Mikhail Gorbachev was the last Soviet Leader. He passed away on August 30, 2022, in Moscow, Russia. In 1990, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Cold War. While he is widely loved abroad, he was a pariah at home.
There are still controversies about his legacy. Whether he was a statesman or salesman, history will tell. But there is no denying that he changed the course of world history.
How did Mikhail Gorbachev become president of the Soviet Union?
Gorbachev was named a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1971. And then in 1979, he joined its supreme policy-making body, the Politburo.
In 1985, he was elected general secretary of the Communist Party. In October 1988, he was elected to the chairmanship of the presidium of the national legislature, and shortly after, he restructured the Soviet government to include a bicameral parliament.
His Big Achievements
Over his years of leading the Soviet Union, Gorbachev had quite a few achievements as you can imagine. Here are some of his biggest.
Withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan
The USSR had been burdened by the Afghan War for nine years, from 1979 to 1989. The Soviet Union tried to guarantee the continued power of the pro-Soviet Government.
But the Afghan war became the USSR’s version of Vietnam. So, Gorbachev was the one to end it in February 1989.
The Soviet military contingent left Afghanistan for good. As Gorbachev recalled many years after, “We finished this grim chapter. Everyone in the government agreed, it is impossible to solve the Afghan problem by military means”.
What followed was the pro-Soviet government fell in no time, but the war wasn’t over. The Taliban took over again, leading to a US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The Sinatra doctrine
Mikhail Gorbachev had a completely new approach towards the socialist states of Eastern Europe. In 1989, the spokesman of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Gennadi Gerasimov, said, “We now have the Frank Sinatra doctrine. He has a song, My Way. So, every country decides on its own which road to take”.
In translation, Moscow was no longer eager or even able to support the Communist governments in such countries such as Poland, Hungary, and more. From that moment on, Eastern Europe was free to choose its way.
Warsaw Pact countries turned to be fed up with socialism to such an extent that, by the end of 1989, governments were falling everywhere. In 1991, the Warsaw Pact, officially ceased to exist.
Relations with China
Modern China’s government recognized Gorbachev’s role in healing relations between Moscow and Beijing. He was an inspiration to reformist thinkers in China during the late 1980s.
Mikhail’s visit to Beijing in 1989 marked a watershed in relations between the sides as he made positive contributions to normalization of relations between China and the Soviet Union.
And these relations nowadays seem stronger than ever. Yet, many in the Communist Party of China regard his liberal approach as a fatal display of weakness. His moves toward peaceful coexistence with the West is seen as a form of surrender.
The Berlin Wall
Arguably his biggest contribution and achievement is the Berlin Wall fall. In 1987, US President Ronald Reagan urged the Soviet leader to tear down the wall during a speech in Berlin.
At the time, the city had been cut in two by a wall separating the West Germany and East Germany since 1961.
Gorbachev reacted to his call by actions. By late 1989, there was no sense in the wall’s existence. Hungary opened borders with Austria, and one could get from East Germany to West via Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria.
So, on November 9, 1989, East German authorities opened the border and the wall was brought down. In 2019, Gorbachev noted, “We did everything possible for this process to go peacefully. How could we prevent the GDR from uniting with the FRG if the GDR’s people wanted it?”
Germany reunified fully in 1990. Former chancellor Angela Merkel called the day the moment of happiness for all Germans.
Reducing nuclear armaments
One of the biggest and most important achievements in his life and reign was slowing down the nuclear armaments race. He might have stopped it entirely at the time.
In 1987, US President Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty, which banned both the American missiles and Soviet missiles with range of 500-5,500 km (which is short and intermediate range).
For the first time in the world’s history, the two nuclear superpowers obliged themselves to get rid of a whole class of weapons.
This made Europe a far safer continent.
He also signed the START-I, or the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991, just months before the USSR fell apart. This treaty limited the two powers to have a maximum of 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 carriers. It led to largest removal of nuclear arms in history.
In 1991, Gorbachev retreated from political power. His successor was Boris Yeltsin. But at this point, the public in the Soviet Union had enough of Gorbachev.
The Pizza Hut Commercial
The 1986 Pizza Hut commercial was released in the United States, but banned in Russia. The commercial was seen as a proof of his acceptance to surrender the country. At this point, Gorbachev had a reputation of someone who would sell his country.
So, he had no problem selling pizza as well.
How Much he Fell back in Russia
How much he lost is best seen by the presidential elections in 1996. Because of his dissatisfaction with the Yeltsin administration, Gorbachev tried to run for president of Russia. His bid was a huge failure, as he earned only 0.5% of the vote.
How he is viewed nowadays
We cannot say for certain how people view him in 2022. But his USSR, suffering from severe economic crises, wasn’t a stable state despite all of his efforts. It fell apart, which is hardly a compliment to a leader.
Many Russians doubted his legacy. In a 2016 pool, 58% believed that he played a negative role in Russia’s history.