Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who brought down the Iron Curtain, has died.

 Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who brought down the Iron Curtain, has died.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who brought down the Iron Curtain, has died.

Hardliners are revolting.

While Gorbachev's arms control agreements with the US may have been seen as being in the Soviet interest, the breakup of some Eastern European countries, followed by German unification and NATO membership for the new unified Germany (West Germany had previously been in NATO), enraged old-school Communists.

Hardliners had had enough in August 1991. They staged a revolt while Gorbachev was on vacation in the Crimea. Boris Yeltsin, the president of the largest Soviet republic, Russia, and a harsh critic of Gorbachev's half-hearted reforms, nevertheless came to his rescue, confronting and defeating the coup plotters.

However, republics across the Soviet Union declared independence one after the other, and Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president on December 25, 1991. Gorbachev defined his legacy as he read his resignation speech: "The country received freedom, was liberated politically and spiritually, and that was the most important achievement."

The USSR's red flag, which flew over the Kremlin, was lowered. The Soviet Union had ended, and Yeltsin had taken control. "We live in a new world," Gorbachev declared.

In April 2012, CNN's Christiane Amanpour asked Gorbachev if he was responsible for the Soviet Union's demise.

Gorbachev stated that there was nothing in his speeches "until the very end" that had supported its disintegration: "The union's disintegration was the result of betrayal by the Soviet nomenklatura, the bureaucracy, and also Yeltsin's betrayal." He talked about cooperating with me, about working on a new union treaty with me, and he signed and initialed the draft union treaty. However, he was also working behind my back."

Gorbachev ran against Yeltsin for the Russian presidency in 1996, but received less than 1% of the vote.

Speaking out after the presidency

Three years later, Gorbachev lost his life's love, Raisa, his wife of 46 years, to cancer. Irina, the couple's daughter, was born. "Even in the worst of situations, I remained calm and balanced. But now that she's gone, I'm not sure I want to live. The focal point of our lives has vanished "He stated.

But Gorbachev persisted, speaking out on nuclear disarmament, the environment, and poverty, and establishing the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation in memory of his wife.

Previously, he founded the Green Cross to address environmental issues, as well as the International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies, or Gorbachev Foundation. Gorbachev also established the annual "Gorbachev Awards" in 2011 to honor "those who have changed the world for the better."

Gorbachev's involvement in Russian politics remained. He was the leader of Russia's Social Democratic Party from 2001 until his resignation in 2004 due to disagreements with the party's direction and leadership.

He became the leader of a new Russian political movement, the Union of Social Democrats, in 2007, which spawned the opposition Independent Democratic Party of Russia.

In 2012, he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that he agreed Russian democracy was "alive," but added, "That it is 'well,' not so... I am alive, but I can't say I'm fine." He explained that "institutions of democracy are not functioning efficiently in Russia because they are ultimately not free."

A conflicting legacy

Despite rising tensions, Gorbachev told CNN in 2019 that the US and Russia must work together to avoid a "New Cold War." "This could turn into a hot war, resulting in the annihilation of our entire civilization. This cannot be tolerated "He stated.

When asked about the demise of the 1987 treaty he signed with Reagan, Gorbachev expressed optimism that similar arms control treaties could be revived.

"All of the existing agreements are preserved and not destroyed," he said. "However, these are the first steps toward the destruction of [that which] must never be destroyed." The ultimate goal of arms control, he added, must be the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

Gorbachev's post-USSR life also included some surprises, such as appearances in Pizza Hut and Louis Vuitton advertisements to raise funds for his causes. Gorbachev received a Grammy Award for best spoken word album for children in 2004 for "Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf / Beintus: Wolf Tracks," which he co-produced with former US President Bill Clinton and actress Sophia Loren.

Other honors include the US National Constitution Center's 2008 Liberty Medal and Russia's highest honor, the Order of St. Andrew, bestowed upon him on his 80th birthday in 2011 by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

However, Gorbachev was a leader who was more respected in other countries than he was at home. Some vilified him in Russia for destroying the Soviet empire, while others criticized him for moving too slowly to liberate his country from communism. In the West, however, he is remembered as the Nobel Peace Prize winner who helped bring the Cold War to an end.

'A man with whom one can do business.'

In order to redirect resources to the Soviet economy's civilian sector, Gorbachev began to advocate for an end to the arms race with the West.

Throughout his six years in office, Gorbachev seemed to move too quickly for the party establishment, whose privileges were threatened, and too slowly for more radical reformers, who hoped to abolish the one-party state and the command economy.

In his desperate attempt to maintain control of the reform process, he appeared to have underestimated the severity of the economic crisis. He also appeared to have a blind spot for the power of the nationality issue: in the late 1980s, Glasnost fueled ever-louder calls for independence from the Baltic republics and other Soviet republics.

He was successful in foreign policy, primarily from an international standpoint, and other world leaders took notice. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher described him as "a man with whom one can do business."

In 1986, while meeting with American President Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik, Iceland, Gorbachev made a stunning proposal: eliminate all long-range missiles held by the US and the Soviet Union. It was the start of the Cold War's demise.

In 1990, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for "his leading role in the peace process that now characterizes important parts of the international community."

The resulting treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, served as a pillar of arms control for three decades until the United States formally withdrew in 2019 and the Russian government declared it obsolete.

Gorbachev's outgoing, charismatic personality broke the mold for Soviet leaders, who had previously been distant, icy figures. Almost from the start of his presidency, he sought significant reforms to make the system more efficient and democratic. As a result, the two key phrases of Gorbachev's era were "glasnost" (openness) and "perestroika" (restructuring).

"I began these reforms with the goal of achieving freedom and democracy without bloodshed. As a result, the people would no longer be a herd led by a shepherd. They would be granted citizenship "He later explained.

According to the Gorbachev Foundation, he will be buried next to his wife at Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery.

Gorbachev rose from humble beginnings as a farm laborer to the party's rising star: On March 2, 1931, he was born into a peasant family near Stavropol, and as a child, he did farm labor alongside his studies, working with his father, who was a combine harvester operator. Gorbachev later stated that he was "especially proud of my ability to detect a fault in the combine instantly, just by the sound of it."

He joined the Communist Party in 1952 and earned a law degree from Moscow University in 1955. He met – and married – fellow student Raisa Titarenko here.

Gorbachev was appointed head of the agriculture department for the Stavropol region in the early 1960s. By the end of the decade, he had risen to the top of the regional party hierarchy. He caught the attention of Mikhail Suslov and Yuri Andropov, members of the Politburo, the Communist Party's main policy-making body, who got him elected to the Central Committee in 1971 and arranged foreign trips for their rising star.

Gorbachev returned to Moscow in 1978, and the following year he was appointed as a candidate member of the Politburo. His management of Soviet agriculture was a failure. The collective system, he realized, was fundamentally flawed in more than one way.

Gorbachev, a full Politburo member since 1980, gained more clout in 1982, when his mentor, Andropov, succeeded Leonid Brezhnev as party general secretary. He earned a reputation as an opponent of corruption and inefficiency, eventually rising to the top of the party in March 1985.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet Union's last leader from 1985 to 1991, died at the age of 91.

Gorbachev died after a long illness, according to Russian state news agencies.

According to RIA Novosti, "Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev died this evening after a severe and prolonged illness," the Central Clinical Hospital said Tuesday.

For some time, the man credited with introducing key political and economic reforms in the Soviet Union and helping to end the Cold War had been in failing health.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences, according to Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman.

Putin will send a message to Gorbachev's family and friends on Wednesday, according to RIA Novosti.

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