Mikhail Gorbachev dead at 91: who was former Soviet Union leader - how did he die?

Former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev has reportedly died at the age of 91 according to Russian news media

The former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev has reportedly died at the age of 91.

Mr Gorbachev was considered to be one of the 20th century’s most inlfuenctial political figures, overseeing major world political events throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Here’s everything we know about the passing of the former Soviet leader.

How did Mikhail Gorbachev die?

Mr Gorbechev is said to have passed away after undergoing treatment in hopsital.

Russian news media The Tass, RIA Novosti and Interfax agencies cited the Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow, stating that he died from a long-standing illness.

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A statement from the hospital stated: “Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev died this evening after a serious and long illness.”

It has been announced that Vladmir Putin will not be attending the late leader’s funeral on Saturday 3 September due to scheduling conflicts.

The Russian president did however lay flowers at the open casket of Mr Gorbachev at Central Clinical Hospital.

Mr Gorbachev‘s funeral will be open to the public, before he is laid to rest in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery.

He is set to be buried beside his wife Raissa, who died in 1999

Mikhail Gorbachev stands with Lady Thatcher during a meeting in Lord Powell’s office in London in 2005. Credit: PA

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Who was Mikhail Gorbachev?

The former leader was the final ruler of the Soviet Union, overseeing its dissolution in 1991.

He was also key to many other major political moments in the 20th century, including former US President Ronald Ragan famously saying, “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” in reference to the Berlin Wall which would eventually be toppled in 1989.

During his leadership of the Soviet Union, he oversaw the reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War.

Overseeing the fall of the Iron Curtain - the name given to the political boundary between the Soviet Union and the West - Mr Gorbachev was a contentious figure in his home country of Russia, with many criticising his acceleration of dissolution of the empire.

Former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev has died according to reports from Russian media. (Credit: Getty Images)

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Mr Gorbachev’s arrival as what was to be the last president of the Soviet Union, was a welcome change from the grim-faced, tight-lipped, unbending figures who had preceded him in this office. He was famously the Soviet leader with whom Margaret Thatcher said she could do business.

Not only Margaret Thatcher but the entire British nation – indeed the Western world as a whole – warmed to this man, a law graduate, with a genial face and a sense of humour who brought with him a refreshing warmth and smile to the cold, dour face of the Kremlin.

It was unthinkable that a man with such a sunny disposition, and seemingly totally lacking the ruthlessness associated with Soviet leaders, could have fought his way to the top of such a fearsome regime.

Thousands of young East Berliners crowd atop the Berlin Wall, near the Brandenburg Gate (background) on November 11, 1989. Credit: GERARD MALIE/AFP via Getty Images

Who has paid tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev?

Mr Gorbachev’s huge impact on world politics has lead to leaders and politicians from numerous countries paying tribute to his passing.

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A Kremlin spokesman has told Russian news agency Interfax that President Vladimir Putin has expressed his deepest condolences.

Many Western leaders made reference to the timing of his death during the worst period of relations between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev being greeted by Queen Elizabeth II at the entrance to Windsor Castle. Credit: PA

In a Twitter post, Boris Johnson said he was “saddened” to hear of Mr Gorbachev’s death, at a “time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine”.

“I’m saddened to hear of the death of Gorbachev,” Mr Johnson said.

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“I always admired the courage and integrity he showed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion.

“In a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer paid tribute to Mr Gorbachev, saying: “One of the great figures of the 20th Century, Mikhail Gorbachev’s pursuit of reform forged a path for diplomacy over conflict. He will forever be remembered as the last leader of the Soviet Union who had the courage and conviction to end the Cold War.”

Tom Tugendhat, former Tory leadership contender and the chair of the foreign affairs committee, said that his death is “a reminder of how far Russia has fallen”.

He said: “Mikhail Gorbachev’s reported death, according to Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital, is a reminder of how far Russia has fallen. From a powerful, if tyrannical state to now the playpen of gangsters and war criminals.”

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Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, tweeted: “As a teenager in the 80s, living under the shadow of the bomb, Gorbachev gave us tangible hope that lifted that shadow.

“He also showed us that it’s possible to have strong ideological convictions and still to treat those with whom you disagree like humans and equals.”

Irish prime minister Michael Martin added: “Saddened to hear of the passing of Mikhail Gorbachev. His sense of history, and commitment to openness, reform, and building bridges with the West, changed the world.”