The country once known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the Soviet Union, was profoundly changed by leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who died on Aug. 30, 2022.

Before Gorbachev, it was a vast, powerful, sprawling Communist power. Then he arrived with ambitions to be “a reformer…a revolutionary from above, wanting to liberalize and democratize his country to save socialism,” writes University of Michigan historian and political scientist Ronald Suny.

Suny is a specialist in the history of imperial Russia and the USSR. In his appreciation of Gorbachev, he paints a picture of an almost tragic figure, whose attempts to bring more freedom and openness to his country were ultimately undermined and undone by forces he didn’t anticipate.

“Much of the blame for the failure of the reforms falls on Gorbachev, who tried to do too much, too fast without the resources to achieve his goals,” writes Suny.

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Liberator, failed reformer or architect of Soviet demise? Bryn Colton/Getty Images

Mikhail Gorbachev: The contradictory legacy of Soviet leader who attempted ‘revolution from above’

Ronald Suny, University of Michigan

Mikhail Gorbachev died at 91 on Aug. 30, 2022. A historian of the Soviet era assesses his impact and the consequences of his failed attempts to reform state socialism.

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