Mikhail Gorbachev died at 91 on Tuesday after a “serious and long illness” according to Moscow Central Clinical Hospital.
The former leader was the last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931, to a family of Russian-Ukrainian peasants in the village of Privolnoye, in the southwestern part of Soviet Russia.
Gorbachev joined the Communist Party while in high school. He won a scholarship to the most prestigious university in the Soviet Union, Moscow State University, where he excelled and graduated from the law faculty with the highest honors. He also met and married the love of his life, Raisa.
He attracted the attention of the Politburo in 1974 when, as party boss in the Stavropol region, his construction of the Great Stavropol Canal provided necessary irrigation and produced record crops. In 1978, he joined the ranks of the Soviet ruling elite in Moscow when he was appointed Secretary of the Central Committee.
His beloved Raisa, who he described as his closest confidant, died of leukemia in 1999.
He is survived by his daughter Irina, and his granddaughters Anastasia and Ksenia.
Gorbachev’s views on President Putin
Over the more than 20 years after Putin came to power, the ex-Soviet leader embraced, then rejected, then embraced again the man who, much like Gorbachev in the 1980s, came to embody Russia in the eyes of the West.
A grudging respect seemed to have developed in the end, with Gorbachev saying ahead of Putin’s 2018 re-election for a fourth term: “Today he is a leader who deservedly enjoys people’s support.”
After the chaos of the 1990s and the rule of his nemesis Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev expressed hope for the former KGB agent who was first elected Russia’s president in 2000.
Putin, he said at the time, was “intelligent, serious, reserved and well-organised. I like people of this kind.”
For Gorbachev, Putin represented a chance for stability and economic growth, while continuing the transition to democracy he had set in place.
In a brief condolence letter Wednesday, Putin referred to Gorbachev as a “statesman who made an enormous impact on the trajectory of world history.”
“He headed the country at a time of difficult, dramatic changes,” said Putin. “He knew very well that reforms were necessary and looked to offer his own solutions.”
Others were open with their disdain for Gorbachev’s political legacy.
“As a Christian, I mourn… Just like I mourn the great country that was broken apart by processes of perestroika and the new thinking, which helped those who wanted to wipe the USSR from the political map of the world,” said State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky.
Putin’s official spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Gorbachev’s death “a big loss for our country,” while also decrying the ex-leader’s alleged naivete vis-a-vis the West.