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.

Mikhail Gorbachev and his family as a child and with his classmates in the 1940sIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
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Mikhail Gorbachev spent his early years working on collective farms with his family in southern Russia (left). He went on to study law at the Moscow State University (right, top row, seen with classmates in the 1940s)

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.

Mikhail Gorbachev with his wife Raisa in 1985IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
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Gorbachev married his wife Raisa in 1953. After her death in 1999, he wrote that his life has lost “its principal meaning”

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 at the 27th Congress of the Soviet Communist PartyIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
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Gorbachev at the 27th congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1986, the first gathering of Communist leaders he presided over after coming to power the previous year

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.

Mikhail Gorbachev with Ronald ReaganIMAGE SOURCE,AFP
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Mikhail Gorbachev met his US counterpart Ronald Reagan for the first time in Geneva in 1985 for talks at revitalising international relations between the superpowers

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.

Reagan and Mikhail GorbachevIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
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Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987. The agreement saw thousands of missiles decommissioned

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.

Mikhail Gorbachev with Pope John Paul II at the VaticanIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
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Mikhail Gorbachev with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. The Catholic leader was a vocal opponent of Communism and the Soviet sphere of influence
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Mikhail Gorbachev is greeted by the Queen at the entrance to Windsor Castle in 1989IMAGE SOURCE,ALAMY
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Mikhail Gorbachev greeted by the Queen at the entrance to Windsor Castle in 1989

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.

Gorchachev with Putin in 2004IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
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Gorbachev criticised President Vladimir Putin in later years

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.

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