One of the most significant statesmen of the final quarter of the 20th century was Mikhail Gorbachev. He buried the hatchet and put an end to the Cold War—as well as the Soviet empire—working with President Ronald Reagan.
History did not end, despite Francis Fukuyama’s infamous assertion. Gorbachev’s desire to modernize socialism and preserve the USSR had an unintended consequence in the form of the imperial collapse. He was completely unsuccessful in both endeavors, but the world enjoyed 30 years of relative peace during which time Russia and other Soviet republics were freed from the Communist nightmare.
Gorbachev, who started out operating combine harvesters, was not required to start the historic reforms of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) that resulted in the fall of the USSR. If he had continued doing things the same way, he might have prolonged the existence of the weak and impoverished Soviet Union and allowed it to maintain its sphere of influence, which extended from Nicaragua to Cuba to Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and his cohorts from the KGB never forgave him for this failure.
Gorbachev, who was born in 1931 in a village in the Stavropol region of Russia—the country’s breadbasket—benefited from his peasant upbringing as he rose through the ranks of power in the USSR. However, he would never truly succeed Joseph Stalin. Gorbachev was raised under Stalin’s brutal agricultural collectivization, which resulted in the starvation deaths of uncles and an aunt, sent both of his grandfathers to the gulag, and tortured one of them. Throughout his professional life, he kept in mind the suffering endured by his family.