Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader, has died aged 91.
Best known for the extraordinary reforms that led to the end of the Cold War, Gorbachev waged a losing battle to salvage a crumbling empire.
Only in power for seven years, he unleashed a breathtaking series of changes. But they quickly overtook him and resulted in the collapse of the authoritarian Soviet state, the freeing of Eastern European nations from Russian domination and the end of decades of East-West nuclear confrontation.
“Today in the evening (Tuesday), after a long and serious illness, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev passed away,” the Central Clinical Hospital (TSKB) in Moscow said in a statement cited by Russian state-owned news agencies.
Gorbachev’s decline towards the end of the Soviet Union was humiliating. His power was hopelessly sapped by an attempted coup against him in August 1991 and he spent his last months in office watching republic after republic declare independence until he resigned on 25 December 1991. The Soviet Union wrote itself into oblivion a day later.
Many of the changes, including the Soviet breakup, bore no resemblance to the transformation that Gorbachev had envisioned when he became the Soviet leader in March 1985.
By the end of his rule, he was powerless to halt the whirlwind he had sown. Yet Gorbachev may have had a greater impact on the second half of the 20th century than any other political figure.
“I see myself as a man who started the reforms that were necessary for the country and for Europe and the world,” Gorbachev told The Associated Press in a 1992 interview shortly after he left office.
“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,” he said.
Gorbachev won the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Cold War and spent his later years collecting accolades and awards from all corners of the world. Yet he was widely despised at home.
Russians blamed him for the 1991 implosion of the Soviet Union — a once-fearsome superpower whose territory fractured into 15 separate nations. His former allies deserted him and made him a scapegoat for the country’s troubles.
The official news agency Tass reported that Gorbachev will be buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery next to his wife.