Gorbachev, Mikhail S.
Russian statesman and Executive President of the Soviet Union (1990–91). A Communist Party member since 1952, he was elected to the General Committee in 1979 and to the Politburo in the following year. On the death of Konstantin Chernenko in March 1985 he became the Soviet leader, exercising control from his position as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Gorbachev's efforts to carry out perestroika (see Glasnost and Perestroika), the economic and social reform of Soviet society, led to a gradual process of liberalization and the introduction of high technology to the Soviet Union. Together with his foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, he negotiated (1987) an arms control (INF) treaty with the West to reduce nuclear forces in Europe. On the domestic front he introduced stringent laws against alcohol abuse and encouraged a greater degree of glasnost in the face of inefficiency and corruption. He released many political dissidents from restraint, including Andrei Sakharov and, for the first time, the Russian people were told of the enormities of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Stalin's regime. He initiated a number of constitutional changes, whereby the Congress of People's Deputies was directly elected, the Congress then duly electing him Executive President. He withdrew from Afghanistan, and in August 1990 negotiated with Chancellor Kohl that a united Germany could remain in a reformed NATO. He supported the United Nations policy leading to the Gulf War; but he faced increasing resistance from a conservative, bureaucratic hierarchy, while the constituent republics of the Union sought ever-greater independence. Tensions during 1991 culminated in an attempted coup in August, which he survived, but only because of the support given him by his rival Boris Yeltsin. He had by then accepted that the political monopoly of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had ended, but still believed in his communist ideals, and that the Union could be reformed along evolutionary lines. As the Soviet command-economy disintegrated his power-base collapsed, as did the Union itself. He resigned in December 1991. Gorbachev made an unsuccessful attempt to regain power in the presidential election of 1996, but failed significantly to challenge Yeltsin.