Mikhail Gorbachev was born in 1931 in the Stavropol Territory of Russia. Born to peasant farmers, he became active in the Communist Party and studied law at the Moscow State University. He returned to Stavropol after university and worked as a regional Communist Party official. Mikhail Gorbachev studied for a second degree in agriculture and began to rise through the ranks of the provincial Communist Party.
Having made a name for himself as a regional moderniser and reformer, in 1978 Mikhail Gorbachev was summoned to Moscow and appointed to the agricultural central committee. Under the guidance of senior Communist Party officials Gorbachev was rapidly promoted to the Soviet Union’s executive committee, the Politburo.
From 1970 to 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev was the Deputy Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. as well as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Soviet Union between 1984 and 1985.
By the 1980s the Soviet economy was in drastic need of reform. In 1985, after three elderly leaders died in quick succession, Gorbachev, a protégé of former Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, was appointed General Secretary and head of the Soviet Union. At 54 he was one of the youngest leaders and was seen as the new broom that could clean up the decrepit Soviet system.
He was elected to the Congress of the People’s Deputies of the U.S.S.R in 1989 and became President of Russia in 1990. In the same year, Mikhail Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mikhail Gorbachev hinged his efforts to revitalise the Soviet Union on two plans: glasnost (meaning openness) and perestroika (meaning restructuring). By relaxing bureaucracy and censorship Gorbachev hoped to transform the Stalinist Soviet regime into a more modern social democracy. While glasnost was widely celebrated, his attempts to restructure the Soviet economy largely floundered.
Mikhail Gorbachev saw that vast sums of money were being poured into the military to keep up with the US. Desperate to free up this money, Gorbachev fostered a warmer relationship with the West. In a series of high-profile summits Gorbachev met President Reagan and the two men made important nuclear disarmament agreements. The thaw in relations effectively signalled the end of the Cold War.
Since the Presidency he has been the Head of the International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies since 1992 and has been Head of the International Green Cross/Green Crescent since 1993.
Mikhail Gorbachev is joint recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Award, the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in 1992 and became an Honorary Citizen of Berlin in the same year as well as a Freeman of Aberdeen.
He has been awarded the Urania-Medaille (Berlin) in 1996 and the Order of Lenin on three separate occasions.