Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev
Gorbachev, Mikhail Sergeyevich (1931– ), Soviet political leader who succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as general secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union in 1984 and became President of the USSR (1990–g96). Gorbachev had worked his way up through the ranks of the Communist party in the Russian city of Stavropol in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1970 he was elected to the Supreme Soviet. In 1971 he was added to the Communist party's Central Committee. He moved to Moscow in 1978 and in 1980 became a full member of the party's Politburo, then the country's chief policy-making body. Soon after he became general secretary, Gorbachev launched a series of reforms in both domestic and international policy. His program of perestroika (restructuring) was aimed at altering the economic and social systems, loosening central state control. The reforms of glasnost (openness) eased the system of censorship, allowing considerable freedom of speech and of the press. The Communist party's formal monopoly on political activity was lifted, and a new political system, involving some free elections, was introduced. Internationally, Gorbachev withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan and proclaimed a policy of non-interference when Communist rule collapsed in Eastern Europe in 1989 and 1990. Gorbachev's cooperation was instrumental in the reunification of Germany, and for this and other aspects of his international policy, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
Major problems faced by Gorbachev included the continued crisis of the Soviet economy, the rise of ethnic conflicts and of demands for independence by various republics of the USSR, and the continuing power of the old Communist party bureaucracy, especially in the army and police. With the desintegration of the USSR Gorbachev was forced to resign in 1991. He was an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1996.