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Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, has died

(CNN) — Mikhail GorbachevThe last leader of the former Soviet Union has died at the age of 91.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who changed the world 1:39

Russian state news agencies reported that Gorbachev died after a long illness.

According to RIA/Novosti on Tuesday, “Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev died tonight after a serious and protracted illness,” the Central Medical Hospital said.

Credited with introducing major political and economic reforms in the Soviet Union and helping to end the Cold War, he had been suffering from poor health for some time.

With his outgoing and charismatic personality, Gorbachev broke the mold of Soviet leaders. Almost from the beginning of his leadership, he fought for significant reforms, making the system more efficient and democratic. Hence the two key phrases of the Gorbachev era: “Klasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring).

“I initiated these reforms, freedom and democracy without bloodshed as my guiding stars. Thus the city ceases to be a flock led by one shepherd. They will become citizens,” he said later.

From farm laborer to rising star of the party

Gorbachev had humble beginnings: he was born into a farming family near Stavropol on March 2, 1931, and as a child, he engaged in agricultural work alongside his studies, working with his father, who was a combine operator. Later in life, Gorbachev said, “I prided myself on my ability to instantly detect a collective failure, especially by sound.”

He became a member of the Communist Party in 1952 and graduated from Moscow University with a law degree in 1955. It was here that he met and married fellow student Raisa Tydarenko.

In the early 1960s, Gorbachev became head of the agricultural department of the Stavropol region. By the end of the decade, he had risen to the top of the party hierarchy in the region. He attracted the attention of Politburo members Mikhail Suslov and Yuri Andropov, the main policy-making body of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who elected him to the Central Committee in 1971 and organized foreign trips for their rising star.

By 1978, Gorbachev was back in Moscow, and the following year he was nominated as a member of the Politburo. His management of Soviet agriculture was not successful. As he felt, the collective system was fundamentally flawed in more ways than one.

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A full member of Ó since 1980, Gorbachev gained more influence in 1982 when his mentor Andropov succeeded Leonid Brezhnev as the party’s general secretary. He gained a reputation as an opponent of corruption and incompetence, eventually rising to the top of the party in March 1985.

“A man with whom one can trade”

Hoping to shift resources to the civilian sector of the Soviet economy, Gorbachev began advocating an end to the arms race with the West.

Yet during his six years in office, Gorbachev always moved too quickly for the party establishment, which saw its privileges threatened, and too slowly for radical reformers who believed in eliminating the one-party state and command economy. .

In a desperate attempt to retain control of the reform process, he underestimated the depth of the economic crisis. In the late 1980s glasnost raised an increasingly loud voice for independence for the Baltic states and other Soviet republics: it had a blind spot for the power of the question of nationality.

He succeeded in foreign policy, but mostly from an international perspective, where other world leaders are taking note. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called him “the man you could do business with”.

In 1986, in a face-to-face meeting with US President Ronald Reagan at a summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, Gorbachev presented an impressive proposal: the elimination of all long-range missiles held by the United States and the Soviet Union. It was the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 “for his leadership role in the peace process that characterizes major sectors of the international community today.”

The resulting agreement, the Inter-Party Nuclear Deal, has been a mainstay of arms control for three decades, until in 2019, the United States formally withdrew and the Russian government said it had been scrapped.

Gorbachev spoke during a visit to Ottawa, Canada in 1990.

Rebellion on the hard way

Although Gorbachev’s arms control agreements with the United States were seen in Soviet interests, the breakup of some Eastern European countries, followed by German reunification and NATO membership for a newly united Germany (West Germany had previously been in NATO), angered old-school communists.

By August 1991, the hardliners had had enough. With Gorbachev on vacation in the Crimea, they staged a rebellion. Boris Yeltsin, leader of the largest Soviet republic, Russia, and a staunch critic of what he saw as Gorbachev’s half-hearted reforms, nonetheless saved them and confronted and defeated the rulers.

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But throughout the Soviet Union, one republic after another was declaring independence, and on December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president. Reading his resignation speech, Gorbachev defined what his legacy would be: “The country gained independence, it became politically and spiritually independent, and that is the most important achievement.”

The red flag flying over the Kremlin, the symbol of the Soviet Union, was lowered. The Soviet Union ended and Yeltsin was in control. “We live in a new world,” Gorbachev said.

In April 2012, Christian Amanpour CNN asked him If Gorbachev engineered the fall of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev said There was nothing in his speeches that could have supported its destruction “until the very end”: “The collapse of the trade union was nominally the result of the Soviet bureaucracy and the betrayal of Yeltsin. He talked about cooperating with me, working with me on a new trade union contract, signing a draft trade union contract, putting his initials on that contract. But At the same time, he worked behind my back.

In 1996, Gorbachev ran against Yeltsin for the Russian presidency, but received less than 1% of the vote.

Addressed after the inauguration of the President

Three years later, Gorbachev lost the love of his life, his wife of 46 years, Raisa, to cancer. The couple had a daughter, Irina. “I have always been very calm and balanced in bad moments. But now that he is gone I don’t want to live. The center of our life is gone,” she said.

But Gorbachev continued to speak out about nuclear disarmament, the environment, poverty, and in his wife’s memory, he and his family created the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation to fight childhood cancer.

Earlier, he founded the Green Cross to deal with environmental issues and the International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies, or the Gorbachev Foundation. In 2011, Gorbachev launched the annual “Gorbachev Awards” to celebrate “those who have changed the world for the better”.

Gorbachev’s involvement in Russian politics continued. He was the head of the Russian Social Democratic Party from 2001 until he resigned in 2004 due to conflicts with the leadership and leadership of the party.

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In 2007, he became the leader of a new Russian political movement: the Union of Social Democrats, which formed Russia’s opposition Free Democratic Party.

he told CNN’s Christian Amanpour in 2012 He acknowledged that Russian democracy was “alive” but added: “It’s ‘good’… it’s not. I’m alive, but I can’t say I’m good. Democratic institutions in Russia don’t work efficiently because ultimately they’re not free.” He explained.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, seen in 1984, when he was a member of the Russian Politburo and second in line in the Kremlin.

A mixed legacy

In a 2019 interview with CNN, Gorbachev said the United States and Russia must fight to prevent a “new Cold War” from developing despite worsening tensions. “This could turn into a hot war, which could destroy our entire civilization. This must not be allowed,” he said.

When asked about the destruction of the 1987 accord, he signed with Reagan, Gorbachev. He expressed hope Such arms control agreements can be renewed.

“All the contracts out there are protected, not destroyed,” he said. “But these are the first steps towards destruction [lo que] Under no circumstances should it be destroyed”. He added that the ultimate goal of arms control should be the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

Gorbachev’s post-Soviet career included some surprises, with appearances in Pizza Hut and Louis Vuitton ads. In 2004, Gorbachev won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for “Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf / Beintus: Wolf Tracks,” a recording he made with former US President Bill Clinton and actress Sophia Loren.

Other awards include the US National Constitution Center’s 2008 Medal of Freedom and Russia’s highest honor, the Order of St. Andrew, awarded by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011 on his 80th birthday.

But to the end, Gorbachev was a leader more respected abroad than at home. In Russia, he was derided by some for destroying the Soviet empire and by others for moving too slowly to free their nation from the grip of communism. However, in the West, he remains a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for ending the Cold War.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Gorbachev died at age 91.

Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, died at the age of 91 1:36