Born 2 March 1931, Mikhail Gorbachev was the last leader of the Soviet Union.
Mikhail Gorbachev was an up and coming star in the Communist Party and, following the death of Leonid Brezhnev in 1982, became a protégé of the new Party leader, Yuri Andropov. But on Andropov’s death in February 1984, the post of First Secretary fell, not to Gorbachev, but to the ageing Konstantin Chernenko. However, Gorbachev spread his influence further so when Chernenko died after only thirteen months as leader, the post finally fell to him. Aged 54, Gorbachev was the youngest First Secretary in Soviet history, and the first to be born after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
His youth and progressive ideas alarmed the Communist hardliners and traditionalists, whose fears were confirmed when Gorbachev ushered in a reformist programme, and introduced into the political lexicon the words perestroika (reconstruction) and glasnost (openness). The Soviet’s system inept handling of the Chernobyl crisis highlighted the need for reform.
“I like Mr Gorbachev”
The international community welcomed the appointment of a man who seemed open and not ruled by cloak and dagger diplomacy and mistrust. Margaret Thatcher said of him, “I like Mr Gorbachev, we can do business together.”
Immediately on coming to power Gorbachev was proposing a reduction in the number of nuclear arms held between the superpowers. In November 1985 Gorbachev met US president, Ronald Reagan, for the first time. Reagan, who had referred to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”, was also impressed by the new man in the Kremlin.
In January 1986 Gorbachev made what is known as his ‘January Proposal’ by proposing a radical strategy for removing all nuclear weapons by 2000. Another meeting with Reagan in October 1986 brought this deadline forward to 1996.
Through their several meetings Reagan and Gorbachev helped ease international tension. Despite their ideological and cultural differences, the two men build a rapport that was to have a real and lasting effect on the ending of the Cold War.
“We can’t go on living like this”