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Russian president

Mikhail Gorbachev – the last Soviet leader – died on August 30 at the age of 91.

The hospital in Moscow where Mikhail Gorbachev died said he had been suffering from a long and serious illness.

In recent years, the former president’s health had been in decline and he had been in and out of hospital. In June, international media reported that he was suffering from a kidney ailment, though his cause of death has not been announced.

He will be buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery, the resting place of many prominent Russians. It is not clear whether he will receive a state funeral.

Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and de facto leader of the country, in 1985.

Mikhail Gorbachev is attending an event marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall
Image source: Reuters

At the time, he was 54 – the youngest member of the ruling council known as the Politburo, and was seen as a breath of fresh air after several ageing leaders. His predecessor, Konstantin Chernenko, had died aged 73 after just over a year in office.

Few leaders have had such a profound effect on the global order, but Mikhail Gorbachev did not come to power seeking to end the Soviet grip over eastern Europe. Rather, he hoped to revitalise its society.

The Soviet economy had been struggling for years to keep up with the US and his policy of perestroika sought to introduce some market-like reforms to the state run system.

Internationally, Mikhail Gorbachev reached arms control deals with the US, refused to intervene when eastern European nations rose up against their Communist rulers, and ended the bloody Soviet war in Afghanistan that had raged since 1979.

Meanwhile, his policy of glasnost, or openness, allowed people to criticise the government in a way which had been previously unthinkable.

But it also unleashed nationalist sentiments in many parts of the Soviet Union which eventually undermined its stability and hastened its collapse.

Mikhail Gorbachev warns of new Cold War at Berlin Wall ceremony

In 1991, after a shambolically organised coup by communist hardliners failed, Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to dissolve the Soviet Union and left office.

Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Gorbachev had a strained relationship – their last meeting reportedly in 2006.

Most recently, Mr Gorbachev was said to have been unhappy with Vlamir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, even though he had supported the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The Russian leader’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Mikhail Gorbachev had “sincerely wanted to believe that the Cold War would end, and that it would usher in a period of eternal romance between a new Soviet Union and the world, the West. This romanticism turned out to be wrong”.

Dmitry Peskov then berated Western countries that have opposed the invasion of Ukraine, imposed crippling sanctions on Russia, and provided weapons to Kyiv.

US President Joe Biden called him a “rare leader”, while UN Secretary General António Guterres said: “The world has lost a towering global leader, committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace.”


Vladimir Putin has used crude language at the 11th annual news conference to launch a furious new attack on Turkey over the downing of a Russian combat jet last month.

The incident on the Syria-Turkey border was a “hostile act” but Russia was “not the country” to run away, the Russian president said.

“The Turks had decided to lick the Americans in a certain place,” he said.

There was, he said, a “creeping Islamization of Turkey that would have Ataturk rolling in his grave”.

The remark appeared to be aimed at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose AKP party, with its Islamist roots, has been accused of seeking to dismantle the secular state founded by Kemal Ataturk.

Vladimir Putin is now into his third term as president since 2000, battling an economic crisis. Critics say civil liberties have been steadily eroded under his rule.

He remains one of the world’s most recognizable politicians, and has topped the list of The World’s Most Powerful People compiled by Forbes magazine for the third year running.

Russia deployed its air force to Syria in September in support of President Bashar al-Assad and has been carrying out air strikes on his opponents.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Its intervention has been heavily criticized by Turkey, the US and Gulf Arab states.

Vladimir Putin said he saw “no prospect” of ties improving with Turkey, which Russia has put under sanctions, under its current leaders.

He said Turkish officials should have picked up the phone to talk to Russia about their concerns that air strikes in Syria were hitting Turkmen rebels.

Turkey, Vladimir Putin said, had achieved nothing by shooting down the jet while Russia had bolstered its presence in Syria by deploying anti-aircraft missiles.

On America, he said Russia wanted to develop relations “irrespective” of who would become its next president.

Vladimir Putin said his country’s economic crisis had peaked.

While oil prices had fallen sharply, he said, manufacturing had shown slight growth and there was a healthy trade balance in agriculture.

“Our economy depends on oil and gas prices, we expected Brent to be worth $100 dollars per barrel, but then it was 50, but this was an optimistic prediction too, our forecasts have to be amended again,” he said.

“GDP is falling, inflation is 12.3%, incomes, investment are falling too but the peak of the economic crisis is over.”

Vladimir Putin is known for his marathon performances at his news conferences, where he frequently uses hard-hitting, colorful language.

In an interview with state TV on December 16, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was a target in a “big information war [which] has been waged for a long time”.

In 2014, Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference lasted 3 hours and 10 minutes, while the record was set in 2008 at 4 hours 40 minutes.

On other issues raised at the news conference, President Vladimir Putin:

  • Praised Sepp Blatter and suggested the suspended head of FIFA should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Said Russia was against doping as it “destroyed the principle of competitive sport”, and anyone found guilty should be punished
  • Denied Russian regular troops were deployed in rebel-held eastern Ukraine but said there could be “people there who were carrying out certain tasks including in the military sphere”
  • Praised his daughters, saying they lived in Russia and were “not involved in politics or business”
  • Predicted economic growth in Russia the new year of 0.7%, rising to 1.9% in 2017 and 2.4% in 2018, based on oil at $50 a barrel