Will Russia ever have another Gorbachev

Not too long ago there was hope that Russia and the West would soon be allies and that Europe would enjoy a long-lasting peace.  Much of the credit for that hopeful era belongs to Mikhail Gorbachev, one of the 20th Century’s most consequential and transformative leaders.  Thirty-eight years after Gorbachev became the final General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and nearly seven months after his passing in August, 2022, his dream of a democratic, modern and peaceful Russia, one which would enjoy cultural and economic integration with the West, seems no longer attainable.

Gorbachev, born in Stavropol to a peasant family, rose through the ranks of the local and national communist party, eventually becoming General Secretary in March 1985.  Gorbachev realized the centralized economy of the Soviet state would never allow the economy to modernize, become efficient and better serve the Russian people.  Beginning in 1987, Gorbachev, under his policy of glasnost (“openness”), initiated deep reforms of the Soviet economic and political system.  These reforms included expanding freedoms of expression and of information sharing, allowing the press more leeway in criticizing the government and political leaders.

Gorbachev followed glasnost with his policies of perestroika (“restructuring”) which introduced some free-market changes to the Soviet economy as well as minor attempts to democratize elections.  With glasnost and perestroika, Gorbachev walked a fine line between going too far, too fast and alienating entrenched communist bureaucrats who had the most to lose in a reformed Soviet Union and going too slow for the reformers clamoring for faster and more deeper cultural, economic and political changes.

In foreign affairs, Gorbachev negotiated treaties with the United States and other countries to limit the number of nuclear weapons as well as ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.  Détente with the West allowed Gorbachev to move funds away from the Soviet military to invest in civil society.  Gorbachev also pushed for change across the Soviet sphere of influence and only supported leaders in the Eastern bloc that were committed to reforming their countries similar to Gorbachev’s efforts in Moscow.

Gorbachev’s claim that he would not support other communist governments if their people were opposed to them would lead to a chain reaction of communist government collapses across Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, including the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent reunification of Germany.  These collapses would soon lead to Gorbachev dissolving the Soviet Union and essentially ending the Cold Way peacefully.

In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev would win the Nobel Peace prize for his commitment to reforms and, as the award’s description reads, “for the leading role he played in the radical changes in East-West relations”.

“Steering a peaceful course is not easy in a country where generation after generation of people were led to believe that those who have power or force could throw those who dissent or disagree out of politics or even in jail.” Gorbachev’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize.

So much changed for the better because of Mikhail Gorbachev. Our hope for the Russian people is that a new Gorbachev rises to lead their nation towards peace and prosperity. 

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Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Mikhail Gorbachev”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 Feb. 2023

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Mikhail-Gorbachev. Accessed 3 March 2023.

Mikhail Gorbachev – Facts. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Fri. 3 Mar 2023. 



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