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'Gorbachev changed the world'

Experts available to discuss legacy of former Soviet leader

Mikhail Gorbachev helped thaw relations between the United States and Russia at the end of the Cold War, but his passing comes at a time of heightened tension between Russia and the West.

Northwestern University experts with academic and diplomatic experience in Russian affairs weigh in on Gorbachev’s legacy. All are available today for further comment upon request.

Ian Hurd is professor of political science and director of the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern. His research on international law and politics combines contemporary global affairs with attention to the conceptual frames that serve to make sense of the world. He can be reached at or by contacting Stephanie Kulke at 847-491-4819. 

Quote from Professor Hurd“One thing he offered was proof that it is possible to break out of entrenched ways of thinking about one’s place in the world. He brought the Cold War to an end by refusing to see the world as a zero-sum status contest with the U.S. He came to leadership in a world where it was taken for granted that the U.S. and the USSR were in competition with each other. 

“This competition was seen as natural, inevitable and zero-sum. Both governments chose their policies on the assumption that the most important thing was to keep up appearances of being stronger than the other. Gorbachev seemed to know that there was nothing inevitable about fighting for scraps of status around the world, and that the costs of doing so were unacceptable. And so he stepped out of the competitive paradigm and sought to invest in improving domestic conditions instead. He scrambled American foreign policy by refusing to act like the enemy Reagan’s hardliners wanted.” 

Olga Kamenchuk is an associate professor of research and instruction with the Institute for Policy Research and the School of Communication at Northwestern. She has 15 years of professional polling and public opinion research experience in the former Soviet Union and is a leading expert on Russian public opinion. Her scholarship focuses on international public opinion and strategic public diplomacy. She can be reached by emailing

Ian Kelly is the ambassador in residence at Northwestern University. Previously, he was U.S. ambassador to Georgia, ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, State Department spokesperson, and director of the Office of Russian Affairs in Washington, D.C. He can be reached by emailing