Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, died on August 30 at age 91 at the Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow. He served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 1988 to 1989, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet from 1989 to 1990, and President of the Soviet Union from 1990 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Gorbachev was born to a peasant family of Russian and Ukrainian heritage in the village of Privolnoye, in the Stavropol Region, on March 2, 1931. In his youth, he drove combine harvesters on a collective farm, and then joined the Communist Party. He studied law at Moscow State University and married fellow student Raisa Titarenko in 1953. He worked for the Komsomol youth organization and, after Stalin’s death, joined the de-Stalinization reforms of the party’s Secretary-General and the de facto head of the Soviet government Nikita Khrushchev. He was appointed the First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Regional Committee in 1970 and oversaw the construction of the Great Stavropol Canal. In 1978, he returned to Moscow to become Secretary of the party’s Central Committee, and in 1979 joined its governing Politburo. Three years after the death of Secretary-General Leonid Brezhnev––and the brief tenures of Secretaries-General Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko––Gorbachev was elected Secretary-General by the Politburo in 1985.
As the new Soviet leader, Gorbachev launched the perestroika (restructuring) reform and pushed through economic and political changes, including the privatization of state-owned property and the legalization of individual enterprise. In 1986 Gorbachev introduced glasnost (openness) reform, reducing censorship and increasing freedom of expression in the media.
In foreign affairs, Gorbachev cultivated warm relations with the West and withdrew the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. He signed agreements with western leaders on reducing nuclear weapons. It can be said that Gorbachev was responsible for the democratization of the eastern European bloc and the end of the Cold War.
In 1990 Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for the leading role he played in the radical changes in East-West relations.”
Gorbachev also created the new Soviet legislature, the Congress of People’s Deputies, which elected him the first President of the USSR on March 15, 1990.
In August 1991, a group of Communist Party hardliners staged a coup against Gorbachev, and after the coup had failed, Gorbachev’s position became weaker. On December 8, 1991, Boris Yeltsin and the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus signed an agreement to establish a Commonwealth of Independent former Soviet republics. On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev stepped down as president, announcing the termination of the Soviet Union.
In 1996, Gorbachev ran for president of Russia but won only 0.51% of the vote.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his “deepest condolences” over Gorbachev’s death, using the good services of Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who told TASS on Wednesday: “Vladimir Putin expresses his deepest condolences over the death of Mikhail Gorbachev. In the morning he will send a telegram with condolences to the relatives and friends.”