Mikhail Gorbachev | Wikipedia audio article

Mikhail Gorbachev | Wikipedia audio article


Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (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. Gorbachev was born in Privolnoye, Stavropol
Krai to a peasant Ukrainian–Russian family. 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.==Early life=====Childhood: 1931–1950===
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.===University: 1950–1955===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
Secretary of the Central Committee; he was the youngest man to ever hold the 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; 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. He was subsequently appointed to the Central
Committee’s Secretariat for Agriculture in 1978, replacing Fyodor Kulakov after he 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.
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. Instead, Chernenko 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==
In March 1985, Chernenko died. 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. Gorbachev was elected general secretary by
the Politburo on 11 March 1985, only three hours after Chernenko’s death. Upon his accession
at age 54, he was the youngest member of the Politburo. 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.”====
Perestroika====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.====Glasnost====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.====Foreign engagements====
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. Meanwhile, on 12 June 1991 Boris Yeltsin was
elected President of the Russian Federation by 57.3% of the vote (with a turnout of 74%).=====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.=====Final collapse=====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.==Post-presidency==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 20 March 2009, Gorbachev met with United
States President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in efforts to “reset” strained relations
between Russia and the United States. 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 June 2018, Gorbachev welcomed the 2018 Russia–United States summit between
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in Helsinki, Finland.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 is also a member of the Club of Madrid, a group of more than
80 former leaders of democratic countries, which works to strengthen democratic governance
and leadership.Gorbachev was co-chair of Earth Charter International Commission.==Personal life==
In September 1990 the former U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited Moscow and told journalists
“I think, frankly, (that) President Gorbachev and I discovered a sort of a bond, a friendship
between us, that we thought could become such a bond between all the people.”Gorbachev often
referred to himself in the third person. Gorbachev was self-confident, polite, and
tactful; he had a happy and optimistic temperament. He was a skilled manager. Since studying at
university, he considered himself an intellectual; when living in Stavropol he and his wife collected
hundreds of books. 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.He had a distinctive 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. 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.”Gorbachev was the recipient of the Athenagoras Humanitarian
Award of the Order of St. Andrew Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
on 20 November 2005.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”.===Port-wine birthmark===When asked in the DR2 show Den 11. time in
2007 about the prominent crimson port-wine stain birthmark on his forehead, Gorbachev
answered that it appeared only after he lost his hair. Although someone had suggested that
he might have the mark surgically removed, he opted not to, as he believed it would be
perceived as his being more concerned with his appearance than other more important issues.==Ideology==
Gorbachev was a socialist. 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.”As
Soviet leader, Gorbachev believed in incremental reform rather than a radical transformation;
he later referred to this as a “revolution by evolutionary means”.==Works==
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).==Legacy==
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=======
Soviet Union and Russia decorations====Order of St. Andrew (2011), the highest state
decoration of Russia, awarded for work during USSR leadership
Order of Honour (2001) Order of Lenin (1971, 1973, 1981)
Order of October Revolution (1978) Order of the Badge of Honour (1966)
Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1947). He was awarded when he was only 16 and was
one of the youngest recipients of the award. Medal “For Labour Valour”
Medal “For Strengthening Military Cooperation” Medal “In Commemoration of the 1500th Anniversary
of Kiev” Jubilee Medal “Forty Years of Victory in the
Great Patriotic War 1941–1945″====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.==See also==
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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