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Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, died this week. In the West he was hailed as the man who turned the Soviet Union away from communism and brought peace to the world. He was awarded the Nobel Prize. In the former soviet states, especially Eastern Europe, he was honored as a man who freed them from the yoke of their Russian overlords without a war.
But in Russia, he is seen as the man who allowed the breakup of the Soviet Union, and condemned his own people in Mother Russia to a decade of privation and humiliation after he left office. Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent his entire twenty some years in office trying to undo Gorbachev’s legacy – to return Russia to communism, regain some of its lost empire, and restore Russian greatness.
Putin blames Gorbachev personally for throwing away the Soviet Empire. But in many respects, Gorbachev had few options when he took office in 1985. In the late 1970’s the Soviet Union was at the zenith of power. By 1985 it was suffering a stunning and rapid decline.
Why? Because five years before, the