MOSCOW (AP) — Mikhail Gorbachev, who as the last leader of the Soviet Union fought a losing battle to save a crumbling empire but produced extraordinary reforms that led to the end of the war cold, died at 91, Russian media reported on Thursday.
News agencies quoted a statement from Central Clinical Hospital that he died after a long illness. No other details were given.
Although in power for less than seven years, Gorbachev has unleashed a breathtaking series of changes. But they quickly overtook it and brought about the collapse of the authoritarian Soviet state, the liberation of Eastern European nations from Russian rule, and the end of decades of East-West nuclear confrontation.
His decline was humiliating. His power hopelessly sapped by an attempted coup against him in August 1991, he spent his last months in power watching republic after republic declare independence until his resignation on December 25, 1991. The Soviet Union fell into the forgotten the next day.
A quarter of a century after the collapse, Gorbachev told The Associated Press that he had not considered using all-out force to try to hold the USSR together because he feared chaos in a nuclear country. .
“The country was loaded to the brim with weapons. And that would have immediately plunged the country into a civil war,” he said.
Many changes, including the Soviet break-up, bore no resemblance to the transformation Gorbachev envisioned when he became Soviet leader in March 1985.
At the end of his reign, he was powerless to stop the whirlwind he had sown. Yet Gorbachev perhaps had a greater impact on the second half of the 20th century than any other political figure.
“I see myself as a man who initiated the necessary reforms for the country, for Europe and for the world,” Gorbachev told the AP in a 1992 interview shortly after leaving office.
“I am often asked, would I have started all over again if I had to repeat it? Yes, indeed. And with more perseverance and determination,” he said.
Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his role in ending the Cold War and spent his final years garnering accolades and awards around the world. Yet he was widely despised at home.
The Russians blamed him for the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991 – a once formidable superpower whose territory fractured into 15 separate nations. His former allies abandoned him and made him a scapegoat for the country’s troubles.
The official Tass news agency reported that Gorbachev will be buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife.
Vladimir Isachenkov and Kate de Pury in Moscow contributed to this.