Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has died aged 91. Gorbachev, who took over in 1985, is best known for opening up the USSR and rapprochement with the West, but he couldn’t stop his country from collapsing in 1991.

Many Russians blame him and his reformist policies for the demise of the country.

The hospital where he died said he suffered from a long and serious illness.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his deepest condolences on Gorbachev’s death, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s Interfax news agency, according to Reuters.

Gorbachev became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and de facto leader of the country at age 54.

He was the youngest member of the ruling council known as the Politburo at the time, and was seen as a breath of fresh air after several aging leaders.

His policy of glasnost, or openness, allowed people to criticize the government in ways previously unimaginable.

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But it also unleashed nationalistic feelings in many regions of the country, ultimately leading to its collapse.

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Internationally, he signed arms control agreements with the US and refused to intervene when Eastern European countries revolted against their communist rulers.

He is seen in the West as an architect of reforms that created the conditions for the end of the Cold War.

In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for the leading role he played in the radical changes in East-West relations”.

But in the new Russia that emerged after 1991, he was on the fringe of politics, focusing on educational and humanitarian projects.

In 1996, he made an ill-fated attempt to return to political life, receiving only 0.5% of the vote in the presidential election.

In recent years his health has deteriorated and he has been in and out of hospital.

He will be buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery, the resting place of many prominent Russians, next to his wife Raisa who died in 1999, Tass news agency said.

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(BBC)

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