The 91-year-old former leader leaves behind a political legacy that is especially recognized outside Russia
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, architect of the first steps of modern Russia, died Tuesday in a Moscow hospital at the age of 91, in what marks the passing of one of the great political symbols of the 20th century, associated with the end of the Cold War.
Gorbachev died Tuesday night “after a serious and prolonged illness,” according to the brief public message from the capital’s Central Clinical Hospital, picked up by official Russian news agencies.
He led the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991, first at the head of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Supreme Soviet and then as president. His career culminated in 1991, when he resigned after the dissolution agreement signed with Belarus and Ukraine, with the Iron Curtain in retreat.
Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1990, he symbolized both inside and outside Russia the end of an era for the once mighty Soviet Union and his legacy remained uncomfortable in certain internal sectors, such that his image is not as revered as that of other leaders associated with eras of greatness.
The current president, Vladimir Putin, has nevertheless recognized him as one of the most important statesmen in world history, but the truth is that in recent years he remained in a discreet political background. In fact, there is no record of any official pronouncement on the current war in Ukraine.
Gorbachev insisted in March 2021, on his 90th birthday, on his defense of Perestroika, the reformist policy that opened the doors to what is now Russia. He considered this initiative, developed together with Glásnost, his greatest political achievement and he did not hide it.
“I am completely convinced that it was necessary and that we moved in the right direction,” he said then in an interview to the TASS agency, recalling a stage in which “the people gained freedom” and an end was put to “a totalitarian system.”
On a personal level, Gorbachev shared his life with his wife, Raisa, who died in 1999 and with whom he had a daughter, Irina. Sources close to the former leader have assured the TASS newspaper that he had expressed his wish to be buried next to his late wife in the Novodevichi cemetery in Moscow.
The date of the funeral and the magnitude of the tributes that the Kremlin is now ready to pay to Gorbachev are for now an unknown, in a context marked by the war in Ukraine which, foreseeably, will limit the presence of Western leaders.