History Podcasts

1985 Gorbachev Soviet Leader - History

1985 Gorbachev Soviet Leader - History


On March 11, 1985, after the death of Secretary General Cherenenko, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was named the new leader of the Soviet Union. The changes he began soon developed a momentum of their own.


Gorbachev, Last Soviet Leader Whose Rule Changed History, Turns 90

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev turned 90 on March 2, receiving greetings from the world leaders as well as the Kremlin.

Gorbachev is considered one of the greatest reformers of the 20th century.

After taking over the Soviet leadership in 1985, Gorbachev introduced his reform policies known as "glasnost" (openness) and "perestroika" (restructuring), which opened up the Soviet Union to the world, and ultimately led to the collapse of the communist regime and the end of the Cold War with the United States.

"Your commitment to freedom and your courage over the decades to make the tough, albeit necessary, decisions, have made the world a safer place," U.S. President Joe Biden wrote in a letter released by Gorbachev's staff.

The letter said that the agreed extension to the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear-arms treaty was proof that the two countries would continue Gorbechev's "legacy."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Gorbachev, who was instrumental in the German reunification in 1990.

"I take your day of honor as an opportunity to thank you once more for your personal commitment for the peaceful overcoming of the Cold War and the completion of German unity," Merkel wrote in a letter to the former leader.

"Your important contribution to a reunification in freedom remains as unforgotten in Germany as your constant personal engagement for friendly relations between our two countries," Merkel said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also congratulated Gorbachev, despite cool relations between the Kremlin and the former Soviet leader.

Gorbachev also owns a political foundation and co-owns the Kremlin-critical newspaper Novaya gazeta.

"You rightly belong to those bright, unconventional people, extraordinary statesmen of our time, who have had a significant impact on the course of national and international history," Putin wrote in a congratulatory letter to Gorbachev, published by the Kremlin.

Gorbachev's "great professional and life experience" still allowed him to "actively participate in popular social and educational work" as well as "international humanitarian projects," Putin wrote.

Many Russians also say he is responsible for the ensuing downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Putin himself has called the Soviet Union's collapse the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the previous century.

A poll conducted by the All-Russia Opinion Research Center had 51 percent of respondents saying that he brought the nation more harm than good, while 32 percent said it was about equal, 7 percent viewed his action as mostly positive, and the rest were undecided. The nationwide poll of 1,600 was conducted on February 28 and had a margin of error of no more than 2.5 percentage points.

Pro-democratic forces, however, see him as a symbol of freedom, as he has criticized repression under Putin and warned against falling back into a dictatorship.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa

RFE/RL

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Early life

Gorbachev was the son of Russian peasants in Stavropol territory (kray) in southwestern Russia. He joined the Komsomol (Young Communist League) in 1946 and drove a combine harvester at a state farm in Stavropol for the next four years. He proved a promising Komsomol member, and in 1952 he entered the law school of Moscow State University and became a member of the Communist Party. He graduated with a degree in law in 1955 and went on to hold a number of posts in the Komsomol and regular party organizations in Stavropol, rising to become first secretary of the regional party committee in 1970.


This day in history | 1985 Gorbachev becomes Soviet leader

There is a new man in charge at the Kremlin – Mikhail Gorbachev has taken over following the death of Konstantin Chernenko.
Chernenko, 73, died yesterday after a long illness – but his death was only announced to the Soviet people this morning. Sombre music preceded the news on radio and television and scheduled programmes were cancelled.
The speed of naming of his successor – at 54 the youngest man to take over as general secretary of the Soviet communist party – has taken people by surprise.
In another break with tradition, Mr Gorbachev has announced arms talks with the Americans in Geneva will go ahead tomorrow.
Chernenko lasted only 13 months in the top job. He was in poor health when he was appointed and his death was caused by heart failure brought on by problems with his lungs and liver.
He is the third Soviet leader to die in just over two years. Leonid Brezhnev died in 1982 after 18 years in power. He was 75. Yuri Andropov died 18 months later aged 69.
The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will attend Chernenko’s funeral on Wednesday – but the United States President Ronald Reagan will not be going.
The BBC’s Moscow correspondent, Tim Sebastian, says Mr Gorbachev’s appointment marks a dramatic change in leadership in Moscow.
He says Mr Gorbachev is a dynamic figure who has moved rapidly through the Soviet hierarchy.
“There seems little doubt the Gorbachev administration will look different. More outgoing, more approachable, more concerned with its public image,” he reported.
“But its aims and its approach seem likely to be familiar. Despite his lively and flexible manner, Gorbachev is still a strict, orthodox Marxist in no sense has he shown himself to be a liberal.”
Mr Gorbachev’s acceptance speech gave a hint of the changes to come. He spoke of his desire to freeze the deployment of weapons and reduce the international nuclear weapons stockpiles.
Mrs Thatcher has already indicated her approval at his appointment. Following his recent visit to Britain, she said: “I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together.”

Courtesy BBC News

Mikhail Gorbachev radically changed the course of Soviet foreign policy, signing a number of agreements with the United States on nuclear disarmament.
He introduced a policy of openness or “glasnost” and he was also the architect of “perestroika” or deep political and economic reforms. But his reforms led to severe economic hardship at home. Growing nationalist movements spearheaded by the Baltic states led him to propose a loose federation of Soviet states.
Gorbachev is now president of the Green Cross – an organisation concerned with the clean-up of chemical and biological weapons.
His wife Raisa, the only wife of a Soviet leader to become a public figure in recent times, died of leukaemia in 1999.


Geneva summit stirs memories of 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev meet

Wednesday’s talks between US President Joe Biden and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin evoke vivid memories of the 1985 Geneva summit, when Cold War rivals Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time.

Despite the chilly November weather in the Swiss city, relations began to thaw between Washington and Moscow as the US president and the Soviet leader came face to face on neutral territory.

Now some 36 years on, Biden and Putin are set for decidedly less hopeful talks on the placid shores of Lake Geneva, with the echo of history surrounding them.

Back in 1985, “the atmosphere was relaxed… They had both lined something up to seduce the other camp,” said former AFP correspondent Didier Lapeyronie, who covered the Reagan-Gorbachev talks.

“At the same time, we were all aware that it was a historic moment.”

Things got off to a bad start. Just before US president Reagan arrived at one of the summit locations, a Swiss soldier waiting in the ceremonial honour guard fainted, overcome by the bitter cold.

Six years before the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1985 Geneva summit focused on de-escalating the nuclear arms race between the two superpowers, and came with hopes of fostering better East-West relations.

The three-day summit was covered by 3,500 journalists.

Nicolas Burgy, who was at Geneva Airport for AFP to report on the Reagans’ arrival, recalls the sense of “joy” in the air.

“There was a casual sort of feeling,” he said.

Fireside chat

One of the most enduring pictures from the summit is one of the two most powerful men on the planet sitting beside a fireplace, smiling at each other from their armchairs — an image that conjures up the impression of a cosy fireside chat between two old friends.

The conviviality extended to their wives Raisa Gorbacheva and Nancy Reagan, who chatted over tea under the gaze of photographers.

Marie-Noelle Blessig, charged with following the wives’ programme for AFP, remembers seeing Gorbacheva paying a visit to the United Nations’ Geneva headquarters “to greet staff at the UN, where she was received with loud applause”.

Another sign of the thaw was the first handshake between Gorbachev and Reagan, which lasted seven seconds.

The historic moment took place in front of the Villa Fleur d’Eau, a late 19th-century mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The villa is currently up for sale.

The handshake took place before frozen photographers and reporters who had stood waiting in the garden in the bitter cold.

As the Americans had chosen the large villa for day one of the talks, Reagan was there first to welcome Gorbachev, “seemingly in very good spirits”, said Claude Smadja, a former deputy editor of Switzerland’s TSR television, who witnessed the historic moment.

“Straight away there was the very American, very Californian side of Reagan, shaking Gorbachev’s hand, putting his other hand on his shoulder to usher him inside, and the exchange of smiles.

“The two wanted to show that they were very much at ease.”

Awe-inspiring moment

It was only when Gorbachev arrived at the villa that Christiane Berthiaume, who worked for Radio Canada, realised the importance of the moment.

“Not a single journalist asked him a question when he got out of the car. We were all simply speechless. It was awe-inspiring,” said Berthiaume, who later became a spokeswoman for various UN agencies.

The fact that the Soviet leader was there for a summit with the US president “was a sign that the Cold War, a period marked by fear, was coming to an end”.

In a sign of how high the stakes were, the US and Soviet delegations decided to impose a “total blackout” on updating the media until the end of the summit.

“In fact, despite the personal warmth, the initial encounter was very harsh. The two sides’ positions were very far apart,” said Smadja, who went on to become the World Economic Forum’s managing director.

Hosts Switzerland were also well aware of the gulf between the two superpowers — so much so that the Swiss president Kurt Furgler’s assistant Walter Fust had to prepare for his boss “two different welcoming speeches, taking into account the different cultures”.

The cultural divide was also evident in the formality of the two delegations, Fust told AFP.

“The Russian participants arrived in formation very disciplined. The Americans were less strict on following instructions and the protocol order,” he said.

Meanwhile Nancy Reagan, he added, wanted to replace the bottles of mineral water provided with US ones, and also wanted an aide to try out her food before she did.


1985: Gorbachev Becomes General Secretary of the Communist Party and Leader of the Soviet Union

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR on this day in 1985. Due to the fall of the USSR, Gorbachev also became the last General Secretary in history. It is interesting that he was elected to that position only a few hours after the death of the previous General Secretary – Konstantin Chernenko.

Namely, Chernenko died in the evening of 10 March, while Gorbachev was elected by the Central Committee the very next morning. It is also interesting that, at the moment of election, Gorbachev was the youngest member of the Politburo. These elections were allegedly the fastest in Soviet history. The Politbuto nominated Gorbachev, and the Central Committee elected him almost immediately afterward.

By attaining the position of General Secretary, Gorbachev de facto became the leader of the Soviet Union. He later also became the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. From 1990, Gorbachev’s function was renamed to “President of the Soviet Union”.


Gorbachev and His Policies – History Essay
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (1931- ), was the leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1985 to 1991. He was the last leader of that country and the

key figure in the liberalization and subsequent disintegration of Soviet and Eastern European Communism. Gorbachev set out to reinvigorate the Soviet system but inadvertently destroyed it. His policies aimed to calm tensions with the West, mainly the United States. Gorbachev made a crucial contribution to the end of the Cold War, which had divided the world since the late 1940s.

In November 1978, Mikhail Gorbachev moved to Moscow to become Central Committee secretary responsible for Soviet agriculture. In 1979 he also became a candidate member of the CPSU’s Politburo, its top policy-making body. In October 1980, at the age of 49, Mikhail Gorbachev was made a full member of the Politburo, thus becoming the youngest member of the Communist Party’s inner circle. Gorbachev soon climbed to the top of the communist hierarchy at a time of political intrigue among the Soviet elite. The Soviet elite were concerned that the country’s economic problems as well as others were becoming more intense. Brezhnev, who died in November 1982, was briefly replaced by Yuri Andropov and then by Konstantin Chernenko. Andropov then made Gorbachev his second in command, and Gorbachev took on a more active role within the Politburo. Although Andropov saw Gorbachev as his heir, the Soviet leader was unable to move Chernenko out of the line of succession before his death in February 1984. Chernenko replaced Andropov as Soviet leader, but he also died not more than one year after taking office. After Chernenko’s death, Gorbachev quickly became a favorite of the Politburo and Central Committee and was appointed general secretary of the CPSU. This marked Gorbachev’s beginning as the new leader of the Soviet Union on March 11, 1985.

After taking office, Gorbachev soon moved young, energetic politicians into key positions. Gorbachev also made numerous changes on lower levels of the power structure.

Along with the personnel changes, he pushed to get rid of corruption and incompetence within Communist Party organization. Gorbachev also moved for a campaign against alcohol consumption, and undertook a review of the USSR’s declining economic situation. In 1986

Gorbachev’s policies took on a serious turn. He would be forced to recast his reform program as one of comprehensive rebuilding of society and economy and declared that openness had to be adopted in the media and in governmental party organizations. In January 1987 Gorbachev came out in favor of democratization of the Soviet regime. Nine months later Gorbachev had a dispute with Boris Yeltsin, CPSU leader for the city of Moscow, who wanted faster reform. Though this dispute had effected Gorbachev for months, in 1988 however he renewed his efforts. This initiated a reevaluation of Joseph Stalin’s totalitarian rule and pushing for further liberalization of other major Soviet institutions. These changes were soon approved at a conference in June and July of that year.

In September of 1988 Gorbachev became chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, an equivalent to the head of state. Despite Gorbachev’s successes, he felt his reform efforts were being obstructed by the Communist Party organization. Under his leadership the first real competitive elections were held in March and April 1989, the first in the USSR since its founding in 1922. In March of 1990 Gorbachev again made serious political changes. Gorbachev persuaded the congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would separate the executive branch from the legislative, and to also elect him as president. This would make Mikhail Gorbachev the first and, as it would turn out, the only president of the USSR.

Gorbachev’s economic reforms seriously lagged far behind his political. Back in 1987 the CPSU voted toward a market economy, but very little progress was ever really made. The most important change was the allowance of small businesses and cooperatives to either exist inside state enterprises or separate from them. But disagreements on the inside prevented the adoption of a realistic reform program for the economy as a whole. This deadlock, led to a severe economic crisis by 1990. The effects of this crisis included declining production, growing inflation, shortages of consumer goods, labor unrest and, most importantly, a widespread loss of confidence in Gorbachev’s ability to handle economic issues. It would be soon realized that this would lead to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

By late 1990 Gorbachev was under pressure from two factions. In the face of these pressures, a weakening Soviet economy, and growing political instability, Gorbachev allied himself temporarily with party conservatives and security organs within the Soviet government.

On August 24, 1991 Gorbachev resigned as general secretary of the Communist Party. Within several days, all party activities had been suspended. Over the next several months, Gorbachev struggled to uphold a weak federal union, a transitional central government, and a place for himself within it, but he was unable to accomplish any lasting agreements. By October, all republics except for Russia and Kazakhstan had declared their independence from the USSR. Then on December 8, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus declared the USSR defunct and announced that they were forming a loose alliance called the Commonwealth of Independent States. Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president on December 25 in a solemn television address, and the USSR ceased to exist.


Geneva summit stirs memories of 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev meet

Wednesday's talks between US President Joe Biden and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin evoke vivid memories of the 1985 Geneva summit, when Cold War rivals Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time.

Despite the chilly November weather in the Swiss city, relations began to thaw between Washington and Moscow as the US president and the Soviet leader came face to face on neutral territory.

Now some 36 years on, Biden and Putin are set for decidedly less hopeful talks on the placid shores of Lake Geneva, with the echo of history surrounding them.

Back in 1985, "the atmosphere was relaxed. They had both lined something up to seduce the other camp," said former AFP correspondent Didier Lapeyronie, who covered the Reagan-Gorbachev talks.

"At the same time, we were all aware that it was a historic moment."

Things got off to a bad start. Just before US president Reagan arrived at one of the summit locations, a Swiss soldier waiting in the ceremonial honour guard fainted, overcome by the bitter cold.

Six years before the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1985 Geneva summit focused on de-escalating the nuclear arms race between the two superpowers, and came with hopes of fostering better East-West relations.

The three-day summit was covered by 3,500 journalists.

The 1985 summit focused on de-escalating the nuclear arms race between the two superpowers, and came with hopes of fostering better East-West relations / © AFP/File

Nicolas Burgy, who was at Geneva Airport for AFP to report on the Reagans' arrival, recalls the sense of "joy" in the air.

"There was a casual sort of feeling," he said.

One of the most enduring pictures from the summit is one of the two most powerful men on the planet sitting beside a fireplace, smiling at each other from their armchairs -- an image that conjures up the impression of a cosy fireside chat between two old friends.

The conviviality extended to their wives Raisa Gorbacheva and Nancy Reagan, who chatted over tea under the gaze of photographers.

Reagan and Gorbachev met in the Villa Fleur d'Eau, a late 19th-century mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva that is currently up for sale / © AFP

Marie-Noelle Blessig, charged with following the wives' programme for AFP, remembers seeing Gorbacheva paying a visit to the United Nations' Geneva headquarters "to greet staff at the UN, where she was received with loud applause".

Another sign of the thaw was the first handshake between Gorbachev and Reagan, which lasted seven seconds.

The historic moment took place in front of the Villa Fleur d'Eau, a late 19th-century mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The villa is currently up for sale.

The handshake took place before frozen photographers and reporters who had stood waiting in the garden in the bitter cold.

As the Americans had chosen the large villa for day one of the talks, Reagan was there first to welcome Gorbachev, "seemingly in very good spirits", said Claude Smadja, a former deputy editor of Switzerland's TSR television, who witnessed the historic moment.

"Straight away there was the very American, very Californian side of Reagan, shaking Gorbachev's hand, putting his other hand on his shoulder to usher him inside, and the exchange of smiles.

"The two wanted to show that they were very much at ease."

It was only when Gorbachev arrived at the villa that Christiane Berthiaume, who worked for Radio Canada, realised the importance of the moment.

"Not a single journalist asked him a question when he got out of the car. We were all simply speechless. It was awe-inspiring," said Berthiaume, who later became a spokeswoman for various UN agencies.

The conviviality extended to the leaders' wives Raisa Gorbacheva (left) and Nancy Reagan, shown here two years later at a meeting in Washington DC / © AFP/File

The fact that the Soviet leader was there for a summit with the US president "was a sign that the Cold War, a period marked by fear, was coming to an end".

In a sign of how high the stakes were, the US and Soviet delegations decided to impose a "total blackout" on updating the media until the end of the summit.

"In fact, despite the personal warmth, the initial encounter was very harsh. The two sides' positions were very far apart," said Smadja, who went on to become the World Economic Forum's managing director.

Hosts Switzerland were also well aware of the gulf between the two superpowers -- so much so that the Swiss president Kurt Furgler's assistant Walter Fust had to prepare for his boss "two different welcoming speeches, taking into account the different cultures".

The cultural divide was also evident in the formality of the two delegations, Fust told AFP.

"The Russian participants arrived in formation very disciplined. The Americans were less strict on following instructions and the protocol order," he said.

Meanwhile Nancy Reagan, he added, wanted to replace the bottles of mineral water provided with US ones, and also wanted an aide to try out her food before she did.


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Wednesday's talks between US President Joe Biden and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin evoke vivid memories of the 1985 Geneva summit, when Cold War rivals Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the very first time.

The November weather in the Swiss city may have been chilly, but relations began to thaw between Washington and Moscow as the US president and the Soviet leader came face to face on neutral territory.

Now some 36 years on, Biden and Putin are holding decidedly less hopeful talks on the placid shores of Lake Geneva, even as history weighs on them.

Back in 1985, "the atmosphere was relaxed. They had both lined something up to seduce the other camp," said former AFP correspondent Didier Lapeyronie, who covered the Reagan-Gorbachev talks.

"At the same time, we were all aware that it was a historic moment."

And yet the encounter was preceded with what could have been an ill omen. Just before US president Reagan arrived at one of the summit locations, a Swiss soldier waiting in the ceremonial honour guard fainted, overcome by the bitter cold.

Six years before the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1985 Geneva summit focused on de-escalating the nuclear arms race between the two superpowers, and came with hopes of fostering better East-West relations.

The three-day summit was covered by 3,500 journalists.

Nicolas Burgy, who was at Geneva Airport for AFP to report on the Reagans' arrival, recalls the sense of "joy" in the air.

"There was a casual sort of feeling," he said.

One of the most enduring images from the summit is a photograph of the two most powerful men on the planet sitting beside a fireplace and smiling at each other from their armchairs in what could be a cosy fireside chat between two old friends.

The conviviality extended to their wives Raisa Gorbacheva and Nancy Reagan, who chatted over tea under the gaze of photographers.

Marie-Noelle Blessig, charged with following the wives' programme for AFP, remembers seeing Gorbacheva paying a visit to the United Nations' Geneva headquarters "to greet staff at the UN, where she was received with loud applause".

Another sign of the thaw was the first handshake between Gorbachev and Reagan, which lasted seven seconds.

The historic moment took place in front of the Villa Fleur d'Eau, a late 19th-century mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The villa is currently up for sale.

The handshake took place before freezing photographers and reporters who stood waiting in the garden in the bitter cold.

As the Americans had chosen the large villa for day one of the talks, Reagan was there first to welcome Gorbachev, "seemingly in very good spirits", said Claude Smadja, a former deputy editor of Switzerland's TSR television, who witnessed the moment.

"Straight away there was the very American, very Californian side of Reagan, shaking Gorbachev's hand, putting his other hand on his shoulder to usher him inside, and the exchange of smiles.

"The two wanted to show that they were very much at ease."

It was only when Gorbachev arrived at the villa that Christiane Berthiaume, who worked for Radio Canada, realised the importance of the moment.

"Not a single journalist asked him a question when he got out of the car. We were all simply speechless. It was awe-inspiring," said Berthiaume, who later became a spokeswoman for various UN agencies.

The fact that the Soviet leader was there for a summit with the US president "was a sign that the Cold War, a period marked by fear, was coming to an end".

In a sign of how high the stakes were, the US and Soviet delegations decided to impose a "total blackout" on updating the media until the end of the summit.

"In fact, despite the personal warmth, the initial encounter was very harsh. The two sides' positions were very far apart," said Smadja, who went on to become the World Economic Forum's managing director.

Hosts Switzerland were also well aware of the gulf between the two superpowers -- so much so that the Swiss president Kurt Furgler's assistant Walter Fust had to prepare for his boss "two different welcoming speeches, taking into account the different cultures".

The cultural divide was also evident in the formality of the two delegations, Fust told AFP.

"The Russian participants arrived in formation very disciplined. The Americans were less strict on following instructions and the protocol order," he said.

Meanwhile Nancy Reagan, he added, wanted to replace the bottles of mineral water provided with US ones, and also wanted an aide to try out her food before she did.

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Gorbachev: A leader who changed the world

There are leaders who have presided over the renewal of their countries: Adolfo Suárez, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, Ronald Reagan and Václav Havel. Then there are leaders who changed the world. The first among them was Vladimir Lenin, who created the communist system that challenged the West. The second was Mikhail Gorbachev, who brought that system down.

Between 1985 and 1990, Gorbachev showed that he was a different kind of leader. First, he recognized that the U.S.-Soviet arms race was futile. In 1986, Gorbachev put forward the idea of a nuclear-free world, which resulted in the Soviet-American dialogue on nuclear disarmament and the signing of a treaty on the liquidation of medium and shorter range missiles. The two opposing sides decided to destroy a whole class of weapons that could have triggered a nuclear war. This decision was followed by negotiations on strategic offensive arms reductions, cuts in conventional weapons and a ban on chemical, bacteriological and biological weapons. Gorbachev's dialogue with Ronald Reagan on security matters was not merely an admission that the Soviet Union was no longer able to compete with the United States in the nuclear arms race a different Soviet leader could have continued playing dangerous games with the Americans for much longer. Gorbachev decided voluntarily to renounce the maintenance of the nuclear threat as a way of propping up the Soviet system.

Gorbachev&rsquos second great departure from his predecessors was his conviction that every nation was entitled to choose its government, a belief that was crucial in his decision to release Eastern Europe from the Soviet grip. When revolutions swept across East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, their leaders made frantic calls to the Kremlin pleading for help, but Gorbachev responded with a firm &ldquoNo." Soviet troops were still stationed in these Eastern bloc countries, but Gorbachev did not want a repeat of the Prague Spring. His actions were crucial in reunifying the German people and returning the former Soviet satellites into the European fold. Gorbachev buried the world communist system, marking the end of the Cold War and confrontation between two hostile systems vying for world leadership.

Having renounced the Communist Party&rsquos monopoly and opened the floodgates for the freedom of expression, Gorbachev accelerated the disintegration of the Soviet Union. True, he had hoped to preserve the country as a community of allied states, but national republics were distancing themselves from Moscow much too quickly and strongly for disintegration to be stopped. Gorbachev let the Soviet Union evaporate and, probably without intending to, turned out to be a great reformer.

The former Soviet president comes across as a dramatic personality first and foremost because after starting the country&rsquos great transformation, he did not carry it through all the way to the end.

He was the first man in Russian history to have left the Kremlin without clinging to power.

But this is not unusual. History does not know of any reformer who managed to destroy an established system and build a new one in its place. Reformers sacrifice their popularity when they start to dismantle the old way of life, and this is true for Gorbachev. Even today, his name evokes mixed feelings in Russia. No society has ever perceived reformers as heroes during their lifetime. Great politicians are recognized for their achievements only when they pass into eternity.

Mikhail Gorbachev, however, has become a monument in his lifetime. Gorbachev is history. As Thomas Carlyle said: &ldquoThe history of the world is but a biography of great men.&rdquo Having assured himself a place in eternity, he remains a remarkable man with a larger-than-life personality.

Lilia Shevtsova is a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center.