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 upon taking office, but he undertook reforms that undermined that power. He rose through the communist ranks but anticipated the end of the regime. His greatest achievement was allowing the Cold War to end without a worse war or conflagration that the world had 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 totalitarian Stalinist and communist rule. But the eighth and last leader of the Soviet era did not adopt such concepts out of liberal democratic conviction.