In six heady years between 1985 and 1991, he forged arms treaties with the United States, and partnerships with Western powers to remove the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War Two and bring about the reunification of Germany.
But his internal reforms, combining economic and political liberalisation, helped weaken the Soviet Union (USSR) to the point where it fell apart - a moment that President Vladimir Putin once called the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.
Mikhail Gorbachev - In pictures
It took Putin more than 15 hours to publish the text of a condolence telegram in which he said Gorbachev had had a “huge impact on the course of world history” and “deeply understood that reforms were necessary” to tackle the problems of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
“I see myself as a man who started the reforms that were necessary for the country and for Europe and the world,” Gorbachev told The Associated Press in a 1992 interview shortly after he left office.
“I am often asked, would I have started it all again if I had to repeat it? Yes, indeed. And with more persistence and determination,” he said.
sometimes your worst nightmare is right behind you pic.twitter.com/4BauI6lXBQ
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) August 30, 2022
Russians blamed him for the 1991 implosion of the Soviet Union — a once-fearsome superpower whose territory fractured into 15 separate nations.
His run for president in 1996 was a national joke, and he polled less than 1 percent of the vote. In 1997, he resorted to making a TV ad for Pizza Hut to earn money for his charitable foundation.
His former allies deserted him and made him a scapegoat for the country’s troubles.
“In the ad, he should take a pizza, divide it into 15 slices like he divided up our country, and then show how to put it back together again,” quipped Anatoly Lukyanov, a one-time Gorbachev supporter.