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On Christmas night, December 25, 1991, Gorbachev signed his last executive decree as President of the Soviet Union and resigned as Supreme Commander of the Soviet Armed Forces. Over the Kremlin, the “hammer and sickle” flag representing communism had disappeared entirely, and the once flamboyant and mighty Soviet “empire” had officially become history. He served as President of the USSR from 1985-1991.
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He consistently refused to use deadly force to suppress the people
The world sees President Gorbachev as the man who started the reforms in the Soviet Union that were necessary for the country, Europe, and the world. He had consistently refused to authorize using force to maintain his power.
Gorbachev once told the Associated Press in a 1992 interview that he did not consider using extensive force to keep the Soviet Union united because he feared a nuclear-armed country would be plunged into chaos. Back then, he upheld the belief of “no bloodshed of the people” and let the Russian people choose their destiny, which was a “real man” move.
Internally, Gorbachev refused to suppress budding democratic organizations and activities. Regarding foreign policy, he abandoned the concept of class struggle and overcame a long-standing tense and hostile relationship with the outside world.
He lifted the Iron Curtain
Gorbachev was in power for less than seven years, but he brought significant changes to the world situation and changed the course of 20th-century history. He helped the Soviet Union reach an accord with Western powers such as the United States for radical cuts in nuclear arms, eased tensions with the West, and withdrew troops from the Soviet-Afghan War to end Soviet Union’s involvement in conflicts elsewhere in the world.
Mr. Gorbachev declined to intervene militarily when various Eastern Bloc countries abandoned communist governance to free themselves from Soviet rule, lifted the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War II, and facilitated the reunification of Germany. As a result, he ended the Cold War without bloodshed. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised Gorbachev for “opening the way for a free Europe.” In 1990, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to end the Cold War and lifting the Iron Curtain.
An open, visionary, and dynamic man, he examined and saw firsthand the corruption of 70 years of Communist Party rule. Gorbachev overthrew much of what the Communist Party considered inviolable. His aversion to violence ended a system held together by repression and deceit.
Restructuring and openness: perestroika and glasnost
Gorbachev pushed for openness and frankly revealed the 1986 Chornobyl disaster to the public. Domestically, his policy of transparency allowed for enhanced freedom of speech and freedom of the press. He freed dissidents. His restructuring sought to decentralize economic decision-making to improve efficiency, and people were once again allowed to own private property.
Putin’s mentor was Gorbachev
Without Gorbachev’s new thinking reform to disintegrate the Soviet Union, there would be no modern Russia. This paved the way for Mr. Putin to rise later to become the Russian President.
President Putin sent a message of condolence to the Gorbachev family: “The leader of the Soviet Union led our country during a difficult period of dramatic changes in society and great challenges.”
Mr. Putin remembers the “domineering” Soviet Union. Gorbachev was both his idol and, at the same time, the nightmare of his Great Russian Empire dream. Putin admired his drastic reforms, but regarded his decision not to use force and arms as being “cowardly.”
Putin condemns the extreme ideology of the former Soviet-era tyrants, but not Gorbachev
Before the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, President Putin condemned the extreme ideology of the former Soviet Union and scolded Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev, but not Gorbachev. Moreover, Putin also sent birthday wishes to him many times.
Putin once said that the disintegration of the Soviet Union was a tragedy and vowed to build an assertive Russia. In July, Gorbachev expressed his uneasiness about the situation in Russia to his close friends and feared that his life’s work would be ruined.
Gorbachev had both praise and criticism for Putin, a signal of significant progress in what was once a totalitarian and repressive regime where no criticism of officials was allowed. He praised Putin for stabilizing Russia and maintaining national prestige after the collapse of the Soviet Union. After Russia invaded Ukraine, the Gorbachev Foundation started on February 26, calling for “an early cessation to hostilities and an immediate start of peace negotiation.”
Gorbachev said: “There is nothing in the world more precious than human life. Therefore, negotiations and dialogues based on mutual respect and recognizing interests are the only feasible way to resolve the most acute conflicts and problems.”
Gorbachev’s ‘Chinese knot’
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the little brother brought up by the big brother of the Soviet Union. China is also the most significant remaining communist country in the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the last leader of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev left an intractable knot for China.
In the 1960s, due to the Sino-Soviet split, there had been no exchange of visits for a long time. However, on the eve of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, Gorbachev, then the Soviet Communist Party General Secretary, visited Beijing and helped thaw the relationship between the two countries. His peaceful policies allowed China to ease the military pressure on the northern border and the army’s disarmament and contributed to the freedom of China’s million soldiers.
In his talks with the general secretary of the CCP, Zhao Ziyang, who was most amenable to democracy at that time, Gorbachev frankly talked about whether socialist countries could abandon the one-party system and implement a multi-party system. However, shortly after Gorbachev returned from his visit, the Chinese student movement was bloodily suppressed by Deng Xiaoping, and Zhao Ziyang was dismissed from his post for sympathizing with the students and placed under house arrest.
The CCP stubbornly refuses to learn the obvious lessons of history
In the early days of Xi Jinping’s first term, the CCP produced a documentary about the collapse of the Soviet Union, blaming Gorbachev for introducing Western-style democratic reforms and failing to maintain the current system. Xi also reminded Chinese officials that the lessons of the former Soviet Union must be “deeply” remembered. Gorbachev said in an exclusive interview with the British Guardian that his biggest regret was not leaving the Communist Party earlier.
“Gorbachev” has recently become a hot search term on mainland social media, with 700 million views in less than two days. Mainland netizen Zhang Guoqing wrote an article praising Gorbachev’s reform and new thinking, abandoning the idea of struggle to “liberate all mankind” and replacing it with the shared values of humanity.