Mikhail Gorbachev, who led Soviet Union during Cold War dies after illness

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THE last President of the Soviet, Union Mikhail Gorbachev, has died at the age of 91, Russian state media reported last night.

He presided over the dissolution of the huge Communist state which had existed for nearly 70 years.


President Mikhail Gorbachev, seen here in 1990, has died at the age of 91Credit: The Mega Agency


Mr Gorbachev shares a laugh with Lady Thatcher in 2005Credit: PA:Press Association


Mr Gorbachev with then US President Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1987Credit: Handout – Getty


Mr Gorbachev and then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher outside Downing Street in 1989Credit: Rex

Mr Gorbachev was the final leader of the communist regime and became head of state in 1988 and its president in March 1990.

Another huge achievement was an arms race treaty he signed with US President Ronald Reagan in 1987.

It lasted more than 30 years and helped to  end the Cold War.

Reagan knew Gorby’s vital role in the world, urging him in a 1987 speech: “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Two years later, the Berlin Wall came down.

The eighth and final leader of the Soviet Union, he  led the Communist Party from 1985 to 1991.

Born to a poor peasant family of Russian and Ukrainian heritage, Gorbachev grew up under the rule of Joseph Stalin and drove combine harvesters on a collective farm.

He then joined the Communist Party which  governed the Soviet Union as a one-party state according to Marxist-Leninist rule.

Eventually becoming more interested in social democracy in his political career, or “socialism with a human face”, he had a close friendship with  then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

After she became aware he was a potential reformer, he visited Britain at her request in 1984.

At the end of the visit, Mrs Thatcher said: “I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together.”

Gorbachev fought for freedom of speech and freedom of the Press which radically changed Soviet political life.

His free speech policy, known as “glasnost”,  allowed criticism of the only political party and inspired nationalists in Soviet republics to push for independence.

He believed allowing democracy into the Soviet Union was the only way to move forward towards economic and social recovery.

Gorbachev radically changed Soviet political life when he axed the law which ensured the only legal political organisation was the Communist Party.

In April 1986 the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred, spreading radioactive cloud across Europe.

Soviet authorities admitted it only three days later, raising doubts about glasnost.

Gorbachev transformed Soviet foreign policy by travelling abroad extensively and aimed to convince the world the USSR was no longer an international threat.

This policy deprived the Soviet Union of ideological enemies, weakening the hold of Soviet ideology over the people.

Following the reunification of Germany, Gorbachev repeatedly floated the idea of replacing NATO and the Warsaw Pact with a confederation of all the countries in the “common European home”.

But western governments feared this would turn a newly reunified Germany into a neutral state, easily manipulated by Moscow.

Gorbachev fell from power after a failed coup in 1991, which led to the end of the Soviet Union.

Widely considered one of the most significant figures of the second half of the 20th century, he received a wide range of awards including the Nobel Peace Prize.

But in his home country now led by Putin, his legacy was often derided for accelerating the Soviet dissolution, bringing a decline in Russia’s global influence.

Towards the end of his life, the former Soviet leader suffered long-term kidney problems and was on dialysis.

During the Covid pandemic, he was reportedly confined to a clinic.

Gorbachev’s wife Raisa, the former Soviet first lady, died in 1999.

He will be buried next to her at Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that he is “saddened” to hear that Mr Gorbachev has died, in a “time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine”.

In a Twitter post, he said: “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 Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Gorbachev was “one of the great figures” of last century” who will “forever be remembered”.

In a tweet, the leader of the Labour Party said: “One of the great figures of the 20th Century, Mikhail Gorbachev’s pursuit of reform forged a path for diplomacy over conflict.

“He will forever be remembered as the last leader of the Soviet Union who had the courage and conviction to end the Cold War.”

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “[My] condolences for the death of Mikhail Gorbachev, a man of peace whose choices opened up a path of liberty for Russians.

“His commitment to peace in Europe changed our shared history”.

Gorbachev said in a 1992 interview shortly after he left office: “I see myself as a man who started the reforms that were necessary for the country and for Europe and the world.

“I am often asked, would I have started it all again if I had to repeat it? Yes, indeed. And with more persistence and determination.”

Russian journalist Alexei Venediktov also revealed Mr Gorbachev was “upset” his life’s work was being undone by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

He said: “I can tell you that he is upset. Of course, he understands that… this was his life’s work.

“Freedoms were brought by Gorbachev. Everyone forgot who gave freedom to the Russian Orthodox Church? Who was it? Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.

“The freedom of press, the first media law, who brought it? Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. Private property? Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.’

“So what would [Gorbachev] be able to say now?”

Sir Tony Brenton, former UK Ambassador to Russia from 2004–2008, responding to his death, said: “As I look back on history over my lifetime, undoubtedly the figure who has made the biggest difference to the state of the world today is Gorbachev.

“By introducing his reforms to the Soviet Union, by accident he destroyed communism and ended the Cold War.

“He was a very civilised man. I saw quite a lot of him when I was ambassador. He was a very avuncular father figure, [but] Russia would rather forget about him, and he was not the guy who imposed Stalinist-type repression as some of his predecessors had been.

“He ended up as being rather sad about the way things in Russia were going.

“The reason for that sadness was his hope to integrate Russia into this broader European community of nations and that hope had visibly failed by the time I was ambassador.”


Meanwhile Arnold Schwarzenegger has referred to the late Mikhail Gorbachev as “one of my heroes”.

In a tweet, the actor and former Governor of California said: “There’s an old saying, “Never meet your heroes.”

“I think that’s some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard.

“Mikhail Gorbachev was one of my heroes, and it was an honor and a joy to meet him. I was unbelievably lucky to call him a friend.

“All of us can learn from his fantastic life.”

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said Gorbachev “performed great services” but was “not able to implement all of his visions”, telling BBC’s Newsnight: “The people of eastern Europe and the German people, and in the end the Russian people, owe him a great debt of gratitude for the inspiration, for the courage in coming forward with these ideas of freedom.”

Mr Kissinger, after again acknowledging Mr Gorbachev was unable able to implement his full vision, added: “He will still be remembered in history as a man who started historic transformations that were to the benefit of mankind and to the Russian people.”

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.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his deepest condolences on the death of Mr Gorbachev, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Mr Gorbachev is survived by a daughter, Irina, and two granddaughters.


Boris Johnson, centre, said he was ‘saddened’ to hear of Mr Gorbachev’s deathCredit: Rex


Boris Yeltsin, left, and Mr Gorbachev in Moscow after signing an economic accord in 1991Credit: EPA


Mr Gorbachev, centre, with his wife Raisa in 1990Credit: AFP

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