Soviet leaderWe are living in a world which is going through some very crucial changes. In December 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev traveled to the United States to speak at the United Nations and meet with outgoing President Ronald Reagan and President-elect George Bush. Three years earlier, despite being the youngest member of the Politburo, Gorbachev had been chosen to succeed Konstantin Chernenko as general secretary of the Communist Party. Inheriting a U.S.S.R. plagued with political and economic problems, Gorbachev introduced liberal policies such as glasnost, or ‘openness,’ and Perestroika, or ‘restructuring,’ in an attempt to revitalize Soviet socialism and society. In foreign affairs, he vastly improved relations with the United States and ended the Soviet Union's ten-year military involvement in Afghanistan. Beginning in 1989, Gorbachev chose not to interfere with the rapid movement for democratization in Eastern Europe, a peaceful gesture that, along with his decision to order the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. In August 1991, Communist hardliners in the Soviet government staged a coup against him, but popular protest led by Russian President Boris Yeltsin forced Gorbachev's safe return. In the aftermath of the failed coup, Gorbachev resigned as general secretary of the Communist Party. Control of the government shifted to the democratic-minded and popularly elected Yeltsin, who officially took over as the sole Russian leader following Gorbachev's resignation on December 25, 1991.