Mikhail Gorbachev, who died Tuesday at age 91, was a paradoxical Soviet leader when the world needed one. He had almost total power upon taking office but undertook reforms that undermined that power. He rose through the Communist ranks but presided over the end of the regime. His greatest achievement was allowing the Cold War to end without a war or a worse conflagration that the world feared for decades.
Gorbachev is famous as the architect of “perestroika,” or restructuring, and “glasnost,” or openness. They 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 adopt those concepts out of liberal democratic conviction.