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Mikhail Gorbachev - a Knight of Lightness or Dark?

Foreign Policy Brief #148 | By: Yelena Korshunov | September 19, 2022

Header photo taken from: Britannica

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Mikhail Gorbachev, first and last president of the USSR.

Photo taken from: marca (.com)

Policy Summary

Mikhail Gorbachev was one of the most controversial figures in world politics. The Former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics)  President died at the age of 92 in Moscow on Tuesday, August 30, after a severe and prolonged illness. The last, fifth general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Gorbachev was also the  the last president of the USSR. He is not popular in today’s Russia, while his actions are often appreciated  in the Western world. Many Russians believe that Gorbachev solely ruined the “powerful country” (USSR). However previous Communist regimes had led the Soviet Union to the point when it couldn’t exist anymore in its wobbly model, both economically and ideologically.

Attempt at Building Democracy

Gorbachev is considered the main initiator of a policy  called “perestroika”.

The term refers to the restructuring or reforming the economic and political system. Perestroika  referred to increased automation and labor efficiency, but came to entail greater awareness of economic markets and the ending of central planning.

The word “glasnost” was another phrase that  became a symbol of Gorbachev’s  era. “Glasnost” meant open decision-making and free access of citizens to information. It was an explosion of unprecedented freedom in the dark censored world of fearful whispers behind the tightly closed kitchen doors.


“Democracy, Perestroyka, Glasnost”. A poster from the 80s.

Photo taken from: Mr. Allsop History

”Perestroika” and “glasnost”  were intended to “stir up” the country. However inconsistent domestic policy and primarily chaotic economic reforms led to a deepening crisis in all spheres of society. This was expressed not in the abstract figures of statistical reports, but in everyday reality. Towards the end of his reign  the country returned to the long-forgotten Soviet system of coupons (limited purchase of particular goods). Coupons existed for all essential food items, such as sugar, and even for soap.


A line for milk, 1980.

Photo taken from: obozrevatel

Bloody inter-ethnic strife also broke out in the Soviet Union. The fire of conflicts flared up in Central Asia, Transcaucasia, and Moldova. The nation blamed the many misfortunes of that time, first of all, on Gorbachev himself.

“New thinking” foreign policy

The foreign policy of “new thinking” associated with the name of Mikhail Gorbachev contributed to a radical change in international relations. “New Thinking” was Gorbachev’s slogan for a foreign policy based on shared moral and ethical principles to solve global problems rather than on Marxist-Leninist concepts of irreconcilable conflict between capitalism and communism. 

Under this concept of foreign policy,  relations between the Soiviet Union and other countries  improved. Better relationships with the United States resulted in a thawing of the Cold War between the two countries. Russia’s  war in Afghanistan was stopped by Gorbachev, and political connections with China improved.

Member states of the Soviet Union broke away and declared their independence. “Velvet” revolutions sprang up in the countries of Eastern Europe, and the unification of Germany took place. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell – a symbol of the division of the city, the German nation and the whole continent that lasted 40 years.

The Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 was awarded to Gorbachev for his contribution to easing international tensions

Policy Analysis

Speaking about Gorbachev’s period in general, we cannot underappreciate his attempts of saving the collapsing country, building democracy in the world’s biggest traditionally totalitarian state, stopping the Cold War, and destroying the iron curtain.

 Nowadays Russia’s government aims its active propaganda to idealize the dictatorship of the old Soviet Union and even make bloodthirsty Stalin a national hero again. It supports the belief that Mikhail Gorbachev is a person that ruined an ever powerful Soviet country. 

About a month before Gorbachev’s death, journalist Alexei Venidiktov, who was his close friend, expressed to Forbes Russia that Gorbachev was “upset” at the current state of Russia and felt that his “life’s work” had been undone.

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