Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader to end the Cold War, has died aged 91.

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MOSCOW, Aug 30 (Reuters) – Mikhail Gorbachev, who brought a bloodless end to the Cold War, died on Tuesday aged 91 after failing to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian news agencies said, citing hospital officials.

Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, created disarmament agreements with the United States and alliances with Western powers to dismantle the Iron Curtain that divided Europe after World War II and reunite Germany.

“Mikhail Gorbachev passed away tonight after a serious and protracted illness,” the Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s Central Medical Hospital as saying in a statement.

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Gorbachev will be buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife, Raisa, who died in 1999, the Tass news agency said, citing the foundation he established when the former Soviet leader left office.

When pro-democracy protests spread across the Soviet bloc countries of communist Eastern Europe in 1989, he refrained from using force – unlike previous Kremlin leaders who sent tanks to quell uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But the protests sparked aspirations for autonomy in the Soviet Union’s 15 republics, which disintegrated over the next two years in chaotic fashion. read more

Gorbachev struggled in vain to stem that decline.

“The era of Gorbachev was the era of perestroika, the era of hope, the era when we entered a world without missiles … but there was a miscalculation: we did not know our country very well,” said Vladimir Shevchenko. He headed Gorbachev’s Ethics Office when he was Soviet leader.

“Our union has disintegrated, it’s a tragedy and his tragedy,” RIA news agency quoted him as saying.

When he became General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, aged just 54, he began to revamp the system by introducing limited political and economic freedoms, but his reforms spiraled out of control. read more

His policy of “glasnost”—freedom of speech—allowed previously unthinkable criticism of the party and state, but also encouraged nationalists who began pushing for independence in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and elsewhere.

Many Russians have never forgiven the turmoil that Gorbachev’s reforms unleashed, and consider the subsequent decline in their living standards, a high price to pay for democracy.

After meeting Gorbachev in hospital on June 30, liberal economist Ruslan Grinberg told the armed forces news agency Zvesta: “He gave us all the freedom – but we don’t know what to do with it.”

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David Lung Gren reports

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