IN IMAGES, IN PICTURES. The life of Mikhail Gorbachev in nine photos, from the Berlin Wall… to Pizza advertisements

He was one of the great men of the XXe century. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, died Tuesday, August 30, 2022, at the age of 91.

A pure product of the communist system, Mikhail Gorbachev, who will remain as the man at the end of the Cold War, is the source of immense respect in the West but of a certain bitterness in Russia, because of a career that led to the reform of the USSR but to precipitate its fall, in 1991. A journey that we invite you to relive in images.

The man of “perestroika” and “glasnost”

Noticed by the head of the KGB Yuri Andropov after a rapid rise in the CP, he arrived in Moscow in 1978 where he joined the Central Committee, the governing body of the Party, before becoming, on March 11, 1985, the number one of the soviet empire.

The USSR was then faced with a complex geopolitical situation and in financial difficulty due to the frantic pace of the arms race..

President François Mitterrand (right) greets General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev at the Elysée presidential palace in Paris, October 2, 1985. © AFP ARCHIVES

Aware that a crisis is looming, Mikhail Gorbachev launches the “perestroika” (restructuring), which intends to liberalize the economy of the USSR, and the “glasnost” (transparency), which aims to reform the Soviet system and allow greater freedom of expression.

Read also: Perestroika, glasnost… The words that symbolize the Gorbachev years

Millions of Soviets then discovered unprecedented freedoms, but also shortages, economic chaos and nationalist revolts that would sound the death knell of the USSR, for which many of his compatriots would never forgive him.

Mikhail Gorbachev is also the man of the “thaw” between the Eastern and Western blocks, in latent conflict for several decades. In 1987, he signed the INF Intermediate Range Weapons Treaty with US President Ronald Reagan.

Photo Mikhail Gorbachev (left) and US President Ronald Reagan sign at the Washington Summit, December 8, 1987, a treaty for the elimination of armaments, US and Soviet intermediate-range and short-range nuclear missiles.  © dpa

Mikhail Gorbachev (left) and US President Ronald Reagan sign a treaty for the elimination of weapons, US and Soviet intermediate-range and short-range nuclear missiles at the Washington summit on December 8, 1987. © AFP

“Of course I have regrets, big mistakes were made,” he had declared to theAFP in January 2011.

Because under his mandate, there was no lack of excesses: the entry of Soviet tanks into Lithuania, the repression of peaceful demonstrators in Georgia, or the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, passed over in silence for days, contributing to the contamination of hundreds of thousands of people.

Photo Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev (centre) with officials of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on February 23, 1989, during the Soviet leader's first visit to the plant since the April disaster 1986. © see.  samokhotsky / tass / afp

Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev (center) with officials of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on February 23, 1989, during the Soviet leader’s first visit to the plant since the April 1986 disaster © V. SAMOKHOTSKY / TASS / AFP

photo mikhail gorbachev and his wife raisa gorbacheva are greeted by east german leader erich honecker (right in photo) with a 'brotherly kiss' in east berlin, after the soviet leader arrived to celebrate the 40th anniversary of east berlin, october 6, 1989. © Reuters archives

Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa Gorbacheva are greeted by East German leader Erich Honecker (pictured right) with a ‘brotherly kiss’ in East Berlin, after the Soviet leader arrived to celebrate the 40th anniversary of East Berlin, October 6, 1989. © ARCHIVES REUTERS

A craftsman at the end of the Cold War

In November 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the warming and improvement of relations between the two blocs, and foreshadowed the end of the Cold War, which had been going on since 1947.

photo west berliners gather in front of the berlin wall, november 11, 1989, watching as east german border guards demolish part of the wall in order to open a new crossing point between berlin- east and west berlin, near potsdamer square.  © gerard malie / afp

West Berliners gather in front of the Berlin Wall, November 11, 1989, watching East German border guards demolish part of the wall in order to open a new crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin, near Potsdamer Square. © GERARD MALIE / AFP

In the West, whether it was German Chancellor Helmut Kohl – first head of the government of West Germany who would carry out German reunification in 1990 – or American President Ronald Reagan, the greats of the capitalist world are fascinated by this new interlocutor open to negotiation. “I like Mr. Gorbachev, he’s a man you can deal with,” was able to say of him the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

This respect will never disappear in the West because of its restraint when the Berlin Wall and the communist regimes of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland crumbled. He will be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

photo pope john paul ii (right) greets mikhail gorbachev on december 1, 1989, in rome, during a historic meeting at the vatican.  © derrick ceyrac / afp

Pope John Paul II (right) greets Mikhail Gorbachev on December 1, 1989, in Rome, during a historic meeting at the Vatican. © DERRICK CEYRAC / AFP

The leader of the fall of the USSR

But in June 1991, when Boris Yeltsin was elected President of Soviet Russia by universal suffrage, Mikhail Gorbachev tried to save the USSR by proposing greater internal autonomy. He failed in August 1991, when the hard line Communist Party attempted a putsch against him. But it is Boris Yeltsin who will be the hero of the resistance to this failed coup.

Already dying, the USSR disappeared in December when Russia, Belarus and Ukraine proclaimed that the Soviet Union ” does not exist anymore “. Mikhail Gorbachev resigns on December 25.

photo ussr president mikhail gorbachev checks his watch before a televised speech announcing his resignation in moscow, december 25, 1991. © vitaly armand / afp archives

USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev checks his watch before a televised speech announcing his resignation in Moscow, December 25, 1991. © VITALY ARMAND / AFP ARCHIVES

Unpopular with part of the Russians, Mikhail Gorbachev is, for them, responsible for the end of the great power status of their homeland.

However, in 1999, the Russian people showed him an outburst of sympathy after the death of his wife Raissa Gorbatcheva from leukemia, for whom he did not hesitate to show his love, contrary to Russian customs.

An advertisement for Pizza Hut

After coming to power, Mikhail Gorbachev appeared in several advertising campaigns for Western brands to raise money for his foundation, against the advice of those close to him.

His most memorable appearance is a Pizza Hut commercial in which he crosses Red Square to enter a restaurant of the famous American brand. Patrons there hotly debate Mikhail Gorbachev’s legacy, but ultimately rise to hail the fact that he has “brought Pizza Hut to Russia”.

photo mikhaïl gorbachev and his granddaughter anastasia, appearing in an advertisement for pizza hut, an american brand, filmed at the end of 1997 and broadcast at the beginning of 1998. © wtn / afp

Mikhail Gorbachev and his granddaughter Anastasia, appearing in an advertisement for Pizza Hut, an American brand, shot in late 1997 and broadcast in early 1998. © WTN / AFP

In 2007, he also appeared in a Louis Vuitton campaign, which showed him in the back of a car driving through Berlin, looking through the vehicle’s window at the remains of the Wall, a bag from the luxury brand by his side. .

Mikhail Gorbachev has been hailed by many tributes as a man of peace in Western countries, as well as by Vladimir Putin. His death comes in the midst of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, launched on February 24, and denounced as a resurgence of Russian imperialism. He had not spoken publicly on this subject.

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