Former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev has died aged 91, Russian news agencies are reporting tonight.
Mr Gorbachev was undergoing treatment at Central Clinical Hospital for what has been described as a ‘long and serious illness’.
Agencies including Tass, RIA Novosti and Interfax reported he had died.
Mr Gorbachev was hailed as one of the most influential politicians of the 20th century after ending the Cold War without bloodshed, earning him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
Praised by Margaret Thatcher as being the Soviet leader with whom she ‘could do business’, he is credited with bringing down the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ which had divided Europe since World War Two, by making partnerships with Western leaders.
However, many held him responsible for the downfall of the authoritarian Soviet Union in 1991 after he became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985.
He hoped to revive his country’s economy and renew its political system by unveiling a series of reforms.
But he spent his final months in power helplessly watching republic after republic declare independence.
He resigned on Christmas Day, 1991 after his former allies deserted him, before the Russian government seized control the following day.
Some 25 years later in 2016, Mr Gorbachev insisted he had not considered using widespread force to keep the USSR – which once comprised of 15 different nations – together amid fears of chaos.
‘The country was loaded to the brim with weapons. And it would have immediately pushed the country into a civil war,’ he told the Associated Press.
Shortly before his departure from office, he said: ‘I see myself as a man who started the reforms that were necessary for the country and for Europe and the world.
‘I am often asked, would I have started it all again if I had to repeat it? Yes, indeed. And with more persistence and determination,’ he added.
He revealed in his memoirs how he had become frustrated that a country with immense natural resources was home to tens of millions in poverty.
‘Our society was stifled in the grip of a bureaucratic command system,’ he wrote.
‘Doomed to serve ideology and bear the heavy burden of the arms race, it was strained to the utmost.’
Boris Johnson paid tribute to the former leader’s ‘courage and integrity’ in bringing the Cold War to a ‘peaceful conclusion’.
I’m saddened to hear of the death of Gorbachev.
I always admired the courage & integrity he showed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion.
In a time of Putinâs aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all.
One of the great figures of the 20th Century, Mikhail Gorbachevâs pursuit of reform forged a path for diplomacy over conflict.
He will forever be remembered as the last leader of the Soviet Union who had the courage and conviction to end the Cold War.
‘In a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all,’ the PM tweeted.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Gorbachev ‘will forever be remembered as the last leader of the Soviet Union who had the courage and conviction to end the Cold War’.
Thereâs an old saying, âNever meet your heroes.â I think thatâs some of the worst advice Iâve 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. pic.twitter.com/All5suSke1
Meanwhile Arnold Schwarzenegger referred to Mr Gorbachev as ‘one of my heroes’, adding he was ‘unbelievably lucky to call him a friend’.
‘All of us can learn from his fantastic life,’ the actor and former governor of California tweeted.
Broadcaster and author John Simpson, who interviewed Mr Gorbachev, described him as ‘decent’, ‘well-intentioned’ and ‘principled’.
‘In private he was charming and surprisingly amusing. It wasn’t his fault things went so wrong’, he added.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Mr Gorbachev’s legacy is ‘one we will not forget’.
‘Mikhail Gorbachev was a trusted and respected leader,’ she said.
‘He played a crucial role to end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain.
‘It opened the way for a free Europe.
‘This legacy is one we will not forget. R.I.P Mikhail Gorbachev.’
Mr Gorbachev will be buried next to his wife, Raisa, who died from leukaemia in 1999 aged 67, at Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow, according to Tass.
The couple had a daughter, Irina, and two granddaughters.
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