Soviet political leader.
Born in the agricultural region of Stavropol, Gorbachev studied law at Moscow University. In 1953 he married a philosophy student, Raisa Titorenko (1932 - 1999).
Returning to Stavropol, he moved gradually upward in the local Communist party. In 1970, he became Stavropol party leader and was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.
Regarded as a skilled technocrat and a reformer, Gorbachev joined (1978) the Communist party secretariat as agriculture secretary, and in 1980 he joined the politburo as the protege of Yuri Andropov.
After Andropov's ascension to party leadership, Gorbachev assumed (1983) full responsibility for the economy.
Following the death of Konstantin Chernenko (Andropov's successor) in 1985, Gorbachev was appointed general secretary of the party despite being the youngest member of the politburo.
He embarked on a comprehensive program of political, economic, and social liberalisation under the slogans of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl (1986) forced Gorbachev to allow even greater freedom of expression. The government released political prisoners, allowed increased emigration, attacked corruption, and encouraged the critical re-examination of Soviet history.
In a series of summit talks (1985 - 1988), Gorbachev improved relations with the US president Ronald Reagan, with whom he signed an Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) arms limitation treaty in 1987. By 1989 he had brought about the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and had sanctioned the end of the Communist monopoly on political power in Eastern Europe.
For his contributions to reducing East-West tensions, he was awarded the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.
By 1990, however, Gorbachev's perestroika program had failed to deliver significant improvement in the economy, and the elimination of political and social control had released latent ethnic and national tensions in the Baltic states, in the constituent republics of Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova, and elsewhere.
A newly created (1989) Congress of People's Deputies voted in March, 1990, to end the Communist party's control over the government and elected Gorbachev executive president. During 1990 and 1991, however, the reform drive stalled, and Gorbachev appeared to be mollifying remaining hardliners, who were disgruntled over the deterioration of the Soviet empire and increasing marginalisation of the Communist party.
An unsuccessful anti-Gorbachev coup by hardliners in August, 1991 (see August Coup), shifted greater authority to the Russian Republic's president, Boris Yeltsin, and greatly accelerated change. Gorbachev dissolved the Communist party, granted the Baltic states independence, and proposed a much looser, chiefly economic federation among the remaining republics.
With the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on December 8, 1991, the federal government of the Soviet Union became superfluous, and on December 25, Gorbachev resigned as president.
Since 1992, Gorbachev has headed international organisations; written several books, and run unsuccessfully (1996) for the Russian presidency.
Mikhail Gorbachev's official site
The Gorbachev Foundation