural policy in 1978, and became a full member of the Politburo in 1980.

Along the way he was able to travel to the West, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and Canada. shaken my beliefs.

The question that haunted me was, “Why is the standard of living in our country lower than in other developed countries?” he recalled in his memoirs.

But Gorbachev had to wait his turn. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev died in his 1982 and was succeeded by his two geriatric leaders, Gorbachev’s leaders Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko.

After Chernenko’s death in March 1985, the party finally elected a young man as Gorbachev to lead the country. he was 54 years old.

His tenure was filled with difficult times, including the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and the Chernobyl disaster.

However, beginning in November 1985, Gorbachev initiated a series of high-profile summits with world leaders, most notably US Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

After years of watching parades of stocky leaders in the Kremlin, Western leaders were virtually swooned by the charming, feisty Gorbachev and his stylish, smart wife.

But perceptions were very different at home, where the rickety Soviet economy had collapsed, causing enormous economic hardship for its 290 million people.

More recently, Gorbachev has wavered between criticism and mild admiration of current Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been accused of lagging behind the democratic achievements of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras.

Gorbachev says Putin has done much to restore stability and prestige in Russia after a turbulent decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but protests growing restrictions on press freedom did.

Gorbachev also opposed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The day after the February 24 attacks, he issued a statement calling for an “early cessation of hostilities and an immediate start to peace talks.”

“There is nothing more precious in this world than human life. Negotiation and dialogue, based on mutual respect and recognition of interests, are the only possible ways to resolve the most serious contradictions and problems.” Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev dies at 91

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