Mikhail Gorbachev, who died Tuesday at the age of 91, was a paradoxical Soviet leader when the world needed him. He had almost total power when he took office but undertook reforms that undermined this power. He rose through the Communist ranks but presided over the end of the regime. Its greatest achievement was to allow the Cold War to end without a war or worse conflagration that the world had feared for decades.
Gorbachev is known as the architect of “perestroika”, or restructuring, and “glasnost”, or opening up. These were radical concepts in the 1980s after decades of Stalinist and totalitarian communist rule. But the eighth and last leader of the Soviet era did not embrace these concepts out of liberal democratic conviction.