In December of 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen separate countries. Its collapse was hailed by the west as a victory for freedom, a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism. The United States rejoiced as its formidable enemy was brought to its knees, thereby ending the Cold War. Indeed, the breakup of the Soviet Union transformed the entire world political situation, leading to a complete reformulation of political, economic and military alliances all over the globe.
The Soviet Union was built on approximately the same territory as the Russian Empire. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the newly-formed government developed a philosophy of socialism with the gradual transition to Communism. The state which the Bolsheviks created was intended to overcome national differences. This state, which was built on a Communist ideology, was eventually transformed into a totalitarian state.
This project of creating a unified, centralized socialist state proved problematic for several reasons. First, the Soviets underestimated the degree to which the non-Russian ethnic groups in the country would resist assimilation into a Russianized State. Second, their economic planning failed to meet the needs of the State, which was caught up in a vicious arms race with the United States. This led to gradual economic decline. Finally, the ideology of Communism, which the Soviet Government worked to instill in the hearts and minds of its population, never took firm root, and eventually lost whatever influence it had originally carried.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union began on the peripheries, in the non-Russian areas. The first region to produce mass, organized dissent was the Baltic region, where, in 1987, the government of Estonia demanded autonomy. This move was later followed by similar moves in Lithuania and Latvia, the other two Baltic republics. After the initiative from Estonia, similar movements sprang up all over the former Soviet Union.
Once this “Pandora’s box” had been opened, nationalist movements emerged in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Byelorussia, and the Central Asian republics. The power of the Central Government was considerably weakened by these movements; they could no longer rely on the cooperation of Government figures in the republics.
Finally, the situation came to a head in August of 1991. In a last-ditch effort to save the Soviet Union, which was floundering under the impact of the political movements which had emerged since the implementation of Gorbachev’s glasnost, a group of “hard-line” Communists organized a coup d’etat. They kidnapped Gorbachev, and then, on August 19 of 1991, they announced on state television that Gorbachev was very ill and would no longer be able to govern. The country went into an uproar. Massive protests were staged in Moscow, Leningrad, and many of the other major cities of the Soviet Union. When the coup organizers tried to bring in the military to quell the protestors, the soldiers themselves rebelled, saying that they could not fire on their fellow countrymen. After three days of massive protest, the coup organizers surrendered, realizing that without the cooperation of the military, they did not have the power to overcome the power of the entire population of the country.
After the failed coup attempt, it was only a few months until the Soviet Union completely collapsed. Gorbachev conceded power, realizing that he could no longer contain the power of the population. On December 25, 1991, he resigned. By January of 1992, by popular demand, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. In its place, a new entity was formed. It was called the “Commonwealth of Independent Republics,” and was composed of most of the independent countries of the former Soviet Union. While the member countries had complete political independence, they were linked to other Commonwealth countries by economic, and, in some cases, military ties.
Now that the Soviet Union, with its centralized political and economic system, has ceased to exist, the fifteen newly formed independent countries which emerged in its aftermath are faced with an overwhelming task. A number of wars have developed on the peripheries of the former Soviet Union. Additionally, the entire region is suffering a period of severe economic hardship. However, despite the many hardships facing the region, bold steps are being taken toward democratization, reorganization, and rebuilding in most of the countries of the former Soviet Union.
1. Armenia; 2. Azerbaijan; 3. Belarus; 4. Estonia;
5. Georgia; 6. Kazakhstan; 7. Kyrgyzstan; 8. Latvia;
9. Lithuania; 10. Moldova; 11. Russia; 12. Tajikistan;
13. Turkmenistan; 14. Ukraine; 15. Uzbekistan
“The Fall Of The Soviet Union: Whys And Wherefores” Raleigh Tavern. May 5, 2013. http://www.raleightavern.org/lovell.htm