Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has died in Moscow aged 91.
The divisive character, credited by some for creating a more peaceful world but lambasted by many within his own country as a traitor, had been in failing health for some time according to the hospital that treated him.
“Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev died this evening after a severe and prolonged illness,” the Central Clinical Hospital said, as reported by RIA Novosti.
Mr Gorbachev took power in 1985 and introduced political reforms, as well as opening up the Soviet Union to the world. Under his leadership western radio stations were able to transmit freely for the first time in decades, and political criticism was permitted in a sharp reversal from the policies of his predecessors.
But he was ultimately unable to prevent the slow collapse of the union, and the fall of communism across eastern Europe and central Asia that followed.
With many in Russia viewing the union nostalgically Gorbachev remains unpopular in many circles. He was widely respected outside of his own country though, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres saying he had “changed the course of history”.
“Mikhail Gorbachev was a one-of-a kind statesman,” Guterres said. “The world has lost a towering global leader, committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences and would be contacting Gorbachev’s family personally, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.