Mikhail Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the country's head of state from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991. He was the only general secretary in the history of the Soviet Union to have been born after the October Revolution. Alongside East Germany's Egon Krenz and Poland's Wojciech Jaruzelski, Gorbachev is one of the last surviving leaders of an Eastern Bloc state as of 2014.
Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by the Politburo in 1985. Before he reached the post, he had occasionally been mentioned in western newspapers as a likely next leader and a man of the younger generation at the top level. Mikhail Gorbachev was the Party's first leader to have been born after the Revolution. As de facto ruler of the USSR, he tried to reform the stagnating Party and the state economy by introducing glasnost ("openness"), perestroika ("restructuring"), demokratizatsiya ("democratization"), and uskoreniye ("acceleration" of economic development), which were launched at the 27th Congress of the CPSU in February 1986.
In contrast to his controversial domestic reforms, Gorbachev was largely hailed in the West for his 'new thinking' in foreign affairs. During his tenure, he sought to improve relations and trade with the West by reducing Cold War tensions. He established close relationships with several Western leaders, such as West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—who famously remarked: "I like Mr. Gorbachev; we can do business together".
In February 1988, Gorbachev announced the full withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The withdrawal was completed the following year, although the civil war continued as the Mujahedin pushed to overthrow the pro-Soviet Najibullah government. His policy of non-intervention in the affairs of the other Warsaw Pact states, introduced in 1988 proved to be the most momentous of Gorbachev's foreign policy reforms. By the end of 1989, revolts had spread from one Eastern European capital to another, ousting the regimes built in Eastern Europe after World War II. With the exception of Romania, the popular upheavals against the pro-Soviet Communist regimes were all peaceful ones.
The loosening of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe effectively ended the Cold War, and for this, Gorbachev was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold in 1989 and the Nobel Peace Prize on 15 October 1990. At home Gorbachev's reforms ultimately resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On the night of 25 December 1991, in a nationally televised speech, Gorbachev announced his resignation as president—as he put it, "I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics". The Soviet Union was formally dissolved the following day. Two days after Gorbachev left office, on 27 December, Yeltsin moved into Gorbachev's old office.
Since his resignation, Gorbachev has remained involved in world affairs. He founded the Gorbachev Foundation in 1992, headquartered in San Francisco. He later founded Green Cross International, with which he was one of three major sponsors of the Earth Charter. He also became a member of the Club of Rome and the Club of Madrid, an independent non-profit organization composed of 81 democratic former presidents and Prime Ministers from 57 different countries.