Mikhail Gorbachev was the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union, who held the top job of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991. Aside from this, Gorbachev is pretty important for being largely responsible for ending the Cold War – but more on that later.
Gorbachev is remembered for prompting the Soviet Union to move from a doctrine of global confrontation to one of collective security and normalised relations with other countries, which was a pretty big deal for Russia at the time. His Sinatra Doctrine marked a complete reversal of previous Soviet policies and Marxist-Leninist revolutionary ideology. The Soviet leader implemented the new doctrine as he no longer believed that communism would eventually dominate the world, and after realising it was bleeding his country dry.
How was it doing this, you ask? Well, by the mid-1980s the Soviet economy had started to collapse due to rising oil prices, inflation and a failure to modernise at a time of global economic crisis. Gorbachev was also facing serious problems with the satellite states. All this meant the cost of the Cold War was preventing him from implementing his recovery policies, Perestroika and Glasnost – more on them in a moment, though. Additionally, the satellite states that had been taken by Stalin were no longer necessary as a means of defence for the Soviet Union. On top of this, it could no longer afford to maintain them, and so he encouraged them to reform and liberalise, while working towards cooperating with other countries to achieve normalised relations and collective security at home.
Two key policies Gorbachev was able to introduce as a result of these changes were Glasnost and Perestroika, which prompted the reformation of both the Soviet economy and of its political system, as well as peaceful revolutions that freed Eastern Europe from Soviet control (this is also known as the Velvet Revolution), and eventually brought about an end to the reason for the Cold War. So, not too shabby!
As you’re probably starting to realise, Gorbachev played a key role in ending the Cold War, by abandoning the Brezhnev doctrine that had fostered tensions with the West, introducing Perestroika and Glasnost, ending the arms race with the US, signing arms reduction agreements and withdrawing the Soviet Union from Eastern Europe, thus removing the need for a Cold War.
That being said, it’s important not to forget the role then-US President Ronald Reagan played in ending the war; Reagan’s aggressive stance towards the Soviet Union, Cruise missiles and the planning of the Strategic Defence Initiative (better known as Star Wars) brought the Soviet economy to its knees. This is what forced Gorbachev to introduce reforms in order to rescue the Soviet economy and to prevent unrest in Eastern Europe. Got all that? Great!
The Cold War started to draw to a close in 1987, when the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty removed ground-based ballistic and Cruise Missiles and introduced inspections. The 1989 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty between NATO and the Warsaw Pact then reduced tanks and troop numbers in Europe, which was key.
Another important step in the end of the Cold War was Berlin, which was at the centre of the conflict. It was a thermometer of Cold War tensions with the Berlin Blockade marking the beginning of the Cold War, the building of the Berlin Wall representing the height of Cold War tensions in the 1960s and the opening of the Wall on 9 November 1989 representing a tangible end to Cold War tensions to many people – whilst also demonstrating Gorbachev’s Sinatra Doctrine in Action.
All that aside, the actual announcement that the Cold War was over wasn’t made until the 1989 Malta Summit, when Mikhail Gorbachev and then-US President George Bush actually shared the news. Following on from this, the 1990 Washington Summit reduced missiles still further with the signing of the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty.
Following on from this, Gorbachev allowed the reunification of Germany. This couldn’t have happened without the agreement of the Soviet Union, the US and Germany, along with its Western Allies Britain and France. Gorbachev was initially opposed and wanted to ensure that the GDR would not be harmed by reunification. But by February 1990 he had agreed that it should be the Germans who decided whether or not reunification should take place, which makes sense when you think about it.
What followed was a series of negotiations in Bonn, Berlin, Paris and Moscow and Russian opposition was finally overcome by generous West German loans designed to help with the modernisation of the Russian economy. The Two Plus Four Treaty was signed on 12 September in Moscow. At midnight on 2 October 1990 the GDR was integrated with the Federal Republic of Germany and German reunification was achieved.
The following year, things really started to go downhill for Gorbachev; the Soviet Union leader was drastically compromised by the 1991 August Putsch, or August Coup, which was an attempt to oust him by members of the government who were opposed to his reforms. While the coup collapsed after only two days, it had the effect of destabilising the government and contributing to the demise of the Soviet Union. It was only a matter of time until the Soviet Union – and Gorbachev – went bye bye.