Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s final leader, dies

Mikhail Gorbachev, who enabled the Cold War to come to a peaceful end during his astonishing tenure as the leader of the Soviet Union, has died.

He was 91 and reportedly died after a long illness, Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital said.

Coming to power after a dispiriting succession of elderly, hardline Soviet leaders, Gorbachev brought a fresh approach to both internal and international politics. He shook up a nation that had never fulfilled most of its promises to its people and created a seismic shift in international relations, altering a world that been locked in a nuclear stare-down for four decades.

He introduced “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring) into the Soviet Union, rocking a stagnant and fearful society to its core. Then, he made it clear that the Soviets would not keep the nations of Eastern Europe under their grip, setting off a chain of events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and of communist regimes through the region. Finally, much more awkwardly, he oversaw the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself, as it split into 15 nations.

“We are now living in a new world,” he said as he stepped down

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