|President of the Soviet Union|
15 March 1990 – 25 December 1991
|Prime Minister||Nikolai Ryzhkov|
|Vice President||Gennady Yanayev|
as Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union
|Succeeded by||Office abolished|
|General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union|
11 March 1985 – 24 August 1991
|Preceded by||Konstantin Chernenko|
|Succeeded by||Vladimir Ivashko (acting)|
|Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union|
25 May 1989 – 15 March 1990
as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
as President of the Soviet Union
as Chairman of the Supreme Soviet
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev
2 March 1931
Privolnoye, North Caucasus Krai, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Russian (since 1991)
|Political party||Independent (1991–2001; 2004–2007; 2014–present)|
|Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1950–1991)|
Social Democratic Party of Russia (2001–2004)
Union of Social Democrats (2007–2014)
(m. 1953; died 1999)
|Alma mater||Moscow State University|
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev[a] (born 2 March 1931) is a Russian and formerly Soviet politician. He was the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union, having been General Secretary of the governing Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991. He was the country's head of state from 1988 until 1991, serving as 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 to 1991. Ideologically a socialist, he initially adhered to Marxism-Leninism although following the Soviet collapse moved toward social democracy.
Of mixed Russian and Ukrainian heritage, Gorbachev was born in Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai to a peasant family. Growing up under the rule of Joseph Stalin, in his youth he operated combine harvesters on a collective farm before joining the Communist Party, which then governed the Soviet Union as a one-party state. While studying at Moscow State University, he married fellow student Raisa Gorbacheva in 1953 prior to receiving his law degree in 1955. Moving to Stavropol, he worked for the Komsomol youth organisation and became a keen proponent of the de-Stalinization reforms of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He was appointed the First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Regional Committee in 1970, in which position he oversaw construction of the Great Stavropol Canal. In 1974 he moved to Moscow to become First Secretary to the Supreme Soviet and in 1979 became a candidate member of the Politburo. Within three years of the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, following the brief "interregna" of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, Gorbachev was elected general secretary by the Politburo in 1985.
Although committed to preserving the Soviet state and to its socialist ideals, Gorbachev believed significant reform was necessary and following the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 pursued this agenda. Gorbachev's policies of glasnost ("openness") and perestroika ("restructuring") and his reorientation of Soviet strategic aims contributed to the end of the Cold War. Under this program, the role of the Communist Party in governing the state was removed from the constitution, which inadvertently led to crisis-level political instability with a surge of regional nationalist and anti-communist activism culminating in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev later expressed regret for his failure to save the Soviet state, though he has insisted that his policies were not failures but rather were vitally necessary reforms, which were sabotaged and exploited by opportunists. He was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in 1989, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, and the Harvey Prize in 1992, as well as honorary doctorates from various universities. In the 21st century he unsuccessfully promoted social-democratic politics through the Social Democratic Party of Russia and then the Union of Social Democrats.
Widely considered one of the most significant figures of the second half of the 20th century, Gorbachev remains the subject of controversy. He was widely praised in the West for his pivotal role in ending the Cold War, curtailing the human rights abuses that occurred in the Soviet Union, and tolerating the fall of Marxist–Leninist administrations in eastern and central Europe. Conversely, in Russia he is often derided for not stopping the Soviet collapse, an event which brought economic crisis and a decline in Russia's global influence.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Rise in the Communist Party
- 3 General Secretary of the CPSU
- 3.1 Early years: 1985–1986
- 3.2 Presidency of the Soviet Union
- 4 Post-presidency
- 5 Political ideology
- 6 Personal life
- 7 Works
- 8 Legacy
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Gorbachev was born on 2 March 1931 in the village of Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai. At the time, Privolnoye was divided almost evenly between ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians. Gorbachev's paternal family were ethnic Russians and had moved to the region from Voronezh several generations before; his maternal family were of ethnic Ukrainian heritage and had migrated from Chernigov. His parents named him Victor, but at the insistence of his mother—a devout Orthodox Christian—he had a secret baptism, where his grandfather christened him Mikhail. His relationship with his father, Sergey Andreyevich Gorbachev, was close; his mother, Maria Panteleyevna Gorbacheva (née Gopkalo), was colder and punitive. His parents were poor; they had married as teenagers in 1928, and in keeping with local tradition had initially resided in Sergei's father's house, an adobe-walled hut, before a hut of their own could be built.
During Gorbachev's childhood, the Soviet Union was under the governance of Joseph Stalin, who had initiated a project of mass rural collectivisation which he believed would help convert the country into a socialist society. Gorbachev's maternal grandfather joined the governing Communist Party and helped form the village's first collective farm in 1929, becoming its chair. Aged three, Gorbachev left his parental home and moved in with his maternal grandparents at the collective farm, which was twelve miles outside the village.
The country was then experiencing the famine of 1932–33, in which three of Gorbachev's paternal uncles and aunts died. This was followed by the Great Purge, in which individuals accused of being "enemies of the people" were arrested and interned in labour camps, if not executed. Both of Gorbachev's grandfathers were arrested—his maternal in 1934 and his paternal in 1937—and both spent time in Gulag labour camps prior to being released. After his December 1938 release, Gorbachev's maternal grandfather discussed having been tortured by the secret police, an account that influenced the young boy.
When the Second World War broke out, the Soviet Union found itself in conflict with Nazi Germany. In June 1941 the German Army invaded the country; they occupied Privolnoe for four and a half months in 1942. Gorbachev's father had joined the Red Army and fought on the frontlines; he was wrongly declared dead during the conflict and fought in the Battle of Kursk before returning to his family, injured. After the war, Gorbachev's parents had their second son, Aleksandr, in 1947; he and Mikhail would be their only children.
The village school had closed during much of the war but re-opened in autumn 1944. Gorbachev did not want to return but when he did he excelled academically. He read voraciously, moving from the Western novels of Thomas Mayne Reid to the work of Vissarion Belinsky, Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, and Mikhail Lermontov. In 1946, he joined Komsomol, the Soviet political youth organisation, becoming leader of his local group and then being elected to the Komsomol committee for the district. From primary school he moved to the high school in Molotovskeye; he stayed there during the week while walking the twelve miles home during weekends. There, he organised sporting and social activities and led the school's morning exercise class. He was also a member of the drama society. Over the course of five consecutive summers from 1946 onward he returned home to assist his father operate a combine harvester, during which they sometimes worked 20-hour days. In 1948, they harvested over 8000 centners of grain, a feat for which Sergei was awarded the Order of Lenin and his son the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.
— Gorbachev's letter requesting membership of the Communist Party
In June 1950, Gorbachev became a candidate member of the Communist Party. He also applied to study at the law school of Moscow State University (MSU), then the most prestigious university in the country. They accepted without asking for an exam, likely because of his worker-peasant origins and his possession of the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. Aged 19, he travelled by train to Moscow, the first time he had left his home region.
In the city, he resided with fellow MSU students at a dormitory in Sokolniki District. He and other rural students felt at odds with their Muscovite counterparts but he soon came to fit in. Fellow students recall him working especially hard, often late into the night. He gained a reputation as a mediator during disputes, and was also known for being outspoken in class, although would only reveal a number of his views privately; for instance he confided in some students his opposition to the Soviet jurisprudential norm that a confession proved guilt, noting that confessions could have been forced. During his studies, an anti-semitic campaign spread through the Soviet Union, culminating in the Doctors' plot; Gorbachev publicly defended a Jewish student who was accused of disloyalty to the country by one of their fellows.
At MSU, he became the Komsomol head of his entering class, and then Komsomol's deputy secretary for agitation and propaganda at the law school. One of his first Komsomol assignments in Moscow was to monitor the election polling in Krasnopresnenskaya district to ensure the government's desire for near total turnout; Gorbachev found that most of those who voted did so "out of fear". In 1952, he was appointed a full member of the Communist Party. As a party and Komsomol member he was tasked with monitoring fellow students for potential subversion; some of his fellow students said that he did so only minimally and that they trusted him to keep confidential information secret from the authorities. Gorbachev became close friends with the Czechoslovak Zdeněk Mlynář, later a primary ideologist of the 1968 Prague Spring. Mlynář recalled that the duo remained "convinced communists" despite their growing concerns about the Stalinist system. After Stalin died in March 1953, Gorbachev and Mlynář joined the crowds amassing to see Stalin's body laying in state.
At MSU, Gorbachev met Raisa Titarenko, a Ukrainian studying in the university's philosophy department. She was engaged to another man but after that engagement fell apart, she began a relationship with Gorbachev; together they went to bookstores, museums, and art exhibits. In early 1953, he took an internship at the procurator's office in Molotovskoye district, but was angered by the incompetence and arrogance of those working there. That summer, he returned to Privolnoe to work with his father on the harvest; the money earned allowed him to pay for a wedding. On 25 September 1953 they registered their marriage at Sokolniki Registry Office; and in October moved in together at the Lenin Hills dormitory. Raisa fell pregnant and although the couple wanted to keep the child she fell ill and required a life-saving abortion.
In 1955, Gorbachev graduated with a distinction; his final paper had been on the advantages of "socialist democracy" over "bourgeois democracy". He was then assigned to the USSR Procurator's office, which was then focusing on the rehabilitation of the innocent victims of Stalin's purges, but found that they had no work for him. He was then offered a place on an MSU graduate course specialising in kolkhoz law, but declined. He had wanted to remain in Moscow, where Raisa was enrolled on a PhD program, but instead gained employment in Stavropol; Raisa abandoned her studies to join him there.
Rise in the Communist Party
Stavropol Komsomol: 1955–1969
In August 1955, Gorbachev started work at the Stavropol regional procurator's office, but disliked the job and through contacts ensured he was reassigned to Komsomol. He became deputy director of Komosomol's agitation and propaganda department for the region. He visited villages in the area and tried to improve the lives of their inhabitants; he established a discussion circle in Gorkaya Balka village to help its peasant residents gain social contacts. Gorbachev and his wife initially rented a small room in Stavropol. The couple took daily evening walks around the city and on weekends hiked in the countryside. In January 1957, Raisa gave birth to a daughter, Irina. In 1958 they moved into two rooms in a communal apartment. In 1961, Gorbachev pursued a second degree, on agricultural production, at a local agricultural college, receiving it in 1967. His wife had also pursued a second degree, attaining a PhD in sociology in 1967 from the Moscow Pedagogical Institute; while in Stavropol she too joined the Communist Party.
Stalin was ultimately succeeded as Soviet leader by Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced Stalin and his cult of personality in a speech given in February 1956, after which he launched a de-Stalinization process throughout Soviet society. Later biographer William Taubman suggested that Gorbachev "embodied" the "reformist spirit" of the Khrushchev era. Gorbachev was among those who saw themselves as "genuine Marxists" or "genuine Leninists" in contrast to what they regarded as the perversions of Stalin. He helped spread Khrushchev's anti-Stalinist message in Stavropol, but encountered many who continued to regard Stalin as a hero or who praised the Stalinist purges as just.
Gorbachev rose steadily through the ranks of the local administration. The authorities regarded him as politically reliable, and he would flatter his superiors, for instance gaining favour with prominent local politician Fyodor Kulakov. In September 1956, he was promoted head of the Stavropol city's Komsomol; in 1958 he was made deputy head of the Komsomol for the entire region. At this point he was given better accommodation: a two-room flat with its own private kitchen, toilet, and bathroom. In Stavropol, he formed a discussion club for youths, and helped mobilise local young people to take part in Khrushchev's agricultural and development campaigns. He went out of his way to appoint women as city and district leaders. With an ability to outmanoeuvre rivals, some colleagues resented his success. In 1961, Gorbachev played host to the Italian delegation for the World Youth Festival in Moscow. In January 1963, Gorbachev was promoted to personnel chief for the regional party's agricultural committee.
In August 1968 the Soviet Union led an invasion of Czechoslovakia to put an end to the Prague Spring, a period of political liberalisation in the Marxist–Leninist country. Although Gorbachev later stated that he had had private concerns about the invasion, he publicly supported it. By 1968 he was increasingly frustrated with his job—in large part because Khrushchev's reforms were stalling or being reversed—and he contemplated leaving politics to work in academia. However, in August 1968, he was named Leonid Yefremov's deputy, becoming the second most senior figure in the Stavrapol region. In September 1969 he was part of a Soviet delegation sent to Czechoslovakia, where he found the Czechoslovak people largely unwelcoming to them. That year, the Soviet authorities ordered him to punish Fagien B. Sadykov, a Stavropol-based agronomist whose ideas were regarded as critical of Soviet agricultural policy; Gorbachev ensured that Sadykov was fired from teaching but ignored calls for him to face tougher punishment. Gorbachev later related that he was "deeply affected" by the incident; "my conscience tormented me" for overseeing Sadykov's persecution.
Heading the Stavropol Region: 1970–1978
In April 1970, Yefremov was promoted to a higher position in Moscow and Gorbachev took his job. This granted Gorbachev significant power over the Stavropol region. He had been personally vetted for the position by senior Kremlin leaders and was informed of their decision by the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev. Aged 39, he was considerably younger than his predecessors in the position. As head of the Stavropol region, he automatically became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. As regional leader, Gorbachev initially attributed economic and other failures to "the inefficiency and incompetence of cadres, flaws in management structure or gaps in legislation", but eventually concluded that they were caused by an excessive centralisation of decision making in Moscow. He began reading translations of restricted texts by Western Marxist authors like Antonio Gramsci, Louis Aragon, Roger Garaudy, and Giuseppe Boffa, and came under their influence.
His main task as regional leader was to raise agricultural production levels, something hampered by severe droughts in 1975 and 1976. He oversaw the expansion of irrigation systems through construction of the Great Stavropol Canal. For overseeing a record grain harvest in Ipatovsky district, in March 1972 he was awarded by Order of the October Revolution by Brezhnev in a Moscow ceremony. Gorbachev always sought to maintain Brezhnev's trust; as regional leader, he repeatedly praised Brezhnev in his speeches, for instance referring to him as "the outstanding statesman of our time". Gorbachev and his wife holidayed in Moscow, Leningrad, Uzbekistan, and resorts in the North Caucusus; he holidayed with the head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, who was favourable towards him, as well as with the Soviet Prime Minister, Alexei Kosygin, with whom he also established a good relationship.
The government considered Gorbachev sufficiently reliable that he was sent as part of Soviet delegations to Western Europe; he made five trips there between 1970 and 1977. In September 1971 he was part of a delegation who travelled to Italy, where they met with representatives of the Italian Communist Party; Gorbachev loved Italian culture but was struck by the poverty and inequality he saw in the country. In 1972 he visited Belgium and the Netherlands and in 1973 West Germany. Gorbachev and his wife visited France in 1976 and 1977, on the latter occasion touring the country with a guide from the French Communist Party. He was struck by how openly West Europeans offered their opinions and criticised their political leaders, something absent from the Soviet Union, where people did not feel safe speaking so openly. He later related that for he and his wife, these visits "shook our a priori belief in the superiority of socialist over bourgeois democracy".
Gorbachev had remained close to his parents; after his father he became terminally ill in 1974, Gorbachev travelled to be with him in Privolnoe shortly before his death. His daughter, Irina, married fellow student Anatoly Virgansky in April 1978.
Secretary of the Central Committee: 1978–1984
In November 1974, Gorbachev was appointed as a Secretary of the Central Committee; he was the youngest man to ever hold such a position. His appointment had been approved unanimously by the Central Committee's members. To fill this position, Gorbachev and his wife moved to Moscow, where they were initially given an old dacha outside the city. They then moved to another, at Sosnovka, before finally being allocated a 1970s brick house. He was also given an apartment inside the city, but gave that to his daughter and son-in-law; Irina had begun work at Moscow's Second Medical Institute. As part of the Moscow political elite, Gorbachev and his wife now had access to better medical care and to specialised shops; they were also given cooks, servants, bodyguards, and secretaries, although many of these were spies for the KGB. In his new position, Gorbachev often worked twelve to sixteen hour days. He and his wife socialised little, but liked to visit Moscow's theatres and museums.
In 1978, Gorbachev was appointed to the Central Committee's Secretariat for Agriculture in 1978, replacing Fyodor Kulakov who had died of a heart attack. In the Politburo, Gorbachev concentrated his attentions on agriculture: the harvests of 1979, 1980, and 1981 were all poor, due largely to weather conditions. The country had to import increasing quantities of grain. Privately, he had growing concerns about the country's agricultural management system, coming to regard it as overly centralised and requiring more bottom-up decision making. He began to have concerns about other policies too. In December 1979, the Soviets sent their Red Army into neighbouring Afghanistan to support the Soviet-aligned government against Islamist insurgents; Gorbachev privately thought it a mistake. However, at times he openly supported the government position; he supported Soviet calls for the Polish Marxist–Leninist government to crack down on growing internal dissent in Poland in October 1980.
After Brezhnev's death in November 1982, Andropov succeeded him as General Secretary of the Communist Party, the de facto head of government in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was enthusiastic about the appointment. However, although Gorbachev hoped that Andropov would introduce liberalising reforms, the latter carried out only personnel shifts rather than structural change. Andropov encouraged Gorbachev to expand into policy areas other than agriculture, preparing him for future higher office. With Andropov's encouragement, Gorbachev sometimes chaired Politburo meetings. In April 1983, Gorbachev delivered the annual Lenin's birthday speech; this required him re-reading many of Lenin's later writings, in which the first Soviet leader had called for reform, and encouraged Gorbachev's own conviction that reform was needed. In May 1983, Gorbachev was sent to Canada, where he met Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and spoke to the Canadian parliament. There, he met and befriended the Soviet ambassador, Aleksandr Yakovlev, who later became a key political ally.
In February 1984, Andropov died; on his deathbed he indicated his desire that Gorbachev succeed him. Many in the Central Committee nevertheless thought the 53-year old Gorbachev was too young and inexperienced. Instead, Chernenko—a longstanding Brezhnev ally—was appointed General Secretary, but he too was in very poor health. Chernenko was often too sick to chair Politburo meetings, with Gorbachev stepping in last minute. He continued to cultivate allies both in the Kremlin and beyond. He also gave the main speech at a conference on Soviet ideology, where he angered party hardliners by implying that the country required reform. In April 1984, he was appointed chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Soviet legislature, a largely honorific position; in June he travelled to Italy as a Soviet representative for the funeral of Italian Communist Party leader Enrico Berlinguer. In December, he visited Britain at the request of its Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; she was aware that he was a potential reformer and wanted to meet him. At the end of the visit, Thatcher said: "I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together". He felt that the visit helped to erode Gromyko's dominance of Soviet foreign policy while at the same time sending a signal to the U.S. government that he wanted to improve Soviet-U.S. relations.
General Secretary of the CPSU
On 11 March 1985, Chernenko died. Gromyko proposed Gorbachev as the next General-Secretary; as a longstanding party member, Gromyko's recommendation carried great weight among the Central Committee. Gorbachev expected much opposition to his nomination as Chernenko's successor, but ultimately the rest of the Politburo supported him. Shortly after Chernenko's death, the Politburo unanimously elected Gorbachev as his successor; they wanted him over another elderly leader. Although not a well-known figure to the Soviet public, there was widespread relief that the new leader was not elderly and ailing. Two months after being elected, he left Moscow for the first time, traveling to Leningrad, where he spoke to assembled crowds.
Early years: 1985–1986
Gorbachev's leadership style differed from that of his predecessors. He would stop to talk to civilians on the street, forbade the display of his portrait at the 1985 Red Square holiday celebrations, and encouraged frank and open discussions at Politburo meetings. In June he travelled to Ukraine and in September to Siberia, urging party members in these areas to take more responsibility for fixing local problems. His wife was his closest adviser, and took on the role of a "first lady" by appearing with him on foreign trips; her public visibility was a breach of standard practice and generated resentment. His other close aides were Georgy Shakhnazarov and Anatoly Chernyaev. He sought to remove several older members from the Politburo, encouraging Grigory Romanov, Nikolai Tikhonov, and Viktor Grishin into retirement and moving Gromyko from his role in foreign policy to that of head of state. He replaced Gromyko's former role with his ally, Eduard Shevardnadze. Other allies whom he saw promoted were Yakovlev and Vadim Medvedev. Another of those promoted by Gorbachev was Boris Yeltsin, who was made Secretary of the Central Committee in July 1985.
For the first two years of his leadership, Gorbachev's watchword was "acceleration". He claimed that the Soviet Union would accelerate industrial output to the extent that it would match that of the United States by 2000. To boost agricultural productivity, he merged five ministries and a state committee into a single entity, Agroprom. By late 1986, he was referring to this reform as a failure. Drunkenness was a major social problem in the 1980s, and Andropov had planned for a major campaign to limit alcohol consumption, which Gorbachev—who believed it would improve health and work efficiency—oversaw. His wife keenly supported the measure. As a result, crime rates fell and life expectancy grew slightly between 1986 and 1987. The reform had significant costs to the Soviet economy, resulting in losses of up to $100 billion between 1985 and 1990. Gorbachev later considered the campaign to have been an error.
In April 1986 the Chernobyl disaster occurred; in the immediate aftermath, officials fed Gorbachev incorrect information to downplay the incident. As the scale of the disaster became apparent, 336,000 people were evacuated from the area around Chernobyl. Taubman noted that the disaster marked "a turning point for Gorbachev and the Soviet regime". Gorbachev later described the incident as one which made him appreciate the scale of incompetence and cover-ups in the Soviet Union. From April to the end of the year, Gorbachev became increasingly open in his criticism of the Soviet system, including food production, state bureaucracy, the military draft, and the large size of the prison population.
Gorbachev's primary goal as general secretary was to revive the Soviet economy after the stagnant Brezhnev years. In 1985, he announced that the economy was stalled and that reorganization was needed. Gorbachev proposed a "vague programme of reform", which was adopted at the April Plenum of the Central Committee. He called for fast-paced technological modernization and increased industrial and agricultural productivity, and tried to reform the Soviet bureaucracy to be more efficient and prosperous. Gorbachev soon came to believe that fixing the Soviet economy would be nearly impossible without reforming the political and social structure of the Communist nation. He also initiated the concept of gospriyomka (state acceptance of production) during his time as leader, which represented quality control.
A number of reformist ideas were discussed by Politburo members. One of the first reforms Gorbachev introduced was the anti-alcohol campaign, begun in May 1985, which was designed to fight widespread alcoholism in the Soviet Union. Prices of vodka, wine, and beer were raised, and their sales were restricted. It was pursued vigorously and cut both alcohol sales and government revenue. As a result, alcohol production migrated to the black market economy and dealt a blow to state revenue—a loss of approximately 100 billion rubles, according to Alexander Yakovlev. However, the program proved to be a useful symbol for change in the country.
The purpose of reform was to prop up the centrally planned economy—not to transition to market socialism. Speaking in late summer 1985 to the secretaries for economic affairs of the central committees of the East European communist parties, Gorbachev said: "Many of you see the solution to your problems in resorting to market mechanisms in place of direct planning. Some of you look at the market as a lifesaver for your economies. But, comrades, you should not think about lifesavers but about the ship, and the ship is socialism."
Gorbachev initiated his new policy of perestroika (literally "restructuring" in Russian) and its attendant radical reforms in 1986; they were sketched, but not fully spelled out, at the XXVIIth Party Congress in February–March 1986. The "reconstruction" was proposed in an attempt to overcome the economic stagnation by creating a dependable and effective mechanism for accelerating economic and social progress.
According to Gorbachev, perestroika was the "conference of development of democracy, socialist self-government, encouragement of initiative and creative endeavor, improved order and discipline, more glasnost, criticism and self-criticism in all spheres of our society. It is utmost respect for the individual and consideration for personal dignity".
Domestic changes continued. In a bombshell speech during Armenian SSR's Central Committee Plenum of the Communist Party, the young First Secretary of Armenia's Hrazdan Regional Communist Party, Hayk Kotanjian, criticised rampant corruption in the Armenian Communist Party's highest echelons, implicating Armenian SSR Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchyan and calling for his resignation. Symbolically, intellectual Andrei Sakharov was invited to return to Moscow by Gorbachev in December 1986 after six years of internal exile in Gorky. During the same month, however, signs of the nationalities problem that would haunt the later years of the Soviet Union surfaced as riots, named Jeltoqsan, occurred in Kazakhstan after Dinmukhamed Kunayev was replaced as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan.
The Central Committee Plenum in January 1987 saw the crystallisation of Gorbachev's political reforms, including proposals for multi-candidate elections and the appointment of non-Party members to government positions. He also first raised the idea of expanding co-operatives. Economic reforms took up much of the rest of 1987, as a new law giving enterprises more independence was passed in June and Gorbachev released a book, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, in November, elucidating his main ideas for reform. In 1987, he rehabilitated many opponents of Joseph Stalin—another part of the De-Stalinization, which began in 1956, when Lenin's Testament was published.
1988 would see Gorbachev's introduction of glasnost, which gave the Soviet people freedoms that they had never previously known, including greater freedom of speech. The press became far less controlled, and thousands of political prisoners and many dissidents were released. Gorbachev's goal in undertaking glasnost was to pressure conservatives within the CPSU who opposed his policies of economic restructuring, and he also hoped that through different ranges of openness, debate and participation, the Soviet people would support his reform initiatives.
At the same time, he opened himself and his reforms up for more public criticism, evident in Nina Andreyeva's critical letter in a March edition of Sovetskaya Rossiya. Gorbachev acknowledged that his liberalising policies of glasnost and perestroika owed a great deal to Alexander Dubček's "Socialism with a human face". Indeed, when one reporter asked him what was the difference between his policies and the Prague Spring, Gorbachev replied, "Nineteen years".
The Law on Cooperatives, enacted in May 1988, was perhaps the most radical economic reform of the early Gorbachev era. For the first time since Vladimir Lenin's New Economic Policy, the law permitted private ownership of businesses in the service, manufacturing, and foreign-trade sectors. The law initially imposed high taxes and employment restrictions, although these were ignored by some Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs). Later, the restrictions were revised to avoid discouraging private-sector activity. Under the provision for private ownership, cooperative restaurants, shops, and manufacturers became part of the Soviet scene. Under the new law, the restructuring of large "All-Union" industrial organizations also began. Aeroflot was split up, eventually becoming several independent airlines. These newly autonomous business organisations were encouraged to seek foreign investment.
In June 1988, at the CPSU's Party Conference, Gorbachev launched radical reforms meant to reduce party control of the government apparatus. He proposed a new executive in the form of a presidential system, as well as a new legislative element, to be called the Congress of People's Deputies. Elections to the Congress of People's Deputies were held throughout the Soviet Union in March and April 1989. This was the first free election in the Soviet Union since 1917. Gorbachev became Chairman of the Supreme Soviet (or head of state) on 25 May 1989.
Presidency of the Soviet Union
On 15 March 1990, Gorbachev was elected as the first executive President of the Soviet Union with 59% of the Deputies' votes. He was the sole candidate on the ballot. The Congress of People's Deputies met for the first time on 25 May in order to elect representatives from the Congress to sit on the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, the Congress posed problems for Gorbachev: Its sessions were televised, airing more criticism and encouraging people to expect ever more rapid reform. Perestroika meant changing the planned economy into a more active, self-financed system, where the duration of central planning would not exceed five years, and which would be more able to react to economic needs. Communist rule in the Soviet Union weakened, and centralized power from Moscow was unable to combat centrifugal forces in the South. In the elections, many Party candidates were defeated. Furthermore, Boris Yeltsin was elected as mayor of Moscow and returned to political prominence to become an increasingly vocal critic of Gorbachev.
Gorbachev chose a vice president; but when first Shevardnadze, then Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, turned it down, Gorbachev chose Gennady Yanayev, the head of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions and a known hardliner. This decision would come back to haunt Gorbachev later.
In contrast to the controversy at home over his domestic reforms, Gorbachev was largely hailed in the West for his 'New Thinking' doctrine in foreign affairs. During his tenure, he sought to improve relations and trade with the West by reducing Cold War tensions. He established close relationships with several Western leaders, such as West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who famously remarked, "I like Mr. Gorbachev; we can do business together".
Gorbachev understood the link between achieving international détente and domestic reform and thus began extending "New Thinking" abroad immediately. On 8 April 1985, he announced the suspension of the deployment of SS-20 missiles in Europe as a move towards resolving intermediate-range nuclear weapons (INF) issues. Later that year, in September, Gorbachev proposed that the Soviets and Americans both cut their nuclear arsenals in half. He went to France on his first trip abroad as Soviet leader in October. November saw the Geneva Summit between Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. Though no concrete agreement was made, Gorbachev and Reagan struck a personal relationship and decided to hold further meetings.
Bold arms control proposal
January 1986 would see Gorbachev make his boldest international move so far, when he announced his proposal for the elimination of intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe and his strategy for eliminating all of the Soviet nuclear arsenal by the year 2000 (often referred to as the 'January Proposal'). He also began the process of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Mongolia on 28 July. Nonetheless, many observers, such as Jack F. Matlock, Jr. (despite generally praising Gorbachev as well as Reagan), have criticized Gorbachev for taking too long to achieve withdrawal from the Afghanistan War, citing it as an example of lingering elements of "old thinking" in Gorbachev.
On 11 October 1986, Gorbachev and Reagan met at Höfði house in Reykjavík, Iceland, to discuss reducing intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. To the immense surprise of both men's advisers, the two agreed in principle to removing INF systems from Europe and to equal global limits of 100 INF missile warheads. They also essentially agreed in principle to eliminate all nuclear weapons in 10 years (by 1996), instead of by the year 2000 as in Gorbachev's original outline. The US's rejection of the Gorbachev proposal, particularly Reagan's insistence of continued unlimited testing of Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) systems, meant that the summit is often regarded as a failure for not producing a concrete agreement immediately, or for leading to a staged elimination of nuclear weapons. Reagan was persuaded by Richard Perle to reject limits on SDI testing because Perle thought that the far-reaching arms control deal proposed by the Soviets would improve the Soviet domestic economy and have a beneficial impact on the Soviet standard of living.
In the long term, nevertheless, this would culminate in the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987, after Gorbachev had proposed this elimination on 22 July 1987 (and it was subsequently agreed on in Geneva on 24 November).
Withdrawal from Afghanistan
In February 1988, Gorbachev announced the full withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The withdrawal was completed the following year, although the civil war continued as the Mujahedin pushed to overthrow the pro-Soviet Najibullah government. An estimated 14,453 Soviets were killed between 1979 and 1989 as a result of the Afghanistan War.
Relinquishing control of East Bloc
Also during 1988, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union would abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine, and allow the Eastern bloc nations to freely determine their own internal affairs. Jokingly dubbed the "Sinatra Doctrine" by Gorbachev's Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov, this policy of non-intervention in the affairs of the other Warsaw Pact states proved to be the most momentous of Gorbachev's foreign policy reforms. In his 6 July 1989 speech arguing for a "common European home" before the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, Gorbachev declared: "The social and political order in some countries changed in the past, and it can change in the future too, but this is entirely a matter for each people to decide. Any interference in the internal affairs, or any attempt to limit the sovereignty of another state, friend, ally, or another, would be inadmissible." A month earlier, on 4 June 1989, elections had taken place in Poland and the communist government had already been deposed.
Moscow's abandonment of the Brezhnev Doctrine allowed the rise of popular upheavals in Eastern Europe throughout 1989, in which Communism was overthrown. By the end of 1989, revolts had spread from one Eastern European capital to another, ousting the regimes built in Eastern Europe after World War II. Except in Romania, the popular upheavals against the pro-Soviet regimes were all peaceful (see Revolutions of 1989). The loosening of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe effectively ended the Cold War, and for this, Gorbachev was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold in 1989 and the Nobel Peace Prize on 15 October 1990.
On 9 November, people in East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, GDR) were suddenly allowed to cross through the Berlin Wall into West Berlin, following a peaceful protest against the country's dictatorial administration, including a demonstration by some one million people in East Berlin on 4 November. Unlike earlier riots which were ended by military force with the help of the USSR, Gorbachev now decided not to interfere with the process in Germany. He stated that German reunification was an internal German matter.
The rest of 1989 was taken up by the increasingly problematic question of nationalities and the dramatic fragmentation of the Eastern Bloc. Despite unprecedented international détente, due to Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan completed in January and continuing talks between Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush, domestic reforms suffered from increasing divergence between reformists, who wanted faster change, and conservatives, who wanted to limit change. Gorbachev states that he tried to find middle ground between both groups, but this would draw more criticism towards him. The story from this point on moves away from reforms and becomes one of the nationalities question and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Coit D. Blacker wrote in 1990 that the Soviet leadership "appeared to have believed that whatever loss of authority the Soviet Union might suffer in Eastern Europe would be more than offset by a net increase in its influence in Western Europe". Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Gorbachev ever intended for the dismantling of Communism in Warsaw Pact countries. Rather, he assumed that the Communist parties of Eastern Europe could be reformed in a similar way to the reforms he hoped to achieve in the CPSU. Just as perestroika was aimed at making the USSR more efficient economically and politically, Gorbachev believed that the Comecon and Warsaw Pact could be reformed into more effective entities. Alexander Yakovlev, a close advisor to Gorbachev, would later state that it would have been "absurd to keep the system" in Eastern Europe. In contrast to Gorbachev, Yakovlev had come to the conclusion that the Soviet-dominated Comecon was inherently unworkable and that the Warsaw Pact had "no relevance to real life".
Dissolution of the Soviet Union
By the end of the 1980s, severe shortages of basic food supplies (meat, sugar) led to the reintroduction of the war-time system of distribution using food cards that limited each citizen to a certain amount of product per month. Compared to 1985, the state deficit grew from 0 to 109 billion rubles; gold funds decreased from 2,000 to 200 tons; and external debt grew from 0 to 120 billion dollars.
Furthermore, the democratisation of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe had irreparably undermined the power of the CPSU and Gorbachev himself. The relaxation of censorship and attempts to create more political openness had the unintended effect of re-awakening long-suppressed nationalist and anti-Russian feelings in the Soviet republics. Calls for greater independence from Moscow's rule grew louder, especially in the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, which had been annexed into the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin in 1940. Nationalist feeling also took hold in Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
In December 1986, the first signs of the nationalities problem that would haunt the later years of the Soviet Union's existence surfaced as riots, named Jeltoqsan, occurred in Alma Ata and other areas of Kazakhstan after Dinmukhamed Kunayev was replaced as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. Nationalism would then surface in Russia in May 1987, as 600 members of Pamyat, a nascent Russian nationalist group, demonstrated in Moscow and were becoming increasingly linked to Boris Yeltsin, who received their representatives at a meeting.
Violence erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh between February and April, when Armenians living in the area began a new wave of demands to transfer of NKAO from Azerbaijan to Armenia which eventually led to full scale Nagorno-Karabakh War. Gorbachev imposed a temporary solution, but it did not last, as fresh trouble arose in Nagorno-Karabakh between June and July. Turmoil would once again return in late 1988, this time in Armenia itself, when the Spitak earthquake hit the region on 7 December. Poor local infrastructure magnified the hazard and some 25,000 people died. Gorbachev was forced to break off his trip to the United States and cancel planned travel to Cuba and the UK.
In March and April 1989 elections to the Congress of People's Deputies took place throughout the Soviet Union. This returned many pro-independence republicans, as many CPSU candidates were rejected. The televised Congress debates allowed the dissemination of pro-independence propositions. Indeed, 1989 would see numerous nationalistic protests; for example, beginning with the Baltic republics in January, laws were passed in most non-Russian republics giving precedence for the local language over Russian.
9 April would see the crackdown on nationalist demonstrations by Soviet troops in Tbilisi, Georgia. There would be further bloody protests in Uzbekistan in June, when Uzbeks and Meskhetian Turks clashed in Fergana, Uzbekistan. Apart from this violence, three major events that altered the face of the nationalities issue occurred in 1989. Estonia had declared its sovereignty on 16 November 1988, to be followed by Lithuania in May 1989 and by Latvia in July (the Communist Party of Lithuania would also declare its independence from the CPSU in December). This brought the Union and the republics into clear confrontation and would form a precedent for other republics.
Around the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in July 1989, the Soviet government formally acknowledged that the plan had included the placing of the Baltic states into the Soviet sphere of influence, which paved the way for their annexation into the USSR in 1940. The revelation supported the long-denied proposition that the Baltic states had been involuntarily brought into the Soviet Union, and so it boosted the Baltic aspirations to reestablish their independence. Finally, the Eastern bloc fragmented in the autumn of 1989, and Gorbachev made the decision not to use military force in order to maintain the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. This raised hopes that Gorbachev would extend his non-interventionist doctrine to the internal workings of the USSR.
Crisis of the Union: 1990–1991
1990 began with nationalist turmoil in January. Azerbaijanis rioted and troops were sent in to restore order; many Moldovans demonstrated in favour of unification with post-Communist Romania; and Lithuanian demonstrations continued. The same month, in a hugely significant move, Armenia asserted its right to veto laws coming from the All-Union level, thus intensifying the "war of laws" between the republics and Moscow.
Soon after, the CPSU, which had already lost much of its control, began to lose even more power as Gorbachev deepened political reform. The February Central Committee Plenum advocated multi-party elections; local elections held between February and March returned a large number of pro-independence candidates. The Congress of People's Deputies then amended the Soviet Constitution in March, removing Article 6, which guaranteed the monopoly of the CPSU. Soon after the constitutional amendment, Lithuania declared independence and elected Vytautas Landsbergis as Chairman of the Supreme Council (head of state).
On 15 March, Gorbachev himself was elected as the first—and as it turned out, only—President of the Soviet Union by the Congress of People's Deputies and chose a Presidential Council of 15 politicians. Gorbachev was essentially creating his own political support base independent of CPSU conservatives and radical reformers. The new Executive was designed to be a powerful position to guide the spiraling reform process, and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union and Congress of People's Deputies had already given Gorbachev increasingly presidential powers in February. This was again criticized by reformers. Despite the apparent increase in Gorbachev's power, he was unable to stop the process of nationalistic assertion.
Further embarrassing facts about Soviet history were revealed in April, when the government admitted that the NKVD had carried out the infamous Katyn massacre of Polish army officers during World War II; previously, the USSR had blamed Nazi Germany. More significantly for Gorbachev's position, Boris Yeltsin reached a new level of prominence, as he was elected Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR in May, effectively making him the de jure leader of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Problems for Gorbachev once again came from the Russian parliament in June, when it declared the precedence of Russian laws over All-Union-level legislation.
Meanwhile, Gorbachev's personal political position continued to change. At the 28th CPSU Congress in July, Gorbachev was re-elected general secretary, but this position was now completely independent of Soviet government, and the Politburo had no say in the ruling of the country. Gorbachev further reduced Party power in the same month, when he issued a decree abolishing Party control of all areas of the media and broadcasting.
At the same time, Gorbachev worked to consolidate his presidential position, culminating in the Supreme Soviet granting him special powers to rule by decree in September in order to pass a much-needed plan for transition to a market economy. However, the Supreme Soviet could not agree on which program to adopt. Gorbachev pressed on with political reform; his proposal for setting up a new Soviet government, with a Soviet of the Federation consisting of representatives from all 15 republics, was passed through the Supreme Soviet in November. In December, Gorbachev was once more granted increased executive power by the Supreme Soviet, arguing that such moves were necessary to counter "the dark forces of nationalism". Such moves led to Eduard Shevardnadze's resignation; Gorbachev's former ally warned of an impending dictatorship. This move was a serious blow to Gorbachev personally and to his efforts for reform.
Meanwhile, Gorbachev was losing further ground to nationalists. October 1990 saw the founding of DemRossiya, the Russian pro-reform coalition; a few days later, both Ukraine and Russia declared their laws completely sovereign over Soviet laws. The 'war of laws' had become an open battle, with the Supreme Soviet refusing to recognise the actions of the two republics. Gorbachev would publish the draft of a new union treaty in November, which envisioned a continued union called the Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics, but, going into 1991, Gorbachev's actions were steadily overpowered by secessionism.
January and February 1991 would see a new level of turmoil in the Baltic republics. On 10 January 1991, Gorbachev issued an ultimatum-like request addressing the Lithuanian Supreme Council demanding the restoration of the validity of the constitution of the Soviet Union in Lithuania and revocation of all anti-constitutional laws. In his Memoirs, Gorbachev asserts that on 12 January he convened the Council of the Federation which agreed to political measures to prevent bloodshed, including sending representatives of the Council of the Federation on a "fact-finding mission" to Vilnius. However, before the delegation arrived, the local branches of the KGB and armed forces had worked together to seize the TV tower in Vilnius; Gorbachev asked the heads of the KGB and military if they had approved such action, and there is no evidence that they, or Gorbachev, ever did. Gorbachev cites documents found in the RSFSR Prokuratura after the August coup, which only mentioned that "some 'authorities'" had sanctioned the actions.
The book Alpha – the KGB's Top Secret Unit also suggests that a "KGB operation co-ordinated with the military" was undertaken by the KGB Alpha Group. Archie Brown, in The Gorbachev Factor, uses the memoirs of many people around Gorbachev and in the upper echelons of the Soviet political landscape, to implicate General Valentin Varennikov, a member of the August coup plotters, and General Vladislav Achalov, another August coup conspirator. These persons were characterised as individuals "who were prepared to remove Gorbachev from his presidential office unconstitutionally" and "were more than capable of using unauthorised violence against nationalist separatists some months earlier". Brown criticises Gorbachev for "a conscious tilt in the direction of the conservative forces he was trying to keep within an increasingly fragile coalition" who would later betray him; he also criticises Gorbachev "for his tougher line and heightened rhetoric against the Lithuanians in the days preceding the attack and for his slowness in condemning the killings" but notes that Gorbachev did not approve any action and was seeking political solutions.
In continued violence, at least 14 civilians were killed and more than 600 injured from 11–13 January 1991 in Vilnius, Lithuania. News of support for the Lithuanians from Western governments began to appear. The strong Western reaction and the actions of Russian democratic forces put the Soviet president and government into a very awkward position. Further problems surfaced in Riga, Latvia, on 20 and 21 January, where OMON (special Ministry of the Interior troops) killed 4 people. Archie Brown suggests that Gorbachev's response this time was better, condemning the rogue action, sending his condolences and suggesting that secession could take place if it went through the procedures outlined in the Soviet constitution. According to Gorbachev's aide, Shakhnazarov, Gorbachev was finally beginning to accept the inevitability of "losing" the Baltic republics, although he would try all political means to preserve the Union. Brown believes that this put him in "imminent danger" of being overthrown by hard-liners opposing secession.
Gorbachev continued to work on drafting a new treaty of union which would have created a truly voluntary federation in an increasingly democratised Soviet Union. The new treaty was strongly supported by the Central Asian republics, who needed the economic power and markets of the Soviet Union to prosper. However, the more radical reformists, such as Russian SFSR President Boris Yeltsin, were increasingly convinced that a rapid transition to a market economy was required and were more than happy to contemplate the disintegration of the Soviet Union if that was required to achieve their aims. Nevertheless, a referendum on the future of the Soviet Union was held in March (with a referendum in Russia on the creation of a presidency), which returned an average of 76.4% in the nine republics where it was taken, with a turnout of 80% of the adult population. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova did not participate. Following this, an April meeting at Novo-Ogarevo between Gorbachev and the heads of the nine republics issued a statement on speeding up the creation of a new Union treaty.
In May, a hardline newspaper published "Architect amidst the Ruins", an open letter criticizing Yakovlev (often referred to as the "architect of perestroika") which was signed by Gennady Zyuganov. Many also saw this publication as the start of a campaign to oust Gorbachev.
Coup of August 1991
In contrast to the reformers' moderate approach to the new treaty, the hard-line apparatchiks, still strong within the CPSU and military establishment, completely opposed anything which might lead to the break-up of the Soviet Union. On the eve of the treaty's signing, hardline Soviet leaders, calling themselves the 'State Committee on the State of Emergency', launched the August coup in an attempt to remove Gorbachev from power and prevent the signing of the new union treaty.
Under the pretense that Gorbachev was ill, his vice president, Yanayev, took over as president. Gorbachev spent three days (19, 20, and 21 August) under house arrest at his dacha in the Crimea before being freed and restored to power. However, upon his return, Gorbachev found that neither Union nor Russian power structures heeded his commands, as support had swung over to Yeltsin, whose defiance had led to the coup's collapse.
Furthermore, Gorbachev was forced to fire large numbers of his Politburo and, in several cases, arrest them. Those arrested for high treason included the "Gang of Eight" that had led the coup, including Kryuchkov, Yazov, Pavlov and Yanayev. Pugo killed his wife and then shot himself after the coup. Akhromeyev, who had offered his assistance but was never implicated, was found hanging in his Kremlin office. Most of these men had been former allies of Gorbachev or had been promoted by him, which drew fresh criticism.
For all intents and purposes, the coup destroyed Gorbachev politically. On 24 August, he advised the Central Committee to dissolve, resigned as general secretary and dissolved all party units within the government. Shortly afterward, the Supreme Soviet suspended all Party activities on Soviet territory. In effect, Communist rule in the Soviet Union had ended.
Gorbachev's hopes of a new Union were further hit when the Congress of People's Deputies dissolved itself on 5 September. Though Gorbachev and the representatives of eight republics (excluding Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) signed an agreement on forming a new economic community on 18 October, events were overtaking him. The Soviet Union collapsed with dramatic speed during the latter part of 1991, as one republic after another declared independence. By the autumn, Gorbachev could no longer influence events outside Moscow, and he was challenged even there by Yeltsin. Following the coup, Yeltsin suspended all CPSU activities on Russian territory and closed the Central Committee building at Staraya Square. He also ordered the Russian flag raised alongside the Soviet flag at the Kremlin. In the waning months of 1991, Russia began taking over what remained of the Soviet government, including the Kremlin.
With the country in a state of near collapse, Gorbachev's vision of a renewed union effectively received a fatal blow by a Ukrainian referendum on 1 December, where the Ukrainian people overwhelmingly voted for independence. Ukraine had been the second most powerful republic in the Soviet Union after Russia, and its secession ended any realistic chance of the Soviet Union staying united even on a limited scale. The presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus met in Belovezha Forest, near Brest, Belarus, on 8 December and signed the Belavezha Accords, which declared the Soviet Union had ceased to exist and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States as its successor. Gorbachev initially denounced this move as illegal. Nonetheless, there was no longer any doubt that the Soviet Union, in the words of the Accords' preamble, no longer existed "as a subject of international law or geopolitical reality."
However, on 12 December, the RSFSR Supreme Soviet ratified the Belevezha Accords and denounced the 1922 Union Treaty. It was now apparent that the momentum towards dissolution could not be stopped. Shortly after the RSFSR ratified the Accords, Gorbachev hinted that he was considering stepping aside. On 17 December, he accepted the fait accompli and reluctantly agreed with Yeltsin to dissolve the Soviet Union. Four days later, the leaders of 11 of the 12 remaining republics—all except Georgia (the Baltic states had already seceded in August)—signed the Alma-Ata Protocol which formally established the CIS. They also preemptively accepted Gorbachev's resignation. When Gorbachev learned what had transpired, he told CBS that he would resign as soon as he saw that the CIS was indeed a reality.
On the night of 25 December, in a nationally televised speech, Gorbachev announced his resignation as president—as he put it, "I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." He declared the office extinct and handed over its functions—including control of the Soviet nuclear codes—to Yeltsin. That same night after he left office, the flag of the Soviet Union was lowered from the Kremlin and was replaced with the Russian tricolor flag. The next day, 26 December, the Soviet of the Republics, the upper chamber of the Supreme Soviet, declared that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist as a functioning state, and formally voted both itself and the Union out of existence. Two days after Gorbachev left office, on 27 December 1991, Yeltsin moved into Gorbachev's old office.
Gorbachev had aimed to maintain the CPSU as a united party but move it in the direction of Scandinavian-style social democracy. But when the CPSU was proscribed after the August coup, Gorbachev was left with no effective power base beyond the armed forces. In the aftermath of the coup, his rival Yeltsin quickly worked to consolidate his hold on the Russian government as well as the remnants of the Soviet armed forces, paving the way for Gorbachev's downfall.
Following his resignation and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev remained active in Russian politics. During the early years of the post-Soviet era, he expressed criticism at the reforms carried out by Russian president Boris Yeltsin. When Yeltsin called a referendum for 25 April 1993 in an attempt to achieve even greater powers as president, Gorbachev did not vote and instead called for new presidential elections.
Following a failed run for the presidency in 1996, Gorbachev established the Social Democratic Party of Russia, a union between several Russian social democratic parties. He resigned as party leader in May 2004 following a disagreement with the party's chairman over the direction taken in the 2003 election campaign. The party was later banned in 2007 by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation due to its failure to establish local offices with at least 500 members in the majority of Russian regions, which is required by Russian law for a political organization to be listed as a party. Later that year, Gorbachev founded a new political party, called the Union of Social Democrats. In June 2004, he represented Russia at the funeral of Ronald Reagan.
Gorbachev appeared in numerous media channels after his resignation from office. In 1993, he appeared as himself in the Wim Wenders film Faraway, So Close!, the sequel to Wings of Desire. In 1997, Gorbachev appeared with his granddaughter Anastasia in an internationally screened television commercial for Pizza Hut. The U.S. corporation's payment for the 60-second ad went to Gorbachev's non-profit Gorbachev Foundation. In 2007, French luxury brand Louis Vuitton announced that Gorbachev would be shown in an ad campaign, shot by Annie Leibovitz, for their signature luggage. In February 2014, during the winter Olympic Games held in Sochi, Russia, 82-year-old Gorbachev made a rare appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in a segment where he was tracked down and interviewed by comedic correspondent Jason Jones on location from Moscow.
Following Boris Yeltsin's death on 23 April 2007, Gorbachev released a eulogy for him, stating that Yeltsin was to be commended for assuming the "difficult task of leading the nation into the post-Soviet era", and "on whose shoulders are both great deeds for the country and serious errors".
On 16 June 2009, Gorbachev announced that he had recorded an album of old Russian romantic ballads entitled Songs for Raisa to raise money for a charity dedicated to his late wife. On the album, he sings the songs himself accompanied by Russian musician Andrei Makarevich.
Since his resignation, Gorbachev has remained involved in world affairs. He founded the Gorbachev Foundation in 1992, headquartered in Moscow. He later founded Green Cross International, with which he was one of three major sponsors of the Earth Charter. He also became a member of the Club of Rome and the Club of Madrid, an independent non-profit organization composed of 81 democratic former presidents and Prime Ministers from 57 different countries.
In the decade that followed the Cold War, Gorbachev opposed both the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and the U.S.-led Iraq War in 2003. On 27 July 2007, Gorbachev criticized U.S. foreign policy: "What has followed are unilateral actions, what has followed are wars, what has followed is ignoring the UN Security Council, ignoring international law and ignoring the will of the people, even the American people", he said. That same year, he visited New Orleans, a city hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina, and promised he would return in 2011 to personally lead a local revolution if the U.S. government had not repaired the levees by that time. He said that revolutionary action should be a last resort.
In May 2008, The Telegraph (UK) published an article, "Gorbachev: US could start new Cold War," which quotes Gorbachev saying, "The Americans promised that NATO wouldn't move beyond the boundaries of Germany after the Cold War but now half of central and eastern Europe are members, so what happened to their promises? It shows they cannot be trusted."
Concerning the 2008 South Ossetia war, started by a Georgian attack on Tskhinvali, the capital of pro-Russian South Ossetia, in a 12 August 2008 op-ed essay in The Washington Post, Gorbachev criticized the United States' support for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and for moving to bring the Caucasus into the sphere of its national interest. He later said the following:
Russia did not want this crisis. The Russian leadership is in a strong enough position domestically; it did not need a little victorious war. Russia was dragged into the fray by the recklessness of the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili...The decision by the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, to now cease hostilities was the right move by a responsible leader. The Russian president acted calmly, confidently and firmly...The planners of this campaign clearly wanted to make sure that, whatever the outcome, Russia would be blamed for worsening the situation. The West then mounted a propaganda attack against Russia, with the American news media leading the way.
In September 2008, Gorbachev and business oligarch Alexander Lebedev announced they would form the Independent Democratic Party of Russia, and in May 2009 Gorbachev announced that the launch was imminent. This was Gorbachev's third attempt to establish a political party, having started the Social Democratic Party of Russia in 2001 and the Union of Social Democrats in 2007. These plans, however, never panned out.
On 27 March 2009, Gorbachev visited Eureka College, Illinois, which is the alma mater of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan with whom he had negotiated historic nuclear arms reduction treaties. Gorbachev toured the Reagan Museum on campus, met with students, and spoke at a convocation in the Reagan Center; he then traveled to the nearby Peoria Civic Center in Peoria, Illinois, as the keynote speaker at the combined George Washington/Ronald Reagan Day Dinner where college president J. David Arnold named him an Honorary Reagan Fellow of Eureka College.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev accompanied former Polish leader Lech Wałęsa and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a celebration in Berlin on 9 November 2009.
On 7 June 2010, Gorbachev gave an interview before "almost an annual pilgrimage" to London for a summer gala to raise money for the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation, which funds cancer care for children. The clinic in St. Petersburg can house 80 child patients.
In the interview, his wife, Raisa, was mentioned: "Her death, after several years of ill-health, left Gorbachev bereft. He lives in Moscow, has not remarried and finds solace with his daughter and granddaughters. He would not be coaxed to talk about Raisa, except fleetingly in the context of the charity."
Gorbachev has defended the Crimean status referendum that led to Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014: "While Crimea had previously been joined to Ukraine [in 1954] based on the Soviet laws, which means [Communist] party laws, without asking the people, now the people themselves have decided to correct that mistake."
On 10 October 2014, it was reported that Gorbachev was in hospital and in deteriorating health. However, on 16 October he granted an interview with Russian state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, opining on the Ukraine crisis and calling for a repeal of the sanctions.
On 8 November 2014, Gorbachev attended an event near the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin to mark 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. He warned that the conflict in Ukraine had brought the world to the brink of a new cold war, and he charged western powers, particularly the United States, with adopting an attitude of "triumphalism" towards Russia.
Speaking on the war in eastern Ukraine, Gorbachev said in December 2014 that "Both sides in the Ukrainian conflict are breaching the ceasefire. Both sides are guilty of using especially dangerous types of weapons and breaching human rights."
Gorbachev reiterated his support of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea in May 2016, which led him being banned from entering Ukraine for five years.
In July 2016, Gorbachev criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization amid escalating tensions between the military alliance and the Russian Federation. Gorbachev has accused NATO of preparing for a "hot" war against Russia, saying that "All the rhetoric in Warsaw just yells of a desire almost to declare war on Russia. They only talk about defence, but actually they are preparing for offensive operations."
In October 2018, Gorbachev criticized President Donald Trump's threat to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, saying the move "is not the work of a great mind." Gorbachev also said that "all agreements aimed at nuclear disarmament and the limitation of nuclear weapons must be preserved for the sake of life on Earth." Gorbachev signed the U.S.-Soviet nuclear disarmament treaty in 1987 with President Ronald Reagan.
Gorbachev hailed the George H.W. Bush’s role in helping end the Cold War following the news of the former President's death, saying: "We had a chance to work together during the years of tremendous changes. It was a dramatic time that demanded great responsibility from everyone. The result was an end to the Cold War and the nuclear arms race."
Criticism of Vladimir Putin
Although he has credited Vladimir Putin for stabilizing Russia in the aftermath of the initial and turbulent years of the post-Soviet era, Gorbachev has become critical of both Putin and Dmitry Medvedev since at least March 2011. His main grievances about the "tandem" are backsliding on democracy, corruption and the dominance of security officers. Gorbachev is also dissatisfied by the fact that he has not been allowed to register his social democratic party.
When being interviewed by the BBC to reflect on the 20th anniversary of the August Coup, Gorbachev again announced his dissatisfaction with the policies and rule of Putin. Speaking of the status of democracy in the Russian Federation, he proclaimed: "The electoral system we had was nothing remarkable but they have literally castrated it". Gorbachev also stated that he believed that Putin should not have sought a third term as the Russian president in 2012.
In response to the 2011 Russian protests as a result of United Russia's controversial victory in the 2011 legislative election, he called on the authorities to hold a new election, citing electoral irregularities and ballot box stuffing.
In a political lecture delivered to the RIA-Novosti news agency in April 2013, Gorbachev decried Putin's retreat from democracy, noting that in Russia "politics is increasingly turning into imitation democracy" with "all power in the hands of the executive branch". Gorbachev addressed Putin directly, stating that "to go further on the path of tightening the screws, having laws that limit the rights and freedoms of people, attacking the news media and organisations of civil society, is a destructive path with no future".
In a Russian video interview published in February 2016, Gorbachev said that Putin rules through "friends from school, with people with whom he played football on the same street. ... The supremacy of security structures, their excessive prerogatives in deciding political issues, and in interfering in peoples’ lives, is unacceptable, is over the top."
In April 2017, Gorbachev wrote in Time’s annual 100 most influential people edition that "Russia can succeed only through democracy. Russia is ready for political competition, a real multiparty system, fair elections and regular rotation of government. This should define the role and responsibility of the President."
Call for global restructuring
Gorbachev calls for a kind of perestroika or restructuring of societies around the world, starting in particular with that of the United States, because he is of the view that the financial crisis of 2007–2008 shows that the Washington Consensus economic model is a failure that will sooner or later have to be replaced. According to Gorbachev, countries that have rejected the Washington Consensus and the International Monetary Fund approach to economic development, such as Brazil and China, have done far better economically on the whole and achieved far fairer results for the average citizen than countries that have accepted it.
Gorbachev was co-chair of Earth Charter International Commission.
Gorbachev was a socialist. His friend Mlynář, with whom he studied at university, related that in the early 1950s "Gorbachev, like everyone else at the time, was a Stalinist." Mlynář added that "Unlike most Soviet students, [Gorbachev] did not see Marxist theory as a collection of axioms to be committed to memory." Biographers Doder and Branson related that after Stalin's death, Gorbachev's "ideology would never be doctrinal again", but noted that he remained "a true believer" in the Soviet system. They added that throughout most of his political career prior to becoming General Secretary, "his publicly expressed views almost certainly reflected a politician's understanding of what should be said, rather than his personal philosophy. Otherwise he could not have survived politically." Gorbachev's political outlook was shaped by the 23 years he served as a party official in Stavropol.
Like many Russians, Gorbachev sometimes thought of the Soviet Union as being largely synonymous with Russia and in various speeches described it as "Russia"; in one incident be had to correct himself after calling the USSR "Russia" while giving a speech in Kiev, Ukraine.
In 2006, he expressed his continued belief in Lenin's ideas: "I trusted him then and I still do". He claimed that "the essence of Lenin" was a desire to develop "the living creative activity of the masses". Taubman believed that Gorbachev identified with Lenin on a psychological level. Taubman described Gorbachev as "a true believer—not in the Soviet system as it functioned (or didn't) in 1985 but in its potential to live up to what he deemed its original ideals."
Gorbachev often referred to himself in the third person. Gorbachev was self-confident, polite, and tactful; he had a happy and optimistic temperament. He used self-deprecating humour, and sometimes used profanities. His university friend, Mlynář, described him as "loyal and personally honest". He was a skilled manager. Since studying at university, he considered himself an intellectual; Doder and Branson thought that "his intellectualism was slightly self-conscious". When living in Stavropol he and his wife collected hundreds of books. Among his favourite authors were Arthur Miller, Dostoevsky, and Chingiz Aitmatov, while he also enjoyed reading detective fiction. He enjoyed walking as a hobby, and had a love of natural environments. He favoured small gatherings where the assembled discussed topics like art and philosophy rather than the large, alcohol-fuelled parties common among Soviet officials. Taubman called him "a remarkably decent man"; he thought Gorbachev to have "high moral standards". He also noted that the former Soviet leader has a "sense of self-importance and self-righteousness" as well as a "need for attention and admiration" which grated on some of his colleagues. A number of his colleagues thought that he was easily offended, and were often frustrated that he would leave tasks unfinished. He was a hard worker; as General Secretary, he would rise at 7 or 8 in the morning and not go to bed until 1 or 2. Biographers Doder and Branson thought that Gorbachev was "a puritan" with "a proclivity for order in his personal life".
Doder and Branson thought Gorbachev "a Russian to the core, intensely patriotic as only people living in the border regions can be."
As an adult, Gorbachev reached five foot nine in height. He had a distinctive port-wine birthmark on the top of his head; by 1955 his hair was thinning, and by the late 1960s he was bald. Throughout his life, he tried to dress fashionably. He spoke in a southern Russian accent, and was known to sing both folk and pop songs. Throughout the 1960s he struggled against obesity and dieted to control the issue; Doder and Branson characterised him as "stocky but not fat". Ever since he was a young man, he had an aversion to hard liquor; he drank sparingly and did not smoke. He was protective of his private life and avoided inviting people to his home. Gorbachev cherished his wife, who in turn was extremely protective of him. He was an involved parent and grandparent. He sent his daughter to a local school in Stavropol rather than to a school set aside for the children of party elites. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the Soviet administration, he was not a womaniser and was known for treating women respectfully.
Attitude to religion
In 2005, he praised Pope John Paul II, saying "his devotion to his followers is a remarkable example to all of us." In a 1989 meeting, he had told him: "We appreciate your mission on this high pulpit, we are convinced that it will leave a great mark on history."
In 2013, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported a 1992 meeting between Gorbachev and Otis Gatewood, a Christian minister sent with a relief effort for orphans and elderly people in Russia by Churches of Christ in Texas. In the meeting, Gorbachev reportedly claimed that he was "indeed a Christian and had been baptized by his grandfather in the Volga River many years before".
On 19 March 2008, during a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of Saint Francis in Assisi, Italy, Gorbachev made an announcement which has been interpreted to the effect that he was a Christian. Gorbachev stated: "St Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, another Christ. His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life". He added: "It was through St Francis that I arrived at the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb". However, a few days later, he told the Russian news agency Interfax: "Over the last few days some media have been disseminating fantasies—I can't use any other word—about my secret Catholicism, [...] To sum up and avoid any misunderstandings, let me say that I have been and remain an atheist".
- Gorbachev, Mikhail. Memoirs. Doubleday (1996). ISBN 0-385-40668-1.
- Gorbachev, Mikhail and Daisaku Ikeda (2005). Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century: Gorbachev and Ikeda on Buddhism and Communism. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 1-85043-976-1.
- Gorbachev, Mikhail. The New Russia. Polity (2016). ISBN 978-1-5095-0387-2.
- Gorbachev, Mikhail. In a changing world. (2018).
Opinions on Gorbachev are deeply divided. Many, particularly in Western countries, see him as the greatest statesman of the second half of the twentieth century. In September 1990 U.S. Secretary of State James Baker told him "nobody in the world has ever tried what you and your supporters are trying today...I've seen a lot, but I've never met a politician with as much bravery and courage as you have." In Russia, he is widely despised for his role in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing economic collapse. During his career, Gorbachev attracted the admiration of some colleagues, but others came to hate him.
Honours and accolades
Foreign decorations and awards
- In 1987, Gorbachev was awarded the Indira Gandhi Prize from Government of India.
- In 1989, Gorbachev was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold of the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin for "his contributions to nuclear disarmament of the great powers and the creation of a fundamentally new political order in Europe".
- In 1990, Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "his leading role in the peace process which today characterizes important parts of the international community".
- On 4 May 1992, Gorbachev was awarded the first ever Ronald Reagan Freedom Award at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
- On 6 May 1992, Gorbachev was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.
- In 1993 Gorbachev was awarded a Legum Doctor, honoris causa from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He was also given an honorary degree from The University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In the same year, he was conferred with the Freedom of the City of Aberdeen.
- Gorbachev was the 1994 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for ideas improving world order, awarded by the University of Louisville, Kentucky.
- In 1995, Gorbachev received an Honorary Doctorate from Durham University, County Durham, England for his contribution to "the cause of political tolerance and an end to Cold War-style confrontation".
- In 1995 he was awarded the Grand-Cross of the Order of Liberty by Portuguese President Mário Soares.
- For his historic role in the evolution of glasnost, and for his leadership in the disarmament negotiations with the United States during the Reagan administration, Gorbachev was awarded the Courage of Conscience award 20 October 1996.
- In 1998, Gorbachev received the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.
- In 2002, Gorbachev received the Freedom of the City of Dublin from the Dublin City Council, the Capital of Ireland.
- In 2002, Gorbachev received an honorary degree of a Doctor in Laws (LL.D.) "in recognition of his political service and contribution to peace" from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
- In 2002, Gorbachev was awarded the Charles V Prize by the European Academy of Yuste Foundation.
- Gorbachev, together with Bill Clinton and Sophia Loren, were awarded the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for their recording of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf for PENTATONE.
- In 2005, Gorbachev was awarded the Point Alpha Prize for his role in supporting German reunification. He also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Münster.
- In 2011, Gorbachev was awarded a honoris causa doctorate from University of Liège in Liège, Belgium.
- April 9 Tragedy – Soviet crackdown on Georgian protests in 1989
- Black January – Soviet crackdown on Azerbaijani protests in 1990
- Index of Soviet Union-related articles
- List of peace activists
- Sergei M. Plekhanov – former Gorbachev advisor on the United States and Canada
- Ruhollah Khomeini's letter to Mikhail Gorbachev
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Mikhail Gorbachev|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mikhail Gorbachev.|
- The Gorbachev Foundation
- Green Cross International
- Gorbachev 80th Birthday Gala Celebration – Royal Albert Hall London, 30 March 2011
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Column and op-ed archives at The Guardian
- "Mikhail Gorbachev collected news and commentary". The Guardian.
- "Mikhail Gorbachev collected news and commentary". The New York Times.
- Interviews and articles
- "Commanding Heights: Mikhail Gorbachev" (PBS interview), April 2001
- Ubben Lecture at DePauw University – October 2005
- "Gorbachev on 1989" – interview by The Nation, September 2009
- "Gorbachev's Legacy Examined, 25 Years After His Rise to Power" – Russia Beyond, March 2010
- "Chernobyl 25 years later: Many lessons learned" – article by Mikhail Gorbachev published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 2011
|Party political offices|
| First Secretary of the Stavropol CPSU Regional Committee
| General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Vladimir Ivashko (Acting)
as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
| Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (1988–1989)
Chairman of the Supreme Soviet (1989–1990)
President of the Soviet Union (1990–1991)
|Awards and achievements|
14th Dalai Lama
| Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize
Aung San Suu Kyi
|Award established|| Recipient of the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award