(EFE).- Mikhail Gorbachev, the last person to lead the Soviet Union before it dissolved in 1991, died here Tuesday, RIA Novosti news agency said. He was 91.
The administration at Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital told RIA that the politician credited in the West with dismantling the Iron Curtain succumbed after a “serious and long illness.”
TASS reported that Gorbachev will be interred alongside his late wife, Raisa, at Novodevichy Cemetery, the final resting place for many prominent figures, including Nikita Khrushchev, Anton Chekhov and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Gorbachev, who rose to the leadership in 1985, spent his final years out of the public eye and in failing health.
As chief of the ruling Communist Party and – later – as the first Soviet head of state to hold the title of president, Gorbachev pursued policies he called “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring).
In foreign policy, he ordered Soviet troops out of Afghanistan and broke from previous practice by declining to intervene when Moscow-linked governments in Central and Eastern Europe faced popular pressure.
Gorbachev’s hands-off approach led to the fall of Communist governments, the reunification of Germany and the end of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact military alliance.
He also signed a major arms control agreement with the United States, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, that remained in force until Washington withdrew in 2019.
Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 “for his leading role in the peace process which today characterizes important parts of the international community.”
Born to a peasant family in the southern region of Stavropol, Gorbachev worked on a collective farm in his youth before earning a law degree from prestigious Moscow State University, where he met and fell in love with Raisa Titarenko.
By 1970, he was the top Communist Party official in Stavropol and eight years later, Gorbachev was named to the party Central Committee as secretary of agriculture.
Gorbachev was elevated to the Politburo in 1980 and became the protege of KGB chairman Yuri Andropov, who acceded to the party leadership in 1982 following the death of Leonid Brezhnev.
Andropov died of kidney failure after only 15 months in office and urged his colleagues to appoint Gorbachev as his successor.
But the Politburo opted instead for Konstantin Chernenko, who survived barely a year, and the party elders handed the reins to the 54-year-old Gorbachev.
The new general secretary’s warmth and outgoing personality market a dramatic change from his predecessors and Gorbachev quickly showed that he was determined to go beyond matters of style by introducing genuine reforms and liberalization.
In 1991, hard-liners in the party and security services moved to oust Gorbachev, but the coup failed in the face of opposition led by the leader of the Russian Republic, Boris Yeltsin.
Though he survived the attempted putsch, Gorbachev was pushed to the margin by the popular Yeltsin, and in December 1991, the president of the Soviet Union officiated at its dissolution.
“Gorby,” as he was known, continued to enjoy acclaim in the West, but many Russians could not forgive him for his part in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Without mentioning Gorbachev by name, Vladimir Putin offered a harsh appraisal of the last Soviet leader’s stewardship in 2011 in response to a question during his annual televised town-hall with Russians.
“We should have fought for the integrity of our state consistently, steadfastly and fearlessly, without sticking one’s head in the sand and leaving one’s rear end exposed,” Putin said.
Gorbachev, who criticized Putin for concentrating power in his own hands yet supported the annexation of Crimea in 2014, called perestroika “an unfinished revolution.”
Putin “will send a telegram of condolences” to Gorbachev’s family and friends, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
© 2022 EFE News Services (U.S.) Inc.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.