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Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader who ended Cold War, dies aged 91 – The Irish Times

Mikhail Gorbachev, who ended the cold war without bloodshed but failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, has died at the age of 91, Russian news agencies cited hospital officials as saying on Tuesday

The Tass, RIA Novosti and Interfax agencies cited the Central clinical hospital in Moscow.

Mr Gorbachev’s office said earlier that he was undergoing treatment at the hospital.

Mr 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 the second World War 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. Mr Gorbachev struggled in vain to prevent that collapse.

On becoming general secretary of the Soviet Communist party in 1985, aged 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 Mr 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 Mr Gorbachev in hospital on June 30th, the 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.”

Mr Gorbachev received a wide range of awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. In 2002, he was awarded freedom of the city of Dublin on a visit to Ireland.

As tributes were paid internationally, with the news breaking on Tuesday night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was deeply saddened to hear of Mr Gorbachev’s death, describing him as one of the most significant political figures of the late 20th century.

“At a time when the threat to the world of nuclear destruction was very real, he saw the urgent need for rapprochement with the west and for greater openness and reform – glasnost and perestroika – in the then Soviet Union,” Mr Martin said.

“There are very few figures who can be said to have truly changed the world. Mikhail Gorbachev was one.” – Additional reporting Guardian News and Media

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