The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War, dies at the age of 91

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Aug 30 (Reuters) – Mikhail Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War without bloodshed but failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, died on Tuesday at the age of 91, Moscow hospital officials said.

Gorbachev, the last Soviet president, forged arms reduction agreements with the United States and partnerships with Western powers to lift the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War II and bring about the reunification of Germany.

“Mikhail Gorbachev died last night after a long and serious illness,” the Russian Central Hospital said in a statement.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “his deepest condolences” over the death of Gorbachev, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Interfax news agency.

“Tomorrow he will send a telegram of condolences to his family and friends,” he said.

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

In 2005, Putin called the event the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the twentieth century.

After decades of Cold War tensions and confrontations, Gorbachev brought the Soviet Union closer to the West than at any time since World War II.

But he saw that legacy shattered in the final months of his life, when Putin’s invasion of Ukraine resulted in Western sanctions crushing Moscow and politicians in Russia and the West beginning to speak openly of a new Cold War.

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

Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

Gorbachev will be buried next to his wife Raisa, who died in 1999, at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, the TASS news agency said, citing the foundation the former Soviet leader set up after leaving office.

When pro-democracy protests swept through the Soviet bloc of communist Eastern Europe in 1989, he refrained from resorting to violence, unlike previous Kremlin leaders who sent tanks to quell uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But the protests fueled autonomy efforts in the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, which fell apart chaotically over the next two years. Continue reading

Gorbachev tried in vain to prevent this collapse.

“The era of Gorbachev is the era of perestroika, the era of hope, the era of our entry into a missile-free world… but there was a miscalculation: we didn’t know our country well,” said Vladimir Shevchenko, who headed Gorbachev’s protocol office, when he was a Soviet leader.

“Our union broke up, that was a tragedy and his tragedy,” he was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.

When he became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, aged just 54, he had set out to revitalize the system by introducing limited political and economic freedoms, but his reforms spiraled out of control. Continue reading

His policy of “glasnost” — freedom of speech — allowed for previously unthinkable criticism of the party and state, but also emboldened nationalists who began pushing for independence in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and elsewhere.

Many Russians have never forgiven Gorbachev for the turmoil his reforms unleashed, seeing the subsequent decline in their living standards as too high a price to pay for democracy.

“He gave us all the freedoms – but we don’t know what to do with them,” liberal economist Ruslan Grinberg told the Zvezda Armed Forces News Agency after visiting Gorbachev in hospital on June 30.

“Gorbachev saw some of his worst fears realized and his brightest dreams drowned in blood and dirt. But he will be fondly remembered by historians and one day, I believe, by Russians,” said Cold War historian Sergei Radchenko.

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Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Mark Trevelyan in London and Elaine Monaghan. Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Trevelyan. Edited by Kevin Liffey and Matthew Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

David Ljunggren

Thomson Reuters

Comprised of Canadian political, economic and general news, as well as breaking news from across North America, previously based in London and Moscow and receiving a Reuters Treasury Scoop of the Year winner.

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