Mikhail Gorbachev, Presided Over the End of the Cold War, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Mikhail Gorbachev was the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union.

He initiated his new policy of perestroika (literally “restructuring” in Russian), with radical reforms, in 1986. In 1988 his introduction of glasnost gave the Soviet people freedoms that they had never previously known, including greater freedom of speech. The press became far less controlled, and thousands of political prisoners and many dissidents were released. And finally, he served as President of the Soviet Union in 1991 when it was dissolved.

In January 1986 Gorbachev announced his proposal for the elimination of intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe and his strategy for eliminating all nuclear weapons by the year 2000 (often referred to as the ‘January Proposal’). The proposed treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, was signed by Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan in December, 1987, greatly reducing the nuclear arsenals on the part of both the US and the USSR. It was effectively the beginning of the end of the Cold War.