This year it is 100 years since the Soviet Union was founded, and 25 years since it was abolished.

And tomorrow it is 32 years since Mikhail Gorbachev became its last leader.

There’s no doubt that he didn’t want or expect to be the last in the job but it’s worth remembering the excitement that surrounded “Gorby”, as he was soon being called.

He was of a new generation and the first leader to be born during the Soviet era. All his bushy-eyebrowed predecessors had been born in the time of the tsars.

He was warm, friendly and charismatic and let it be known that he wanted to introduce “glasnost”, or openness, and “perestroika”, or restructuring. Soon these two terms became two of the three Russian words everyone in the west knew, along with vodka.

Stephen Blease He changed the mood around the world. After 40 years of Cold War sabre-rattling and the ever-present threat of another world war, it really did seem as if peace lay ahead.

Both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher approved of him, with our prime minister describing him as “a man I can do business with”. Mr Gorbachev would have been pleased to know that he met with my approval as well.

As a teenage observer of world affairs I noticed he had one important characteristic no-one else seemed to comment on. He was bald – and I liked that in a Soviet leader.

Lenin was bald, and rightly or wrongly he was still widely revered in Russia, with portraits and statues everywhere. Married couples filed past his embalmed body in Red Square as if undergoing a religious experience.

Then his successor Stalin, who had a full head of hair, turned out to be brutal, paranoid and murderous.

Stalin was denounced by the bald Nikita Krushchev, who followed him. But then came Leonid Brezhnev, who retained all his hair and also retained a very tight grip on power.

When he died – or when the authorities admitted that he was dead – another slaphead, Yuri Andropov, took over. Andropov was regarded by the west as a reformer but he soon dropped off his perch and his successor, the hairier, Konstantin Chernenko, was an old stagnator in the Brezhnev mould.

Yeltsin had most of his hair too, so I was never entirely comfortable about him.

Gorbachev was the first leader to agree a deal with the west to remove an entire category of nuclear weapons. But what was just as important is that when some of the Soviet republics and other eastern European countries began demanding greater freedom, he didn’t stand in their way.

Sometimes it’s said that Reagan and Thatcher won the Cold War. But other than give Russia the occasional tongue-lashing they didn’t actually do anything. Gorbachev deserves the credit for bringing it to an end, precisely by doing nothing either. It might never have happened and certainly wouldn’t have happened when it did, without Gorbachev.

There are still statues of Lenin here and there in Russia but in most of eastern Europe he’s been pulled off his plinth. Maybe if those plinths are still there then Mikhail Gorbachev deserves to replace him.

I can’t think of anyone else who has ever done so much for that part of the world.