Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, who embarked on a path of radical reform that brought about the end of the Cold War, reversed the direction of the nuclear arms race and relaxed Communist Party controls in hopes of rescuing the faltering Soviet state but instead propelled it toward collapse, died Aug. 30 in Moscow. He was 91.
His death was announced by Russian news agencies, citing the government hospital where he was being treated, but no further details were immediately available.
For the sheer improbability of his actions and their impact on the late 20th century, Mr. Gorbachev ranks as a towering figure. In 1985, he was chosen to lead a country mired in socialism and stultifying ideology. In six years of cajoling, improvised tactics and increasingly bold risks, Mr. Gorbachev unleashed immense changes that eventually demolished the pillars of the state.
The Soviet collapse was not Mr. Gorbachev’s goal, but it may be his greatest legacy. It brought to an end a seven-decade experiment born of Utopian idealism that led to some of the bloodiest human suffering of the century. A costly global confrontation between East and West abruptly ceased to exist. The division of Europe fell away. The tense superpower hair-trigger nuclear standoff was eased, short of Armageddon.