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, hospital officials in Moscow said.
Gorbachev, the last Soviet president, forged arms reduction deals with the United States and partnerships with Western powers to remove the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War Two and bring about the reunification of Germany.
But his broad internal reforms helped weaken the Soviet Union to the point where it fell apart, a moment that President Vladimir Putin has called the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the twentieth century.
“Mikhail Gorbachev passed away tonight after a serious and protracted disease,” Russia’s Central Clinical Hospital said in a statement.
Putin expressed “his deepest condolences”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax news agency.
“Tomorrow he will send a telegram of condolences to his family and friends,” he said.
World leaders were quick to pay tribute. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Gorbachev had opened the way for a free Europe.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, citing Putin’s attacks in Ukraine, said Gorbachev’s “tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all”.
After decades of Cold War tension and confrontation, Gorbachev brought the Soviet Union closer to the West than at any point since World War Two.
Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
He will be buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife Raisa, who died in 1999, said Tass, citing the foundation that the ex-Soviet leader set up once he left office.
When pro-democracy protests swept across the Soviet bloc nations of communist Eastern Europe in 1989, he refrained from using force – unlike previous Kremlin leaders who had sent tanks to crush uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
But the protests fuelled aspirations for autonomy in the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, which disintegrated over the next two years in chaotic fashion.
Gorbachev – who was briefly deposed in an August 1991 coup by party hardliners – struggled vainly to prevent that 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 one miscalculation: we did not know our country well,” said Vladimir Shevchenko, who headed Gorbachev’s protocol office when he was Soviet leader.
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