Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), has died in Moscow at the age of 91. He was the architect of perestroika and glasnost that allowed the Soviet system to be reformed. He too will be remembered because he ended up changing the world by ending a half-century of antagonism between East and West known as the Cold War. Furthermore, he ended the Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the USSR, died in Moscow at the age of 91. The father of perestroika and glasnost he is also remembered because he ended up changing the world by ending half a century of antagonism between East and West known as the Cold War.
“This afternoon after a long and serious illness, Mikhail Gorbachev passed away,” sources from the Central Clinical Hospital told the RIA Nóvosti agency.
The Russian media even stated that he spent months hospitalized for a series of conditions. In 2019, the last Soviet leader, who left political life in 1991, was hospitalized for pneumonia.
According to the TASS agency, the former president will be buried in the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow, where the remains of prominent figures in the history of this country lie and the tomb of Gorbachev’s wife, Raísa, is also located.
Gorbachev, the man who changed the world
The last Soviet leader wanted to change the USSR. “If I want to change something, I must accept the position. You cannot continue living like this,” Gorbachev told his wife Raísa on March 10, 1985, one day before assuming the general secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). .
Aware that the crisis was looming, he had launched a liberalization called “perestroika” (restructuring) and “glasnost” (transparency) to reform the Soviet system and reduce the influence of the old party bosses.
Millions of Soviets then discovered unprecedented freedoms, but also hardship, economic chaos and nationalist revolts. Gorbachev was also the one who ordered the end of the Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan, and brought down the Berlin Wall.
Although in power for less than seven years, Gorbachev unleashed a series of impressive changes. But they quickly resulted in the collapse of the authoritarian Soviet state, the liberation of Eastern European nations from Russian domination, and the end of decades of East-West nuclear confrontation.
His decline was humiliating. His power was desperately weakened by a coup attempt against him in August 1991 and he spent his last months in office watching the republic until he resigned on December 25, 1991. The Soviet Union was written into oblivion one day later.
Twenty-five years later, Gorbachev told the AP that he had not considered using widespread force to try to hold the USSR together because he feared nuclear chaos.
“The country was loaded to the brim with weapons. And it would have immediately pushed the country into a civil war,” he said.
Many of the changes, including the Soviet breakup, did not resemble the transformation that Gorbachev had envisioned when he became Soviet leader in March 1985.
“I am often asked, would I have started all over again if I had to repeat it? Yes actually. And with more persistence and determination,” she said.
Gorbachev won the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Cold War due to political openness and thaw with the West and spent his final years collecting accolades and awards from all corners of the world. However, he was widely despised at home and also by other Western supporters for sending troops to Latvia and Lithuania to suppress secessionist movements.
The Russians blamed him for the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, a once fearsome superpower whose territory was divided into 15 separate nations. His former allies abandoned him and made him a scapegoat for the country’s problems.
His 1996 presidential run was a national joke, earning less than 1% of the vote.
Gorbachev never set out to dismantle the Soviet system. What he wanted was to improve it. Shortly after taking power, Gorbachev began a campaign to end his country’s economic and political stagnation, using glasnost, or openness, to help achieve his goal of perestroika, or restructuring.
In his memoirs, he said he had long been frustrated that in a country with immense natural resources, tens of millions lived in poverty.
The ambitious programs of economic and political reforms
This politician launched an ambitious program of economic reforms known as perestroika and political opening, glasnost, a reform applied in the USSR, whose objective was to generate free and open discussions among Russian citizens on political and social issues.
“I see myself as a man who started the reforms that were necessary for the country and for Europe and the world,” Gorbachev told the AP in a 1992 interview shortly after leaving office.
He used a new generation of technocrats who wanted to reform the communist system to make it more effective, but the old Soviet nomenclature kept putting obstacles in his way.
“The people want changes. The time has come. They cannot be postponed any longer,” Gorbachev told the historical “Mr. Niet,” Andrei Gromyko.
Even so, he went ahead with the introduction of private property, although without giving up the centralized economy; holding democratic elections; freedom of expression and belief; the creation of a new legislature and the release of political prisoners.
Externally, he improved relations with the West, significantly reduced the defense budget, opened nuclear arms reduction negotiations with the United States, and ordered the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
In addition, he renounced the doctrine of limited sovereignty in relation to the members of the Warsaw Pact, which began a revolutionary process that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall, the overthrow of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and later the reunification of Germany.
Who was Mikhail Gorbachev and what was his career
Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931 in the Stavropol region into a Russian-Ukrainian peasant family. They suffered from the famine of the 1930s caused by the forced collectivization of the land ordered by Stalin.
He graduated in law from the prestigious Moscow State University (1955), where he met his wife, Raísa. Since he entered the party at university, Gorbachev gradually rose until he became head of the party in his native Stavropol in 1970 when he was less than 40 years old.
His specialization in agricultural economics allowed him to make a meteoric career and to be appointed in 1978 as Secretary of Agriculture in the Central Committee of the CPSU, before reaching the General Secretariat.
Later Gorbachev directed the regeneration of the party, which had elderly leaders, together with the head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, who would be his political godfather.
Once he was appointed general secretary, Andropov already had his dauphin in mind as his replacement.
He had just turned 54 and this was a decisive factor for his appointment after the last three leaders of the USSR died within three years – Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko -, which threatened the stability of the state.
Gorbachev’s arrival in power aroused great expectations, since the new Soviet leader was extroverted, something his fellow citizens were not used to.
But Gorbachev did not limit himself to forms, since shortly after coming to power he launched perestroika and then Glasnost, which gave way to what he called: “Communism with a human face”.
“The confrontation with his old ally, Boris Yeltsin, the first Russian president elected by universal suffrage, opened an insurmountable gap that ended up precipitating the disappearance of the Soviet Union. The last straw was the coup d’état carried out by a group of Soviet leaders, a coup that was disarmed by an unstoppable Yeltsin, while Gorbachev returned from his confinement in the south of the country as a political corpse”, describes the EFE agency.
Months later, Gorbachev confirmed the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in a historic speech on December 25, 1991.
“Gorbi”, as he was called in the West, was received like a star in other countries, but his compatriots never forgave him for the end of the Soviet state and until the day of his death many still accused him of treason.
“We had to fight for the territorial integrity of our state in a more insistent, coherent and daring way, and not hide our heads in the sand, leaving our asses in the air,” Vladimir Putin blamed him.
To which Gorbachev, who had criticized Putin for monopolizing power, but defended the annexation of Crimea and criticized Western interference in Ukraine, replied that perestroika is “an unfinished revolution.”
With AP and EFE