The 91-year-old was remembered worldwide for the changes he made to the Soviet state in his seven years in power.
After his rule, the 11th leader of Soviet Russia was succeeded by three Russian presidents.
The latest in the line of Russia’s rulers is Vladimir Putin, who is in office for the second time since his last period as president.
Gorbachev, whose approach differed from the current leader, in 2013 suggested Putin should “change his style and make adjustments to the regime”.
So, who are the leaders who followed last Soviet leader?
Mikhail Gorbachev - In pictures
Boris Yeltsin (July 10, 1991 – December 31, 1999)
In the lead-up to the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Boris Yeltsin was an early ally of Gorbachev. However, following Gorbachev’s rise to power, he was demoted from the Moscow party for criticising its slow reform.
He maintained popularity for his views on political and economic freedom, and made his comeback in 1987 as Moscow’s mayor.
After Gorbachev’s introduction of democratic elections, Yeltsin quit the Communist Party. He became president in 1991 against the former leader’s wishes.
The executive presidential system that Yeltsin created allowed him to govern independently from the Communist Party, parliament and local government. His process of streamlining Russian powers also granted easier implementation of government and security council decisions.
Yeltsin took on both head of state and head of government powers, supervised the defence ministry and KGB himself and cut departments to 20 ministries.
A reputation for allowing free market trade and private enterprises followed him, as well as several constitutional changes such as dissolving congress in 1993.
Rebels emerged in Yeltsin’s second term and a war in independent Chechnya eroded his popularity.
In 1998 Yeltsin fired his entire cabinet and although he survived an impeachment attempt, he resigned the next year.
His health issues, which included heart disease, multiple heart attacks while in office and alcoholism, were a recurring topic among the public – and ultimately caused his death in 2007.
Vladimir Putin (May 7, 2000 – May 7, 2008) (May 7, 2012 – Present)
Vladimir Putin was named president after serving as prime minister.
The former KGB intelligence officer quickly rose through the ranks of Yeltsin’s administration and had two terms in office – the constitutional limit. In the gap between end of his presidency and re-election in 2012, he served again as prime minister under Dmitry Medvedev.
He led successful economic reforms in his first tenure but was later accused of fraud during the 2012 elections.
Putin has also been notorious for his military intervention against Chechen separatists, wars in Syria, Georgia and Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
Now six months in to a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, his rule has become more totalitarian in behaviour, including the suppression of Russian political opposition and independent media.
Dmitry Medvedev (May 7, 2008 – May 7, 2012)
The third Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, who was succeeded by his predecessor Putin, came to power in 2008 as a liberal replacement.
His focus was the modernisation programme of the Russian economy and society, with less reliance on gas and oil. Before the 2012 elections, he also initiated police reform, allocating a federal budget and increasing salaries.
During his time in office Medvedev oversaw Russia’s recovery from a serious recession, in which its GDP fell by eight per cent, and seemed to improve relations with the West in his single term.
As Putin took the role of prime minister, his popularity and power invited arguments of a dual government, with journalists dubbing the pair the “ruling tandem”.
In 2009 Medvedev addressed these claims and in a BBC interview said: “I am the leader of this state and the division of power is based on this.”
The leader stepped aside as president in a deal cut with Putin and took on the role of prime minister until 2020.