Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader between 1985 and 1991, has died in a Moscow hospital aged 91, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti has reported.
The news agency said that Gorbachev, regarded as one of the most significant statesmen of the 20th century, had died of a “serious and prolonged illness” at the Central Clinic Hospital.
It didn’t give any more details but Gorbachev was said to be gravely ill earlier this year with a kidney ailment.
Loved by the West and despised by hardliners within the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, Gorbachev is credited with helping to end the Cold War.
In 1990, Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize “for the leading role he played in the radical changes in East-West relations”.
The charming and modernising Gorbachev was voted in as Communist Party General Secretary in 1985, the de facto leader of the Soviet Union when its leadership had been in disarray since the death of Leonid Brezhnev in 1982.
He was the architect for freedoms for many people living in Soviet Union but also relaxed the control of the authorities that has been blamed for the collapse of the Communist system that Vladimir Lenin set up after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
The Soviet Union that he tried to breathe new life into with his liberal reforms, Perestroika and Glasnost, creaked and broke in 1991. Gorbachev was the target of a failed hardline coup.
By the end of 1991 he had resigned in favour of the ascending Boris Yeltsin.
Gorbachev and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, were reported to mistrust each other. Mr Putin blamed Gorbachev for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev considered Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February a betrayal.
Gorbachev described his friendly relationship with Margaret Thatcher as a catalyst for the tearing down of the Iron Curtain.
“We gradually developed personal relations that became increasingly friendly,” he said following her death in 2013.
“In the end, we were able to achieve mutual understanding, and this contributed to a change in the atmosphere between our country and the West and to the end of the Cold War.”
The former Soviet leader met the Prime Minister in 1984, when he led a Russian parliamentary delegation to Britain.
After that meeting, Mrs Thatcher said of Gorbachev: “We can do business together”.
Gorbachev conceded that the relationship was “not always smooth” but said they “stayed in touch, exchanging letters” over the years.
Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, wrote on Twitter. “Mikhail Gorbachev’s reported death… is a reminder of how far Russia has fallen. From a powerful, if tyrannical state to now the playpen of gangsters and war criminals.”