Gorbachev’s successors: who led Russia after the last leader of the Soviet Union?

·3-min read
Mikhail Gorbachev (l) with Vladimir Putin   (AP)
Mikhail Gorbachev (l) with Vladimir Putin (AP)

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, who brought about the collapse of communism and the end of the USSR, died on Tuesday.

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

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (AP)
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (AP)
Boris Johnson (Getty Images)
Boris Johnson (Getty Images)
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is greeted by the Queen at the entrance to Windsor Castle (PA Archive)
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is greeted by the Queen at the entrance to Windsor Castle (PA Archive)
Mikhail Gorbachev with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 (AP)
Mikhail Gorbachev with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 (AP)
Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa (AP)
Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa (AP)
Then US President Ronald Reagan talks with Mikhail Gorbachev before a summit at the White House (AP)
Then US President Ronald Reagan talks with Mikhail Gorbachev before a summit at the White House (AP)
Mikhail Gorbachev encouraged a young British boy to live a ‘life that makes a difference’ as he told him that ‘the success you take will ultimately be equal to what you put in’ (Chris Radburn/PA) (PA Wire)
Mikhail Gorbachev encouraged a young British boy to live a ‘life that makes a difference’ as he told him that ‘the success you take will ultimately be equal to what you put in’ (Chris Radburn/PA) (PA Wire)
Mikhail Gorbachev is welcomed by John Major (PA Archive)
Mikhail Gorbachev is welcomed by John Major (PA Archive)
erman Chancellor Merkel and former Soviet leader Gobachev visit photo exhibition marking Gorbachev’s 80th birthday at the Kennedy museum in Berlin (REUTERS)
erman Chancellor Merkel and former Soviet leader Gobachev visit photo exhibition marking Gorbachev’s 80th birthday at the Kennedy museum in Berlin (REUTERS)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has paid tribute to the ‘courage and integrity’ of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (Martin Keene/PA) (PA Archive)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has paid tribute to the ‘courage and integrity’ of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (Martin Keene/PA) (PA Archive)
The G7 leaders pose for a photograph inside 10 Downing Street. Back row (l-r): Ruud Lubbers, Giulio Andreotti, Brian Mulroney, Helmut Kohl, Toshiki Kaifu and Jacques Delors. Front: Mikhail Gorbachev, Francois Mitterrand, John Major and George Bush (Rebecca Naden/PA) (PA)
The G7 leaders pose for a photograph inside 10 Downing Street. Back row (l-r): Ruud Lubbers, Giulio Andreotti, Brian Mulroney, Helmut Kohl, Toshiki Kaifu and Jacques Delors. Front: Mikhail Gorbachev, Francois Mitterrand, John Major and George Bush (Rebecca Naden/PA) (PA)

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.