Who was Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-Russian president revered in the West but disliked in his own country?


Mikhail Gorbachev, perhaps the most important global leader in the contemporary era, died in Moscow aged 91. He will be buried next to his wife in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery, the most prominent burial place in the Vladimir Putin-led country. As the President of the USSR, he oversaw the disintegration of the union of 15 member countries, becoming the harbinger of a peaceful end of the cold war between Russia and the United States that threatened world peace for over five decades. 

Gorbachev is also credited with the demolition of the German wall that divided the country into East and West Germany. East Germans fondly remember him as Gorbi for bringing freedom to the erstwhile communist country. 

After decades of arms race that pushed the world to the brink of destruction on some occasions, Gorbachev signed groundbreaking agreements with their rival the United States on nuclear disarmament and arms control. Within the USSR, he brought reforms to the archaic governance system with his initiatives like “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring). He won the Nobel Prize for Peace for the initiatives. 

However, despite his efforts, he couldn’t prevent the collapse of the USSR following economic problems. 

The disintegration of the USSR made him a popular leader in the West but alienated him from the people of Russia who blame him for the fiasco. He resigned in 1991. 

During his time out of power and limelight, he continued advocacy for inculcating democratic values in Russian society and the country’s rapprochement with the West.

Gorbachev was co-founder of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which is critical of the Kremlin and repeatedly exposes abuses in Russia. In recent years, Gorbachev had repeatedly called on Russian President Vladimir Putin not to further restrict the freedom of the media and elections.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called Gorbachev a “one-of-a-kind statesman who changed the course of history”. 

“He did more than any other individual to bring about the peaceful end of the Cold War,” Guterres said.

Putin also condoled the leader’s death and said he would send a telegram of condolence to his family. 

With inputs from IANS

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