THE last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev helped bring about the end of the Cold War and more recently has called on Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to scale back their arsenals of nukes.
Here’s what you need to know about the 88-year-old former Communist party chief and Nobel Prize winning statesman who dismantled the creaking Soviet system and shared warm relationships with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
Who is Mikhail Gorbachev?
The son of peasant farmers, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born near Stavropol in the North Caucasus region of southern Russia on March 2, 1931.
In his teens he drove combine harvesters on collective farms and won a medal for his efforts bringing in the harvest.
But he also excelled at school and won a scholarship to study law at Moscow University where he met his wife Raisa.
After university Gorbachev returned to Stavropol province and began work as an official in the local Communist Party.
He became provincial party chief and made a name for himself as a moderniser and reformer as he climbed steadily through the ranks of the party machine.
How did Mikhail Gorbachev come to power?
In 1980 he was promoted to the Soviet Union’s all-powerful executive committee, the Politburo.
He was a protege of Soviet leader Yuri Andropov and helped him begin much-needed reforms.
Andropov picked him as his successor when he died, but he had to wait until another ageing leader Constantin Chernenko also died before he could rise to the very top.
In 1985 he was elected general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – effectively the ruler of the USSR and the whole Soviet bloc.
What did Mikhail Gorbachev do as Soviet leader?
Gorbachev believed the Soviet Union was doomed unless it could modernise its economy and become more liberal.
His plans were symbolised by his twin slogans Glasnost, meaning openness, and Perestroika, meaning restructuring.
These words signalled immense changes for the Soviet Union — and for the eastern European nations that were its satellite states.
He hoped to transform the Stalinist Soviet regime into a more modern social democracy.
Gorbachev also wanted to slash the enormous amount spent on the military in an effort to keep up with the US as the Cold War had sunk to its frostiest state since the ’60s.
He fostered a thawing of relations with the West, begun in 1984 before he became leader when he met Margaret Thatcher at Chequers.
He went on to meet US president Ronald Reagan in a series of high-profile summits and they enjoyed a warmer than expected relationship that led to an important nuclear disarmament deal.
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was eventually signed by Reagan’s successor George Bush in 1991.
Gorbachev called the treaty “a moral achievement” which replaced “militarised thinking” with “normal human thinking”.
What was Mikhail Gorbachev’s role in the end of the Cold War?
Gorbachev’s thawing of relations with West meant an end to the expensive and dangerous arms race and made the prospect of conflict much less likely.
For his efforts he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 – dubbed by some at the time “the world’s biggest consolation prize” for “losing the Cold War”.
His Glasnost policy of easing bureaucracy and censorship also led to several Warsaw Pact nations and Soviet republics wanting to free themselves from Communist rule.
Within a few years the Berlin Wall had been pulled down, there were revolutions in the Czech Republic and Romania and protests in Soviet republics including Ukraine, Lithuania and Azerbaijan demanding independence.
In 1991 Communist hard-liners attempted to remove Gorbachev from power in the failed August Coup.
His career was finally ended by Boris Yeltzin, president of Russia, who banned all activity by the Communist party in the country and announced a new union with Ukraine and Belarus – marking the end of the Soviet Union.
What did Mikhail Gorbachev do after the USSR was dissolved?
Gorbachev had wanted to preserve the Soviet Union and was fiercely critical of free-market reforms by Yeltzin’s Russian government in the early 1990s.
He tried to form three new political parties and ran for president of Russia in 1996 but failed to win support.
He was also critical Vladimir Putin after he came to power in 2000, although more recently he has praised the Kremlin hardman.
Now in retirement as a veteran statesman, Gorbachev has said he would like to see the former Soviet states reform in a new union spanning Europe and Central Asia.
After Donald Trump entered the White House – and promised to expand the USA’s nuclear arsenal on Twitter – Gorbachev issued a stark warning based on his experience of steering the world away from the brink of Armageddon.
He wrote in Time magazine: “Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defence doctrines more dangerous.
“It all looks as if the world is preparing for war. The nuclear threat once again seems real.
“Relations between the great powers have been going from bad to worse for several years now. The advocates for arms build-up and the military-industrial complex are rubbing their hands.
“We must break out of this situation. We need to resume political dialogue aiming at joint decisions and joint action.”
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Who played Mikhail Gorbachev in the TV series Chernobyl?
HBO and Sky Atlantic’s Chernobyl featured Gorbachev in its first episode.
The first episode sees the leader of the Soviet Union take part in a meeting where it is decided to hush up the tragic events.
Gorbachev is played by David Dencik, who has appeared in a number of other big-name TV and film projects.
Dencik is from Sweden, making him one of a number of the Chernobyl cast members who are actually Scandinavian playing Russians and Ukrainians in the HBO and Sky co-production.