Mikhail Gorbachev, Final Soviet Leader, Dies at Age 91

By Jack Phillips
Jack Phillips
Jack Phillips
Breaking News Reporter
Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter at The Epoch Times based in New York.
August 30, 2022 Updated: August 30, 2022

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the final president of the communist country, has died at age 91, according to a hospital in a statement Tuesday.

“Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev died this evening after a serious and long illness,” the Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow confirmed, reported the Interfax, TASS, and RIA Novosti news agencies.

Other circumstances surrounding his death have not yet been revealed. The nature of the illness was not disclosed.

Gorbachev spent decades working up the ranks of the Soviet Communist Party, becoming the country’s leader in 1985 when he was selected as the party’s general secretary.

His policy of “glasnost,” or 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.

“I began these reforms and my guiding stars were freedom and democracy, without bloodshed. So the people would cease to be a herd led by a shepherd. They would become citizens,” he once said of his policies.

Epoch Times Photo
Celebrations in Moscow in August 1991 after the failure of a coup attempt by communist officials to remove reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. (AFP/EPA/Alain-Pierre Hovasse)

On becoming general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, aged just 54, he had set out to revitalize the system by introducing limited political and economic freedoms, but his reforms spun out of control.

In 1986, while meeting then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan at a summit in Reykjavik, Gorbachev proposed to eliminate all long-range missiles owned by the United States and the Soviet Union. That resulted in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was ultimately scrapped in 2019.

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 fueled aspirations for autonomy in the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, which disintegrated over the next two years in chaotic fashion.

Gorbachev struggled in vain to prevent collapse from occurring.

Epoch Times Photo
Former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev takes part in the celebration on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/dpa, Bernd von Jutrczenka)

When asked later about the collapse of the Soviet Union, a regime some historians say is responsible for the unnatural deaths of tens of millions of people, Gorbachev said that he did not want to disintegrate the bloc.

“The breakup of the union was the result of betrayal by the Soviet nomenklatura, by the bureaucracy, and also [former leader Boris] Yeltsin’s betrayal,” he told CNN in 2012. “He spoke about cooperating with me, working with me on a new union treaty, he signed the draft union treaty, initialed that treaty. But at the same time, he was working behind my back.”

Gorbachev and Yeltsin faced off against one another in the 1996 election.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Jack Phillips
Breaking News Reporter
Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter at The Epoch Times based in New York.