Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev's Legacy, UConn Visit Remembered

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People are remembering Mikhail Gorbachev who was the former leader of the Soviet Union and considered one of the transformative figures of the 20th century.

And we’re learning more about a stop he made in Connecticut about 25 years ago.

On Tuesday, the Gorbachev Foundation confirmed his death at age 91, “after a serious and long illness.”

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“It's notable because he's one of the more significant figures of the 20th century who personally impacted the course of history in a number of ways, both big and small,” said Wesley Renfro, Quinnipiac University political science professor.

He had been credited with helping to end the Cold War. It was described as a momentous day when Gorbachev visited Storrs, where he gave a keynote address at UConn in 1996.

The campus welcomed the former Soviet president and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

As the leader of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev tore down the Iron Curtain and introduced greater openness in the hard-line state.

He and President Reagan presided over an arms agreement that did away with an entire class of nuclear weapons and started the withdrawal of most Soviet nuclear weapons from Eastern Europe.

While he is credited with reforming the Soviet Union, Gorbachev was also blamed by his critics for its collapse.

“I do think that it's really important to note that Gorbachev presided over the Soviet Union and its dissolution. And that was an extraordinarily dangerous time, not only for folks in the Soviet Union but the rest of the world. And he did so in a quite skillful and graceful way. And we all benefit from that,” Renfro said.

Once a global power, the Soviet Union broke into 15 separate nations – including Russia – and in later years, he was blamed for the troubles in the region.

Renfro said he doesn't think Gorbachev would be fond of the democratic backsliding taking place in Russia right now.

At UConn, he spoke as part of a year-long look at human rights and he was questioned about the U.S. presidential race at that time which featured several candidates.

“As a person who spent 40 years in politics and therefore my answer will be a simple one: sort it out yourselves,” Gorbachev said.

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