Soviet leader Gorbachev dies at 91

By Spencer de Tenley, Multimedia Managing Editor

Long-time Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev died last week at 91. Gorbachev lead the Soviet Union from 1985 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. He died under supervision of doctors.

Mikhail Gorbachev, who led the former Soviet Union into the final days of the Cold War, died on Aug. 30, marking the end of living Soviet leaders.

Gorbachev, after taking power on March 15, 1990, aimed to reorganize the economic and societal structure of the Soviet Union. While working under his predecessor, Leonard Brezhnev, he pursued a mission of rapid modernization and restructuring the  Soviet bureaucracy. 

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The leader is frequently remembered for enacting the policies of Glasnost and Perestroika. Glasnost aimed to expand freedoms of expression and information that had been restricted under previous regimes. Perestroika took a more structural approach, enacting a more democratic political system and also opening up a limited free-market system. 

While Gorbachev’s reign was short, he is best known for ultimately thawing Cold War tension and withdrawing Soviet troops from Afghanistan. After battling internal tensions, Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991 as president of the Soviet Union, which ceased to exist the following day. 

A public commemoration was held in an open casket format in Moscow’s Hall of Columns. Two Russian soldiers flanked his body on either side, accompanied by Gorbachev’s family members, including his daughter Irina Virganskaya and his two granddaughters. The ceremony lasted 3.5 hours, with Moscow residents waiting outside the hall to honor the former president. Later the following day, Gorbachev was laid to rest next to his wife Raisa at the Novodevichy Cemetery. 

Gorbachev was seen as an outcast for the radical economic and democratic changes he enacted while president of the Soviet Union, which left many citizens craving a strong-headed leader. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been quoted blaming Gorbachev as the reason for the demise of the Soviet Union, and Gorbachev criticized Putin’s regime during his later years of life. 

In recent years, while Gorbachev personally did not denounce Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, his organization, The Gorbachev Foundation, called for peace negotiations, stating: “There is nothing more precious in the world than human lives.” 

Putin ultimately couldn’t make the funeral due to his work schedule, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, but he paid his respects earlier in the week. 

Putin was seen laying a bouquet of roses, bowing and making the sign of the cross by Gorbachev’s open coffin in the Central Clinical Hospital. Putin was one of the only world leaders allowed to attend the funeral since Moscow enacted a travel ban on many foreign officials in retaliation to the slew of Western sanctions due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

“He led the country during difficult and dramatic changes, amid large-scale foreign policy, economic and society challenges. He deeply realized that reforms were necessary and tried to offer his solutions for the acute problems,” Putin said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, “Mr. Gorbachev was open to acknowledging his country’s history — not just its triumphs, but its tragedies — what he called the blank spots of the Soviet Union’s past. He created space for dissenting views, and freed dissidents who had spent years in exile or prison. He was also open to working with other nations, including adversaries like the U.S., driven by the conviction that dialogue was in the interest of his people — and all people.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “The world has lost a towering global leader, committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace.”