Mikhail Gorbachev: Former Soviet Union president that helped end Cold War dies at aged 91

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Mr Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, forged arms reduction deals with the United States and partnerships with Western powers to remove the Iron Curtain which had divided Europe since World War Two and bring about the reunification of Germany. When pro-democracy protests swept across the Soviet bloc nations of communist Eastern Europe in 1989, he refrained from using force – unlike previous Kremlin leaders who had sent tanks to crush uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But the protests fuelled aspirations for autonomy in the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, which disintegrated over the next two years in chaotic fashion.

Gorbachev struggled in vain to prevent that collapse.

On becoming general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, he had set out to revitalise the system by introducing limited political and economic freedoms, but his reforms spun out of control.

His policy of ‘glasnost’ – free speech – allowed previously unthinkable criticism of the party and the state, but also emboldened nationalists who began to press for independence in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and elsewhere.

Many Russians never forgave Gorbachev for the turbulence that his reforms unleashed, considering the subsequent plunge in their living standards too high a price to pay for democracy.

After visiting Gorbachev in hospital on June 30, liberal economist Ruslan Grinberg told the armed forces news outlet Zvezda: “He gave us all freedom – but we don’t know what to do with it.”

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However, barely three years later he survived a shambolic coup by hardliners which collapsed after three days.

He described the ordeal as “a severe trauma”, adding: “It was 72 hours of total isolation and confrontation. They tried to break me.

“When they began to understand that their adventure was over, they were ready to do anything. I had to keep my nerves in check.”

His authority had been fatally undermined and four months later his great rival, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, engineered the break-up of the Soviet Union. Mr Gorbachev subsequently retiring from politics completely. 

In the last few months of his life, Mr Gorbachev has seen much of his legecy destroyed by President Vladimir Putin, whose invasion invasion of Ukraine has triggered Western sanctions, with politicians in both Russia and the West speaking openly of a new Cold War – and even a fully fledged nuclear one.

Russian President Vladimir Putin today expressed his deepest condolences, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax news agency.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “I’m saddened to hear of the death of Gorbachev.

“I always admired the courage and integrity he showed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion.

“In a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all.”

Meanwhile broadcaster and author John Simpson has said that he is “really sad” that the “decent” and “well-intentioned” former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has died.

In a Twitter post Mr Simpson, who interviewed Mr Gorbachev, wrote: “Really sad that Mikhail Gorbachev has died: a decent, well-intentioned, principled man who tried to rescue the unrescuable.”

He added: “In private he was charming and surprisingly amusing. It wasn’t his fault things went so wrong.”

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