(1931-) Soviet president, in power 1985–91. He was a member of the Politburo from 1980. As general secretary of the Communist Party (CPSU) 1985–91 and president of the Supreme Soviet 1988–91, he introduced liberal reforms at home (perestroika and glasnost), proposed the introduction of multiparty democracy, and attempted to halt the arms race abroad. He became head of state 1989. Nobel Peace Prize 1990.
Gorbachev radically changed the style of Soviet leadership, encountering opposition to the pace of change from both conservatives and radicals, but failed both to realize the depth of hostility this aroused against him in the CPSU and to distance himself from the party. His international reputation suffered in the light of harsh state repression of nationalist demonstrations in the Baltic states. Following an abortive coup attempt by hard-liners Aug 1991, international acceptance of independence for the Baltic states, and accelerated moves toward independence in other republics, Gorbachev's power base as Soviet president was greatly weakened and in Dec 1991 he resigned.
Gorbachev, born in the N Caucasus, studied law at Moscow University and joined the CPSU 1952. In 1955–62 he worked for the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) before being appointed regional agriculture secretary. As Stavropol party leader from 1970 he impressed Andropov, and was brought into the CPSU secretariat 1978.
Gorbachev was promoted into the Politburo and in 1983, when Andropov was general secretary, took broader charge of the Soviet economy. During the Chernenko administration 1984–85, he was chair of the Foreign Affairs Commission. On Chernenko's death 1985 he was appointed party leader. He initiated wide-ranging reforms and broad economic restructuring, and introduced campaigns against alcoholism, corruption, and inefficiency. In the 1988 presidential election by members of the Soviet parliament, he was the sole candidate.
In March 1990 he was elected to a five-year term as executive president with greater powers. At home his plans for economic reform failed to avert a food crisis in the winter of 1990–91 and his desire to preserve a single, centrally controlled USSR met with resistance from Soviet republics seeking more independence. Early in 1991, Gorbachev shifted to the right in order to placate the conservative wing of the party and appointed some of the hard-liners to positions of power. In late spring, he produced a plan for a new union treaty to satisfy the demands of reformers. This plan alarmed the hard-liners, who, in late summer, temporarily removed him from office. He was saved from this attempted coup mainly by the efforts of Boris Yeltsin and the ineptness of the plotters. Soon after his reinstatement, Gorbachev was obliged to relinquish his leadership of the party, renounce communism as a state doctrine, suspend all activities of the Communist Party (including its most powerful organs, the Politburo and the Secr
etariat), and surrender many of his central powers to the states. During the following months he pressed for an agreement on his proposed union treaty in the hope of preventing a disintegration of the Soviet Union, but was unable to maintain control and on 25 Dec 1991 resigned as president, effectively yielding power to Boris Yeltsin.