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Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who helped end the Cold War, has died


The man who oversaw the end of the Cold War and then the end of the Soviet Union has died. NPR's Charles Maynes remembers Mikhail Gorbachev.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: When Mikhail Gorbachev was named general secretary of the USSR in 1985, he inherited the leadership of a superpower badly in need of repair. And Gorbachev, the youngest member of the Politburo at just 54 years old, had ideas for how to fix it.


MIKHAIL GORBACHEV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "Political reforms were necessary," he insisted, just as he maintained the Soviet Union and communist ideals were worth saving. Gorbachev introduced the concept of glasnost, an opening up of Soviet society, that brought with it new freedoms and perestroika, a policy to make the Soviet economy more dynamic. He also engaged with the USSR's rival, the United States, sealing a series of landmark nuclear arms control agreements with President Ronald Reagan, who enjoyed showing off a Russian phrase he'd picked up from Gorbachev along the way.


RONALD REAGAN: Mr. General Secretary, though my pronunciation may give you difficulty, the maxim is doveryai no proveryai - trust but verify.


GORBACHEV: (Through interpreter) You repeat that at every meeting.


MAYNES: Gorbachev's efforts to defuse the Cold War made him and his wife and longtime confidant Raisa into global stars. But at home, the picture was more complicated. Gorbachev struggled to ride the wave of democratic changes underway, often pleasing neither reformers, who wanted more faster, nor conservatives, many of whom resented his withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe as a wave of democratic revolution swept the region.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: A bright, sunny day in Moscow, a sad day for the people who were supporting reform.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: They have replaced Mikhail Gorbachev as president with Gennady Yanayev, the conservative vice president.

MAYNES: He survived a failed coup by communist hardliners in 1991, only to see his rival, Boris Yeltsin, seize the reform mantle and then dismantle the Soviet Union a few months later. In the three decades since the end of the Cold War, much of Gorbachev's legacy of a freer, more open Russia was also wiped away. Today's Russian leader, President Vladimir Putin, calls the collapse of the Soviet Union, the very one Gorbachev presided over, the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Charles Maynes, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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