Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, dies


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Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, has died. Gorbachev, who with his glass cheese and perestroika allowed more freedoms than his predecessors and eventually saw the Soviet Union fall, was 91 years old.

Gorbachev has struggled with his health in recent years. He was hospitalized several times, where he underwent a number of operations. According to Russian media, he has now died “after a long illness” in a hospital in Moscow.

Russian President Putin has expressed his condolences. Western heads of state and government react with sadness to the death and praise Gorbachev as a great statesman who shaped history.

Gorbachev was at the forefront of world politics for years:

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    With President Reagan in 1987. The two leaders had regular contact at the end of the Cold War
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    In 1990 with German Chancellor Kohl during the negotiations for German reunification
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    Gorbachev in the summer of 1991, after a failed coup in Moscow
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    Gorbachev with his wife Raisa. She died in 1999
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    In 2000, Gorbachev visited the Netherlands and met Queen Beatrix
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    With President Putin in 2004. Putin was highly critical of Gorbachev

Gorbachev is buried next to his wife Raisa at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. Many prominent Russians are buried there. There will almost certainly be no Western dignitaries at the funeral. Many of them have been banned from entering, and sanctions have banned flights from “unfriendly EU countries” from flying to Russia.

Major reforms

The former leader of the Soviet Union was born in 1931 and, unlike many of the senior and influential members of the then Communist Party, was trained as a lawyer. In the 1970s, he took his successful career as director of the powerful Politburo, where he rose to prominence and eventually rose to the highest office.

Gorbachev’s name is inextricably linked with the two reforms he introduced in the 1980s: perestroika (restructuring) and glass cheese (openness). Many citizens, including party members, had lost faith in communism and Gorbachev – as far as we know a convinced communist – wanted to restore the Soviet Union with his reforms: the stalled planned economy had to be restarted and the administration had to be more transparent. .

The openness of glass cheese was interpreted more broadly: it was also seen as a channel for freedom of expression, growing freedom of the press and thus criticism of the Soviet Union’s – often failing – leadership. And so it happened: With the memory of the administrative turmoil after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster fresh in their minds, open criticism of the Party and the Soviet system began to be expressed.

Meanwhile, Gorbachev sought a rapprochement with the West, which had waged a Cold War with its Soviet Union for decades, and broke with the Brezhnev Doctrine, by which Moscow clamped down on satellite states with a heavy hand if necessary. Instead, the Eastern Bloc was allowed to decide its own future.

The fall of the Soviet Union and the Nobel Prize

Not Gorbachev himself, but a coup by alienated conservative party members in August 1991 set in motion a movement that heralded the end of the Soviet Union. The moment Gorbachev stayed in a landlock in Crimea, they took power. Boris Yeltsin, later president of the new Russian Federation, called for resistance to the coup plotters, and after the army joined him, the Soviet Union’s fate was all but sealed.

While Gorbachev – the man of the disarmament agreements who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his efforts to end the Cold War – remained wildly popular in the West, he was less well-liked at home. There, too, he was praised, but many also saw him as the man who had brought down the Soviet Union.

In 2014, while visiting a commemoration for the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev warned of new tensions between his country and the West:

Gorbachev in 2014: ‘The world on the brink of a new cold war’

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