Mikhail Gorbachev: Former Soviet president dies at 91

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Mikhail Gorbachev: Nuclear weapons pose ‘colossal danger’

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. 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 struggled in vain to prevent that collapse.

On becoming general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, aged just 54, he had set out to revitalise the system by introducing limited political and economic freedoms, but his reforms spun out of control.

His policy of ‘glasnost’ – free speech – allowed previously unthinkable criticism of the party and the state, but also emboldened nationalists who began to press for independence in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and elsewhere.

Many Russians never forgave Gorbachev for the turbulence that his reforms unleashed, considering the subsequent plunge in their living standards too high a price to pay for democracy.

After visiting Gorbachev in hospital on June 30, liberal economist Ruslan Grinberg told the armed forces news outlet Zvezda: “He gave us all freedom – but we don’t know what to do with it.”

Gorbachev emerged as Soviet Leader at the end of a turbulent period which saw several ageing Communist Party stalwarts come and go in quick succession, the last of which was Konstantin Chernenko.

In contrast, Gorbachev was aged just 54 when he became the Secretary of the Communist Party. He did not officially become President until 1990.

Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously described Mr Gorbachev as “a man we can do business with”.

Former US Preident met Mr Gorbachev on several occasions, with the pair famously signing the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1988.

(More to follow)

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