According to the Gorbachev Foundation, Mikhail Gorbachev — the final leader of the Soviet Union who helped end the Cold War and lead his country from communism to capitalism — died Tuesday at 91. The Interfax news agency said in a statement from the Central Clinical Hospital that “Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev died this evening after a serious and long illness.”  Gorbachev will be buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow next to his wife, Raisa Gorbachev, according to the agency.

Gorbachev grew up a committed communist during World War II. After graduating from Moscow State University with a law degree in 1955, he rose through the ranks of the Communist Party and ascended to the party’s top position of General Secretary in March 1985. Gorbachev inacted changes like “perestroika” and “glasnost”– reforms that sought to restructure the Soviet Union’s lagging economy and make its government more transparent.

In 1989, Gorbachev did not send in Soviet tanks to crush the uprisings when pro-democracy rallies began in Poland and swept across the Soviet bloc. The following year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the Cold War. The Soviet Union quickly began to disintegrate as the captive Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia pulled away and other nations that had been under Moscow rule, including Ukraine, sought independence. Months after an attempted coup, Gorbachev resigned on Dec. 25, 1991; the Soviet Union was dissolved a day later.

Russian state news agency TASS reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “deep condolences” over Gorbachev’s death.  Officials including Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres and European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised Gorbachev’s leadership Tuesday, saying he changed the course of history and paved the way for a free Europe.

Editorial credit: Kaliva /

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