Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union who ended the Cold War and won a Nobel Prize, has died at the age of 91.

Aug 30 (Reuters) – Mikhail Gorbachev, who brought a bloodless end to the Cold War and failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, died on Tuesday at the age of 91, hospital officials in Moscow said.

Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, created disarmament agreements with the United States and alliances with Western powers to dismantle the Iron Curtain that divided Europe after World War II and reunite Germany.

But his internal reforms helped weaken the Soviet Union.

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“Mikhail Gorbachev passed away tonight after a serious and prolonged illness,” Russia’s Central Medical Hospital said.

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

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

World leaders immediately paid tribute. European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen said Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, paved the way for a free Europe.

US President Joe Biden said that “Klasnost and perestroika – openness and restructuring – are not mere slogans, but the way forward for the people after years of isolation and deprivation in the Soviet Union.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cited Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as “an example to us all of Gorbachev’s tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society.”

Western partnerships

After decades of Cold War tension and conflict, 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 and half of Europe,” said former Russian liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky. “Few leaders in history have had such a decisive influence on their time.”

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

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

Das said he would be buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife, Raisa, who died in 1999, citing the foundation he established after the former Soviet leader left office.

“We are all orphans now. But not everyone realizes it,” said Alexei Venediktov, head of a liberal media radio station that has come under pressure about the war in Ukraine.

When pro-democracy protests rocked Soviet bloc countries in communist Eastern Europe in 1989, Gorbachev avoided the use of force – unlike previous Kremlin leaders who sent tanks to crush uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But the protests sparked aspirations for autonomy in the Soviet Union’s 15 republics, which disintegrated over the next two years in chaotic fashion. read more

Gorbachev – who was ousted by party hardliners in an August 1991 coup – struggled in vain to stem the decline.

Turbulent reforms

“The era of Gorbachev was the era of perestroika, the era of hope, the era when we entered a world without missiles … but there was a miscalculation: we did not know our country very well,” said Vladimir Shevchenko. He headed Gorbachev’s Ethics Office when he was Soviet leader.

“Our union has disintegrated, it’s a tragedy and his tragedy,” RIA news agency quoted him as saying.

When he became General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, aged just 54, he began to revamp 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 was that he was too decent for the country he was leading,” said Gorbachev biographer William Taubman.

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

Many Russians have never forgiven the turmoil that Gorbachev’s reforms unleashed, and consider the subsequent decline in their living standards, a high price to pay for democracy.

Vladimir Rokov, a Russian-appointed official in a part of Ukraine now occupied by pro-Moscow forces, called Gorbachev “deliberately leading the (Soviet) Union to its destruction” and a traitor.

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

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

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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