Mikhail Gorbachev death – latest: Transformative Soviet leader dies aged 91

·22-min read

Russian news agencies have announced the death of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, citing a statement from Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital, where he was undergoing treatment.

Agencies reported his death on 30 August following a “serious and long illness”. He was 91.

Gorbachev – a towering figure in 20th century history whose rise to power transformed the map of Europe and steered the Cold War to its end – was the last and only president of the Soviet Union before its collapse in 1991, as he forged relationships with the United States to lift the Iron Curtain and unite Germany in the long shadow of World War II.

He presided over an era of perestoika and glasnost as reforms sparked pro-democracy protests across communist bloc nations in the late 1980s, fuelling the dissolution of the 15 Republics of the Soviet Union.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remembers him as “a one-of-a kind statesman who changed the course of history” and a towering global leader, committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace.”

Key Points

  • Mikhail Gorbachev: Soviet Union’s final president who changed world history

  • Vladimir Putin expresses ‘deepest condolences’

  • A timeline of the Soviet leader’s era and the collapse of the USSR

Gorbachev ‘will be remembered by us all,’ says Rishi Sunak

07:49 , Liam James

Conservative leadership contender Rishi Sunak said the legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev will be “remembered by us all”.

Japanese prime minister reacts to Gorbachev's passing

07:30 , Stuti Mishra

Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida expressed his deepest condolences after the passing of Mikhail Gorbachev and said he possessed “great strategic vision and decisive execution”.

“I would like to offer my deepest condolences to former president (Mikhail) Gorbachev. As the leader of the Soviet Union, Mr Gorbachev has played an important role in overcoming to division of Europe and East-West confrontation after World War II.”

“He was the first person in history to agree to reduce nuclear weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War,” he said in a press conference.

“He has made great achievements as a world leader in favour of the abolition of nuclear weapons. I believe that Mr Gorbachev, who possessed great strategic vision and decisive execution, played a very important role. Once again, I would like to express my deepest condolences in memory of his achievements,” he added.

People of Europe and Russians owe 'a great debt of gratitude' to Gorbachev, says Henry Kissinger

06:52 , Stuti Mishra

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger has said that the people of Europe, as well as Russians, owe the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a great debt of gratitude.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight, Mr Kissinger said: “People of Eastern Europe, and German people, and then the end the Russian people, owe me a great debt of gratitude for the inspiration, for the courage, and coming forward with the ideals of freedom.”

Mr Kissinger added that he performed “a great service to humanity”.

Joe Biden remembers Gorbachev as 'a man of remarkable vision'

06:20 , Stuti Mishra

US president Joe Biden has issued a statement remembering Mikhail Gorbachev as a “man of remarkable vision”.

Mr Biden remembered the time when we came to power and said his acts were that of a “rare leader” who had the “imagination to see that a different future was possible”.

Here’s the full statement from the US president:

When he came to power, the Cold War had gone on for nearly 40 years and communism for even longer, with devastating consequences. Few high-level Soviet officials had the courage to admit that things needed to change. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I saw him do that and more.

As leader of the USSR, he worked with President Reagan to reduce our two countries’ nuclear arsenals, to the relief of people worldwide praying for an end to the nuclear arms race. After decades of brutal political repression, he embraced democratic reforms. He believed in glasnost and perestroika – openness and restructuring – not as mere slogans, but as the path forward for the people of the Soviet Union after so many years of isolation and deprivation.

These were the acts of a rare leader – one with the imagination to see that a different future was possible and the courage to risk his entire career to achieve it. The result was a safer world and greater freedom for millions of people.

Even years after leaving office, he was still deeply engaged. When Mr Gorbachev visited the White House in 2009, he and I spoke for a long time about our countries’ ongoing work to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles. It was easy to see why so many worldwide held him in such high esteem.

We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends, and to people everywhere who benefited from his belief in a better world.

Mikhail Gorbachev: Soviet Union’s final president who changed world history

06:01 , Stuti Mishra

The Independent’s obituary for the transformative Soviet leader charts his meteoric rise within the Communist Party to the disentegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Paul Vallely writes:

It was not his intention to bring about the collapse of one of the great empires of the 20th century. He wanted to reform Russian communism and modernise it – with a speed and scale which startled both friends and foes alike all across the world.

But his efforts to democratise his country’s political system, and decentralise its economy, set in process events which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism as a global force.

Mikhail Gorbachev: Soviet Union’s final president who changed world history

Gorbachev’s Pizza Hut advert resurfaces after death

05:43 , Stuti Mishra

People are remembering Mikhail Gorbachev for many reasons today, and one of them is a 1998 commercial for Pizza Hut which aired just about everywhere except for in Russia itself.

The ad was widely shared on Tuesday and Wednesday following news of his death.

The ad features Russians seated at a Pizza Hut discussing politics. They notice Gorbachev in the corner in the room and talk about his legacy over the meal.

“Because of him, we have economic confusion!” one critic says in the ad.

“Because of him, we have opportunity!” one supporter responds.

“Because of him, we have political instability,” the first man adds.

“Because of him, we have many things ... like Pizza Hut,” an elderly lady replied, as the three say, “Hail to Gorbachev!”

“Sometimes nothing brings people together like a nice hot pizza from Pizza Hut,” the narrator says in the ad.

UN secretary-general remembers ‘towering global leader’

05:24 , Stuti Mishra

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres remembers Mikhail Gorbachev as “a one-of-a kind statesman who changed the course of history.”

“The world has lost a towering global leader, committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace. I’m deeply saddened by his passing,” he said.

A timeline of the Soviet leader’s era and the collapse of the USSR

05:19 , Stuti Mishra

The Independent reviews key moments in the life of Mikhail Gorbachev, who became the head of the Societ Party in 1985 and is recognised for helping bring an end to the Cold War and lift the Iron Curtain.

‘All Gorbachev’s reforms have been reduced to zero'

03:30 , Josh Marcus

Mikhail Gorbachev may not have died content.

According to Alexei Venediktov, who editted the liberal radio station Echo of Moscow until it was forced off air for its Ukraine coverage, Gorbachev was “upset” by the invasion.

“All Gorbachev’s reforms have been reduced to zero, dust, smoke,” Mr Venediktov said in July. “This was his life’s work [...] Freedom of speech, private property – that was Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. So what’s he going to say now?”

The journalist said on Tuesday that loss of Gorbachev meant many Russian dissidents were now effectively “orphaned.”

“We have all become orphans,” he said. “But not everyone has understood it yet.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger among many honouring life of Gorbachev

03:10 , Josh Marcus

Actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined legions of world leaders in paying tribute to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was reported dead on Tuesday at age 91.

“There’s an old saying, ‘Never meet your heroes,’” the Terminator star wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of himself with Gorbachev. “I think that’s some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard.”

See what Mr Schwarzenegger had to say about the Russian statesman.

ICYMI: Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader who helped end the Cold War and changed the world forever, dies aged 91

02:50 , Josh Marcus

Mikhail Gorbachev, a man widely lauded in the West for reforms that changed the world but were often condemned at home, has died at the age of 91.

Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital said the last leader of the Soviet Union had died after a long illness but provided no other details.

At the height of his influence, Gorbachev was the tip of the spear pushing for exciting reforms and demands for more openness within a system that for decades had been closed and set against the US in a superpower battle for supremacy and survival.

Indeed, at times during the Cold War, such as the feverish Cuban missile crisis of 1962, it appeared that the stand-off would end in nuclear annihilation for everyone.

Andrew Buncombe has this remembrance of the impactful leader.

How Mikhail Gorbachev changed the world forever

Putin offered ‘condolences’ over Gorbachev, but has worked to undo his legacy

02:30 , Josh Marcus

Russian president Vladimir Putin has reportedly offered his condolences to the family of Mikhail Gorbachev, who died on Tuesday at age 91.

Vladimir Putin expresses ‘deepest condolences’ after death of Mikhail Gorbachev

Nonetheless, Mr Purin has spent much of his time leading Russia in a more revanchist direction than the Gorbachev years, which strove for greater openness and less hostilities with the West.

The current Russian president has called the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which occured Gorbachev, the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

Gorbachev was reportedly upset that Mr Putin was destroying his “life’s work” by invading Ukraine.

Mr Putin seemed to reference the end of the USSR in a February speech announcing the invasion of Ukraine, claiming, “The paralysis of power and will is the first step toward complete degradation and oblivion.”

Remembering when Gorbachev gave a New Year’s Day address to Americans

02:10 , Josh Marcus

January, 1998. The mood was cautiously optimistic.

The United States and the Soviet Union had just signed a 1987 nuclear weapons control treaty, and the leaders took the landmark step of addressing each other’s constituents directly in a televised New Year’s Day address shown in both countries.

“That treaty marks the first step along the path of reducing nuclear arms, and that is its enduring value,” Mr Gorbachev said.

Mr Reagan also offered a warm holiday message in his part of the exchange, though he also criticised ongoing conflicts in Nicaragua and Afghanistan, where both the US and the USSR were providing support to their favoured factions.

“In some instances, regimes backed by foreign military power are oppressing their own peoples, giving rise to popular resistance and the spread of fighting beyond their borders,” Mr Reagan said. “Too many mothers, including Soviet mothers, have wept over the graves of their fallen sons.”

Watch an excerpt of Mr Gorbachev’s speech below.

WATCH: Archival video shows Reagan and Gorbachev share a joke during 1987 treaty signing

01:50 , Josh Marcus

Mikhail Gorbachev helped bring about the modern nuclear arms control system between the US and Russia.

In an archival video published by CSPAN, Mr Gorbachev and US president Ronald Reagan can be seen sharing a joke at the White House, where the men gathered in 1987 to mark the signing of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Weapons Treaty, at that point the most extensive regime of weapons inspection ever created between the two countries.

In the clip, Mr Reagan amuses the Soviet leader by speaking in Russia to quote a maxim that translates to, “Trust, but verify.”

Watch the full exchange below.

Pizza Hut, luxury luggage and Spitting Image: How Mikhail Gorbachev became an unlikely cultural icon

01:25 , Josh Marcus

Mikhail Gorbachev walks into a Pizza Hut. The year is 1997, six years after the end of the Soviet Union, and the leader who oversaw its dissolution is in Moscow’s Red Square to star in one of the strangest television adverts ever produced.

After taking a seat alongside his granddaughter Anastasia Virganskaya, Gorbachev is spotted by two men at a nearby table and a debate over his legacy ensues. “Because of him we have economic confusion!” claims a dour, middle-aged man. “Because of him we have opportunity!” fires back the younger of the pair, perhaps his son.

Kevin E G Perry has this look at Mikhail Gorbachev’s strange public afterlife as a spokesperson for Western brands.

Pizza Hut, luggage and Spitting Image: How Gorbachev became an unlikely cultural icon

‘Gorbachev deserves praise – but he may have also stored up trouble for Russia and Ukraine’

01:06 , Alex Woodward

Mary Dejevsky, The Independent’s former Russia correspondent and columnist, writes in the wake of Gorbachev’s death, asking whether he “was ever the master of events, and how far he was swept along by a mighty tide of political challenge and liberation that swept not just Europe, but many other parts of the world at the time, including China.”

“His legacy – rightly – will be that he helped change both Europe and the world for the better. Millions of people across Central and Eastern Europe, and some in Russia, credit Gorbachev for transforming their countries and their personal lives dramatically,” she writes.

“And they are right. It is hard to exaggerate the contrast between the Soviet Union in 1985, when Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and Russia in 1995. Within a decade, the reality of those grey and repressive times had been erased by the colour and cacophony that rushed in. The most dramatic and hopeful change, though, was the flight of fear.”

Gorbachev’s legacy is more complicated than you might think

How Mikhail Gorbachev changed the world forever

Wednesday 31 August 2022 00:49 , Alex Woodward

At the height of his influence, Gorbachev was the tip of the spear pushing for exciting reforms and demands for more openness within a system that for decades had been closed and set against the US in a superpower battle for supremacy and survival.

Yet the Soviet Union nor its most striking symbols, such as the Berlin Wall, could endure that pressure for reform, and his actions triggered a domino effect of falling capitals, to be be replaced by new states, in a geo-political transformation not witnessed since the destruction of Nazi Germany by the allied powers in 1945.

The Independent’s Andrew Buncombe writes on news of the death of the Soviet Union’s last and only president:

How Mikhail Gorbachev changed the world forever

Kissinger: Europe owes Gorbachev ‘a great deal of gratitude'

Wednesday 31 August 2022 00:30 , Alex Woodward

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger told BBC’s Newsnight that Europe owes Mikhail Gorbachev a “great deal of gratitude”.

“He performed a great service to humanity by what he started, what was implemented in considerable part, but then, in the pursuit of it, the elements in society that created the previous tension did not move strong enough, or did not prove capable of implementing the full vision that he had put before them.”

A timeline of the Soviet leader’s era and the collapse of the USSR

Wednesday 31 August 2022 00:04 , Alex Woodward

The Independent reviews key moments in the life of Mikhail Gorbachev, who became the head of the Societ Party in 1985 and is recognised for helping bring an end to the Cold War and lift the Iron Curtain.

A timeline of the Gorbachev era and the collapse of the Soviet Union

Reagan Foundation on Gorbachev: ‘once was a political adversary ... who ended up becoming a friend’

Wednesday 31 August 2022 00:01 , Alex Woodward

The late former president Ronald Reagan’s Reagan Foundation and Institute has offered its condolences to “the Gorbachev family and the people of Russia” following news of his death.

World leaders pay tribute to ‘courage and integrity’ of Mikhail Gorbachev

Tuesday 30 August 2022 23:53 , Alex Woodward

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Irish premier Micheal Martin and others have joined world leaders paying tributes to the Soviet leader, many referencing the timing of his death amid Russia’s assault on Ukraine and during the most fractured period of relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

World leaders pay tribute to ‘courage and integrity’ of Mikhail Gorbachev

Kissinger says Gorbachev will be remembered for ‘historic transformation to the benefit of mankind'

Tuesday 30 August 2022 23:39 , Alex Woodward

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger told BBC’s Newsnight that Gorbachev “performed great services” but was “not able to implement all of his visions.”

“The people of eastern Europe and the German people, and in the end the Russian people, owe him a great debt of gratitude for the inspiration, for the courage in coming forward with these ideas of freedom,” he told the network. “He will still be remembered in history as a man who started historic transformations that were to the benefit of mankind and to the Russian people.”

UN Secretary-General remembers ‘a towering global leader'

Tuesday 30 August 2022 23:31 , Alex Woodward

UN Secretary-General Atonio Guterres remembers Mikhail Gorbachev as “a one-of-a kind statesman who changed the course of history.”

“The world has lost a towering global leader, committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace. I’m deeply saddened by his passing,” he said.

‘One of my heroes’: Arnold Schwarzenegger joins politicians and historians in paying tribute to Gorbachev

Tuesday 30 August 2022 23:26 , Alex Woodward

Among the tributes pouring in from across the US following news of the death of Mikhail Gorbachev: a statement from actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“There’s an old saying, ‘Never meet your heroes,’” the Terminator star wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of himself with Gorbachev. “I think that’s some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard. Mikhail Gorbachev was one of my heroes, and it was an honor and a joy to meet him. I was unbelievably lucky to call him a friend. All of us can learn from his fantastic life.”

Gorbachev’s admirers are praising the Russian leader for helping to preside over the end of the Cold War.

The Independent’s Josh Marcus has more on this developing story:

‘One of my heroes’: Schwarzenegger joins politicians in paying tribute to Gorbachev

Gorbachev’s legacy in the US: a harbinger of democracy, ‘Gorby’ and Pizza Hut

Tuesday 30 August 2022 23:18 , Alex Woodward

As western officials pay tribute to Mikhail Gorbachav after news of his death, his legacy is preserved among US figures as both an instrumental figure in navigating the end of the Cold War and as something of a pop cultural icon of the late 1980s and 1990s, while remembered among others for his divisive leadership and the man responsible for Russia’s capitalist embrace.

Gorbachev was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for negotiating a nuclear arms pact with US President Ronald Reagan, who famously name-checked the Soviet leader to “tear down this wall” in 1987 in his call to open the Berlin Wall that separated West and East Berlin since 1961. The wall fell in 1989.

“Gorby” also appeared in a 1998 commercial for Pizza Hut, which aired just about everywhere but Russia. The ad circulated immediately following news of his death.

Former US secretary of state joins tributes to Gorbachev

Tuesday 30 August 2022 22:59 , Alex Woodward

Condoleeza Rice, US Secretary of State under President George W Bush, has joined tributes to the late Soviet president.

Former US ambassador to Russia: ‘We should learn from his legacy'

Tuesday 30 August 2022 22:57 , Alex Woodward

Michael McFaul, who served as US ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, said it is “hard to think of other individuals who changed the course of world history in a positive direction more than” Gorbachev.

“Always enjoyed our conversations,” he wrote. “Gorbachev was an idealist who believed in the power of ideas and individuals. We should learn from his legacy.”

Keir Starmer: ‘Mikhail Gorbachev’s pursuit of reform forged a path for diplomacy over conflict'

Tuesday 30 August 2022 22:53 , Alex Woodward

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has joined tributes to the late Soviet leader:

“One of the great figures of the 20th Century, Mikhail Gorbachev’s pursuit of reform forged a path for diplomacy over conflict,” he wrote. “He will forever be remembered as the last leader of the Soviet Union who had the courage and conviction to end the Cold War.”

EU Commission president pays tribute to Gorbachev

Tuesday 30 August 2022 22:49 , Alex Woodward

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says the former Soviet president “was a trusted and respected leader” who “played a crucial role to end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain.”

“It opened the way for a free Europe,” he said. “This legacy is one we will not forget.”

Boris Johnson: Gorbachev’s ‘tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all’ in wake of Putin’s assault

Tuesday 30 August 2022 22:45 , Alex Woodward

“I’m saddened to hear of the death of Gorbachev,” Boris Johnson wrote in a statement on Twitter following news of the former Soviet leader’s death.

“I always admired the courage [and] integrity he showed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion,” he said. “In a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all.”

Breaking news: Vladimir Putin expresses ‘deepest condolences’ after death of Mikhail Gorbachev

Tuesday 30 August 2022 22:41 , Alex Woodward

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his deepest condolences following the death of Mikhail Gorbachev, according to a statement from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Vladimir Putin expresses ‘deepest condolences’ after death of Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev: Soviet Union’s final president who changed world history

Tuesday 30 August 2022 22:36 , Alex Woodward

The Independent’s obituary for the transformative Soviet leader charts his meteoric rise within the Communist Party to the disentegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Paul Vallely writes:

It was not his intention to bring about the collapse of one of the great empires of the 20th century. He wanted to reform Russian communism and modernise it – with a speed and scale which startled both friends and foes alike all across the world.

But his efforts to democratise his country’s political system, and decentralise its economy, set in process events which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism as a global force.

Mikhail Gorbachev: Soviet Union’s final president who changed world history

On 30th anniversary of failed 1991 coup, Gorbachev defends ‘democratic path’ for Russia

Tuesday 30 August 2022 22:27 , Alex Woodward

On the 30th anniversary of a coup that failed to stop democratic reforms in the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev urged Russian society to stand against “usurping power.”

In a statement last year through his Gorbachev Foundation, he wrote: “To stand for democratic principles and rule of law, exclude any possibility for usurping power or inconsiderate actions, that is what the society and state must be responsible for.”

He added: “I believe that the democratic path of Russia’s development is the only correct one, that only on this path can our country develop and solve any problems.”

Gorbachev will be buried next to wife Raisa in Moscow: reports

Tuesday 30 August 2022 22:20 , Alex Woodward

Gorbachev will be buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife Raisa, who died in 1999, according to Russian new agencies.