Mikhail Gorbachev died on August 30, 2022, at the age of 91. The last leader of the Soviet Union before its dissolution, his political reforms brought an end to the state’s one-party rule and lifted the Iron Curtain.
Gorbachev was born in 1931 to a poor peasant family of Russian and Ukrainian descent. As a young man growing up under Stalinist rule, he joined the Communist Party and earned a law degree. In 1985, he was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party, the de facto leader of the country, and became President of the Soviet Union in 1990.
Although he was committed to socialist ideals, Gorbachev saw the need for political reform in the Soviet Union. His policy of glasnost ("openness") allowed greater freedom of speech and freedom of the press, while perestroika (“restructuring”) sought to enhance the Soviet economy and political system. He also withdrew from the Soviet–Afghan War and signaled a desire to end the Cold War with the United States, meeting with US President Ronald Reagan to do so. In addition to enhancing democratization at home, Gorbachev also declined to send military intervention to Eastern Bloc countries during the Revolutions of 1989, when they revolted to overthrow communist rule.
After a failed 1991 coup against Gorbachev, he resigned the presidency and the Soviet Union dissolved against his wishes. In his later years, he supported democratic socialism and was a vocal critic of Russian presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin.
Gorbachev’s death was lamented by Western leaders, who tend to see him as an inspirational harbinger of peace and democracy. But he has an uneasy legacy in his home country of Russia, where some have denounced him for weakening the country’s global influence and ushering in an era of economic instability. Regardless, he remains a towering figure of the 20th century with a complex legacy.
The last president of the Soviet Union discusses Communism, the Cold War, and bringing democracy to Russia in this sweeping political memoir.
At the Highest Levels
The landmark story of Bush-Gorbachev diplomacy: “No one has ever given as complete and compelling an account of the higher reaches of foreign policy” (Time).