In pictures: The life of ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who would go on to become one of the most influential political figures of the 20th Century, was born into relative poverty on 2 March 1931 in the Stavropol region of southern Russia.
His parents both worked on collective farms and the young Gorbachev operated combine harvesters while in his teens.
While studying law at Moscow State University, he met his wife, Raisa, and became an active member of the Communist Party.
After graduating, he returned to Stavropol and began a rapid rise through the ranks of the Communist Party.
In 1985, the Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko died just a year after taking office, and Mikhail Gorbachev became the youngest leader of the USSR.
At the time, the Soviet Union’s economy was struggling to keep pace with the US, and Gorbachev pursued two main solutions. He said the country needed “perestroika” – or restructuring – and his tool for dealing with it was “glasnost” – openness.
His other weapon for dealing with the stagnation of the system was democracy. For the first time there were free elections for the Congress of People’s Deputies.
Gorbachev also wanted to bring an end to the Cold War, which was costing his country billions of dollars every year to keep pace with the rapidly growing speed of US military spending.
In 1985, he met US President Ronald Reagan for talks on limiting the production of nuclear missiles and for resetting diplomatic relations between the two superpowers. He also ended the bloody and long-running Soviet War in Afghanistan, which had cost thousands of lives since Moscow intervened to support the socialist government there in 1979.
In 1987, he travelled to Washington DC to sign a treaty which limited deployment of both intermediate and short-range land-based missiles worldwide.
By May 1991, the US and the USSR had eliminated over 2,500 missiles under the treaty.
While his reforms were popular with Western leaders, the USSR gradually began to break up under his leadership, and on Christmas Eve 1991, Gorbachev accepted the inevitable and the Soviet Union was dissolved.
Gorbachev continued to play a vocal role in both Russian and international matters, but his reputation abroad was always higher than at home.
He suffered a personal blow in 1999 when Raisa died of leukaemia. Her constant presence at his side had lent a humanising touch to his political reforms.
After Vladimir Putin came to power, Gorbachev became a vocal critic, accusing him of running an increasingly repressive regime.
Gorbachev died in Moscow amidst a Russian invasion of Ukraine, an operation which some see as President Putin’s attempt to rebuild the old Soviet sphere of influence.