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Not many leaders of the former USSR can lay claim to that - and his appointment certainly signalled a massive change in his country and in world politics.
Mr Gorbachev's policies of openness or "glasnost", his political and economic reforms - "perestroika" - and his willingness to slow the nuclear arms race, opened the way to better relations with the West and the end of the Cold War.
But he also attracted a lot of criticism from communist hardliners within the USSR. He survived a coup in August 1991, but was forced to resign four months later.
Your thoughts on Mikhail Gorbachev and his legacy
I grew up in the 1970s as a Cold War child. I was very much influenced by the Western anti-Soviet propaganda, by movies like Rocky, etc.
I had clear ideas about who the bad and who the good guys were, but then Mr Gorbachev came to power and my mind started changing slowly but steadily. I saw a dynamic and extremely intelligent man who was no match for the dull Mr President [of the USA].
The Soviet Union and its people were different than the Western propaganda wanted us to believe, and I started to hope that the final bang would never come. Unluckily he did not come to power earlier. I think many things would have gone differently, for the better.
I would like to thank Mr Gorbachev, as he gave hope back to a 15-year-old.
Andreas R, Austria
Gorbachev was a great man, he was a man who saw tomorrow. The Russian people should blame Brezhnev for the downfall of Soviet government. To cite a few examples: the fruitless wars in Afghanistan and Eritrea waged by the Soviets during Brezhnev's rule.
I was only three years old at the time and living in Soviet Armenia. Gorbachev was named the new "dictator" and was all over the news. I asked my father who that man was, and my father, with a slight smirk replied, "Armenia will become free again."
I consider the tenure of Gorbachev as the world event which has most changed my outlook on life (I'm 48 now). The Cold War cast a shadow over the lives of many baby boomers and he ended that.
Pete Bos, France
He was one of the true selfless leaders. A politician to be admired. I hope he knows what an inspiration he was to people who believe in a better world.
Gorbachev's solemn and composed speech [at the break-up of the Soviet Union] is still vivid in my memory, as are many more things that happened in those months.
Having witnessed the collapse of the Soviet empire and having closely followed the developments in Russia since then I really feel that even now most of the Russian public hold him primarily responsible for the misdeeds and misfortunes of today.
Alas, it is a pity that this man's contribution to his country is more appreciated outside Russia than inside. But one thing is for sure - were it not for Gorby there would not have been a Yeltsin and there would not be a Putin today. I only hope time will judge objectively Gorbachev's deeds. It may be that what he did or tried to do was premature for this nation.
Balaji Natteri, Russia / India
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