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Gorbachev, Soviet Union's Last Leader, Turns 80


Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader who led the country until its collapse in 1991, turned 80 years old today.

His policies of perestroika and glasnost opened up the Soviet Union but also inadvertently led to its demise.

President Dmitry Medvedev today decorated Gorbachev with Russia's highest state honor, the Andrei Pervozvanny order. He said the decoration was a "symbol of the state's respect" for Gorbachev's work.

Gorbachev has been lauded in the West for liberal reforms that led to the collapse of communism. But he has been reviled by many at home, where some hold him responsible for the breakup of the Soviet Union and the ensuing economic meltdown.

Gorbachev recently has become increasingly critical of Russia's current rulers, describing Russia as an "imitation" of democracy. He has blamed Medvedev and his predecessor, current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, for an "attack on the freedoms and rights of the people."

compiled from agency reports