His reign lasted only 6 1/2 years--barely 1 1/2 terms if measured by U.S. presidential standards--but in that brief span, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev did nothing less than reshape the global order.
He came to power in March, 1985, in a world where East was divided against West in a Cold War that had gone on for so long only dreamers could see beyond it.
Growing nuclear arsenals were the main currency in a superpower struggle that dictated much of global politics. Moscow pushed Communist revolutions in Africa, Asia and Latin America, even though the ideology had failed at home.
For most of those in the West, the Soviet Union was a cold, forbidding place, ruled for so long by a succession of aged, infirm, stone-faced dictators that few could remember the last time one smiled, let alone laughed.
President Ronald Reagan's description of an "Evil Empire" had an echo.
Gorbachev changed all that and more.
More than any other single individual, his bold decisions to break from the past helped end the Cold War, breach the Berlin Wall and bring freedom to the people of Eastern Europe in a series of mainly peaceful revolutions.
He pushed forward with arms control agreements, despite bitter opposition from his military, and, together with his handpicked foreign minister, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, forged qualitatively new foreign policies. He worked for warmer relations with the West, brought Moscow out of its long isolation in Asia by building new bridges to Japan, China and both Koreas. He pulled Soviet troops out of Afghanistan after nearly a decade-long occupation.
In the Middle East, Moscow worked with the United States for the first time in recent memory, initially presenting a common front in opposing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, then working jointly on a broader plan to resolve the longstanding Arab-Israeli dispute through an international peace conference.
Pro-Israeli groups in the United States on Monday urged Israel to reconsider its decision to attend the conference following Gorbachev's ouster.
At home, his policy of glasnost-- openness--brought the free exchange of ideas Gorbachev saw as vital to a successful economic revival. In the process, his policies transformed the basic ground rules of political debate in the Soviet Union, permitting a level of democratization the country had never known.
The fact that his successor, Gennady I. Yanayev, felt compelled to hold a news conference in Moscow only hours after seizing power suggests just how embedded the idea of glasnost has become.
Some believe Gorbachev was unleashing forces he little understood but was somehow compelled to act because he believed there was no other choice.
"He was a great Soviet patriot who understood his country's predicament--that it was in an irreversible decline," noted Michael Stuermer, director of a German government-financed think tank, the Ebenhausen Institute. "He felt he had to act, and he did."
Gorbachev won a Nobel Peace Prize and was easily among the most respected, trusted global political personalities.
But while his goal to create a safer world succeeded, the purpose of that goal--to reform a decaying Soviet economy by using money redirected from massive military spending--failed miserably.
During his years in office, Gorbachev's reforms had liberalized Soviet society but damaged its creaking economy to a point that it hardly functioned.
A brilliant tactician who was repeatedly able to turn short-term crises to his advantage, Gorbachev proved to be an unsuccessful strategist, unable to steer his nation on a coherent, viable path of long-term reform.
Suddenly, glasnost was a mixed blessing, providing a soap box for radical, nationalist voices and for radical conservatives urging his ouster.
Applauded, adored and honored abroad for his many achievements, he was ridiculed and gradually despised by an ever-growing number of Soviets, fed up with promises and reforms--known as perestroika --and a growing lack of foodstuffs and consumer goods.
Willing to junk communism in favor of large-scale political and economic reform in the former Soviet client states of Eastern Europe, Gorbachev was unable to make the same leap at home.
Shevardnadze, one of his closest allies, resigned in December, frustrated and disillusioned in part by the Soviet leader's inability to shake free from the influence of hard-liners. In a dramatic parliamentary speech, he warned of an approaching dictatorship.
Then last Friday, the chief architect of glasnost , Alexander N. Yakovlev, quit the Communist Party, also warning of a Stalinist-style coup.
By clinging to the idea that some kind of reformed communism could cure Soviet ills, Gorbachev became isolated between radical reformers pressing for further liberalization and a conservative party hierarchy and the military who saw his policies as a betrayal of the revolution.
"In the summer of 1989, he understood it was impossible to reform the Communist parties of Eastern Europe, and he acted decisively in favor of the forces of democracy," noted Francois Heisbourg, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "His basic shortcoming was that he couldn't do this domestically . . . and realize that what was good for the goose was good for the gander."
Whatever happens domestically, Gorbachev's principal legacy is likely to be his foreign policy successes.
While Gorbachev scored many foreign policy triumphs during his years in power, nowhere was the impact of his actions or the importance of his personality greater than in Europe.
Just how great the "Gorby factor" was as a source of confidence and stability for Europe could be measured Monday on the panicked faces and sliding prices that characterized stock exchanges and money markets of the Continent's financial capitals.
In Frankfurt, financial center of Europe's richest country, Germany, the DAX index dropped nearly 10%, and the Bundesbank intervened to prop up a fast-sliding mark.
While some economists said the market drops reflected the uncertainty after Gorbachev's ouster, they also were a demonstration of how much business confidence rested simply on the presence of the former Soviet leader.
"The main problem is psychological," said Berliner Bank economist Axel von Zamisk. "The reform process cannot be turned back in Eastern Europe. The Soviets no longer have the power to do that."
For Europeans, both East and West, he was more than a Kremlin boss who could smile. He was a leader whose ideas meant greater freedom to those in the East and an easing of a direct military threat in the West. Largely because of this, he enjoyed an unparalleled universal popularity, even in the years before the Berlin Wall fell.
To those in the still-Communist East, he personified a new hope, especially among young people. "After all those old men, there was suddenly someone there we could be proud of," recalled a young east German and former Communist Party member.
Students in Prague, East Berlin and other East Bloc cities chanted his name in protests against their aging Communist leaderships. In June, 1987, for example, 2 1/2 years before the Berlin Wall came down, a large crowd of East German young people gathered near the wall to listen to a rock concert staged in the western part of the city by David Bowie and Phil Collins.
As East German police tried to force them out of earshot, the young rock fans appealed over the head of the country's own aged hierarchy. "Gorbachev, Gorbachev, Gorbachev," they shouted.
Gorbachev had a similar hold on the West European public, especially in West Germany, where Soviet hard-liners such as the late former Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko had for years stoked German angst with veiled threats of a more frigid Cold War.
"Gorbymania" may have struck New York and Washington, D.C., during the Soviet leader's visits to those cities, but it took on epidemic proportions in West Germany.
"To suddenly have someone who thought and dealt with people in a Western style and manner was a tremendous source of comfort," commented Thomas Kielinger, editor of the Bonn-based weekly Rheinische Merkur. "He wasn't threatening, he was rational and he had something to say that made sense."
The subsequent collapse of the Berlin Wall and German unification was a consolidation of this popularity.
In a personal meeting, Gorbachev warned the aging, out-of-touch East German party leader Erich Honecker to begin reforms or face the consequences. "History punishes those who hesitate," he told Honecker.
He reportedly followed that warning with one to Honecker's eventual successor, Egon Krenz, that the Soviets would offer no military help if the East German regime attempted to crush growing resistance by force.
The hard-line Czechoslovak Communist leadership of Milos Jakes was given a similar message a few weeks later as students sparked mass demonstrations in Prague that eventually toppled a neo-Stalinist regime there.
Gorbachev first showed his colors by personally intervening in the crisis that followed a humiliating defeat of Communist candidates in Poland's 1989 parliamentary elections, at least indirectly paving the way for the selection of Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a non-Communist editor of Solidarity's weekly newspaper, as prime minister.
"He either had to repress these reform movements and turn the clock back or release the brake and let the revolutions go," said Heisbourg. "Once he allowed non-Communists to take power in Poland, the decision was made."
The Soviet leader's actions during the fall of 1989 lifted him to a new level of popularity in Europe.
In a major survey of European attitudes that the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press conducted late last spring, Gorbachev was easily the most popular global political figure among Germans, with 87% of those in the formerly Communist East and 86% of those in the West holding very favorable or mostly favorable opinions.
This personal popularity generated a groundswell of goodwill in Germany that last winter helped generate the country's biggest food relief effort ever for hard-pressed Soviets.
It also gave the necessary public support to Chancellor Helmut Kohl's program to provide Moscow with more than $13 billion in bilateral aid last year alone and to push Germany's Western partners to also do more for Moscow.
As the Soviet reforms sputtered, Kohl's appeal--to include the Soviet president at last month's London summit of the seven leading industrial nations, for example--was based largely on the need to back Gorbachev personally.
With Gorbachev gone, it is unclear whether Kohl can continue such a policy of openly advocating such help for the Soviets.
Certainly, West European industry, including Germany's major exporters, had become disillusioned with the medium term outlook in the Soviet Union, and much of the support that remained was based in part on the perceived need to steady Gorbachev.
Unlike his predecessors, Gorbachev developed personal relationships with West European leaders that were to become pivotal in his efforts to win the hard currency aid considered vital for his reforms.
His first convert was the most unlikely of all: the hard-nosed, arch-conservative British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who quickly pronounced him "a man one can do business with."
Her support was crucial because of her close ties with former President Reagan.
Although the cartoonists of Britain's freewheeling press had a field day sketching various versions of Thatcher being swept off her feet by the charming Soviet leader, her support never wavered.
On Monday, Thatcher's successor, John Major, endorsed her initial assessment.
"I hope there is no doubt in anyone's mind about the enormous contributions that he's made over recent years, both to the prospects for people within the Soviet Union and for the rapprochement that has taken place between East and West as a result of his efforts. . . ," he said.
French President Francois Mitterrand felt confident enough of his ties with Gorbachev that, shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, he reportedly turned to the Soviet leader to work with him to block German unity--an idea that Gorbachev is said to have rebuffed.
He later forged a similar relationship with Kohl as the two men last year cleared the toughest roadblocks in the way of German unification. That agreement led to generous German aid and credits.
At a news conference in Bonn on Monday, Kohl noted that during the many meetings since Gorbachev's first visit to West Germany in June, 1989, the two leaders had developed "a very strong personal relationship."
The chancellor made a personal plea for Gorbachev's safety.
"We anticipate that the personal well-being will be guaranteed for Mr. Gorbachev, a man who has made a decisive contribution toward peace and enjoys great respect and prestige in the world," Kohl said.