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The dissolution of the Soviet Union [1] was the process of internal disintegration within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) which began in second half of the 1980s with growing unrest in the national republics and ended on 26 December 1991, when the USSR itself was voted out of existence by the Supreme Soviet, following the Belavezha Accords. Declaration number 142-Н by the Supreme Soviet resulted in self-governing independence to the Republics of the USSR, formally dissolving the USSR.[2] The declaration acknowledged the independence of the former Soviet republics and created the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), although five of the signatories ratified it much later or did not do so at all. On the previous day, 25 December, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and final leader of the USSR, resigned, declared his office extinct and handed over its powers—including control of the Soviet nuclear missile launching codes—to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. That evening at 7:32 p.m., the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time and replaced with the pre-revolutionary Russian flag.[3]

Previously, from August to December, all the individual republics, including Russia itself, had either seceded from the union or at the very least denounced the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR. The week before formal dissolution, eleven republics signed the Alma-Ata Protocol formally establishing the CIS and declaring that the USSR had ceased to exist.[4][3] Both the Revolutions of 1989 and the dissolution of the USSR also marked the end of the Cold War.

Several of the former Soviet republics have retained close links with the Russian Federation and formed multilateral organizations such as the Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Economic Community, the Union State, the Eurasian Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union to enhance economic and security cooperation. On the other hand, the Baltic states have joined NATO and the European Union.

1985


Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by the Politburo on March 11, 1985, three hours after predecessor Konstantin Chernenko's death at age 73. Gorbachev, aged 54, was the youngest member of the Politburo. His initial goal as general secretary was to revive the Soviet economy, and he realized that doing so would require reforming underlying political and social structures.[5] The reforms began with personnel changes of senior Brezhnev-era officials who would impede political and economic change.[6] On April 23, 1985, Gorbachev brought two protégés, Yegor Ligachev and Nikolai Ryzhkov, into the Politburo as full members. He kept the "power" ministries happy by promoting KGB Head Viktor Chebrikov from candidate to full member and appointing Minister of Defence Marshal Sergei Sokolov as a Politburo candidate.

This liberalization, however, fostered nationalist movements and ethnic disputes within the Soviet Union.[7] It also led indirectly to the revolutions of 1989, in which Soviet-imposed socialist regimes of the Warsaw Pact were toppled peacefully (with the notable exception of Romania),[8] which in turn increased pressure on Gorbachev to introduce greater democracy and autonomy for the Soviet Union's constituent republics. Under Gorbachev's leadership, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1989 introduced limited competitive elections to a new central legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies[9] (although the ban on other political parties was not lifted until 1990).[10]

In May 1985, Gorbachev delivered a speech in Leningrad advocating reforms and an anti-alcohol campaign to tackle widespread alcoholism. Prices of vodka, wine, and beer were raised, which was intended to discourage drinking by increasing the cost of liquor. A rationing program was also introduced, where citizens were assigned punch cards detailing how much liquor they could buy in a certain time frame. Unlike most forms of rationing, which is typically adopted as a strategy to conserve scarce goods, this was done to restrict sales with the overt goal of curtailing drunkenness.[11] Gorbachev's plan also included billboards promoting sobriety, increased penalties for public drunkenness, and censorship of drinking scenes from old movies. This mirrored Tsar Nicholas II's program during the First World War, which was intended to eradicate drunkenness in order to bolster the war effort. However, that earlier effort was also intended to preserve grain for only the most essential purposes, which did not appear to be a goal in Gorbachev's program. Gorbachev soon faced the same adverse economic reaction to his prohibition as did the last Tsar. The disincentivization of alcohol consumption was a serious blow to the state budget according to Alexander Yakovlev, who noted annual collections of alcohol taxes decreased by 100 billion rubles. Alcohol sales migrated to the black market and moonshining became more prevalent as some made "bathtub vodka" with homegrown potatoes. Poorer, less educated Soviets resorted to drinking unhealthy substitutes such as nail-polish remover, rubbing alcohol, or men's cologne, resulting in an additional burden on Russia's healthcare sector due to the increased poisoning cases.[11] The underlying purpose of these reforms was to prop up the existing command economy, in contrast to later reforms, which tended toward market socialism.

On July 1, 1985, Gorbachev promoted Eduard Shevardnadze, First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, to full member of the Politburo, and the following day appointed him minister of foreign affairs, replacing longtime Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. The latter, disparaged as "Mr Nyet" in the West, had served for 28 years as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Gromyko was relegated to the largely ceremonial position of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (officially Soviet Head of State), as he was considered an "old thinker". Also on July 1, Gorbachev sidelined his main rival by removing Grigory Romanov from the Politburo and he brought Boris Yeltsin and Lev Zaikov into the CPSU Central Committee Secretariat.

In the fall of 1985, Gorbachev continued to bring younger and more energetic men into government.

1986


Gorbachev continued to press for greater liberalization.

The Baltic republics, forcibly reincorporated into the Soviet Union in 1944,[13] pressed for independence, beginning with Estonia in November 1988 when the Estonian legislature passed laws resisting the control of the central government.[14] While Gorbachev had loosened Soviet control over Eastern Europe, he had made it known that Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian separatism would not be tolerated and be met with embargoes and force if need be, as there was a tacit agreement in the Politboro of the infeasibility of using force to keep Poland and Czechoslovakia communist, but said loss of power would not extend into the USSR itself.[15]

The CTAG (Latvian: Cilvēktiesību aizstāvības grupa, Human Rights Defense Group) Helsinki-86 was founded in July 1986 in the Latvian port town of Liepāja by three workers: Linards Grantiņš, Raimonds Bitenieks, and Mārtiņš Bariss. Its name refers to the human-rights statements of the Helsinki Accords. Helsinki-86 was the first openly anti-Communist organization in the U.S.S.R., and the first openly organized opposition to the Soviet regime, setting an example for other ethnic minorities' pro-independence movements.[16]

On December 26, 1986, in the early morning hours after a rock concert, 300 working-class Latvian youths gathered in Riga's Cathedral Square and marched down Lenin Avenue toward the Freedom Monument, shouting, "Soviet Russia out!

The "Jeltoqsan" (Kazakh for "December") of 1986 were riots in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, sparked by Gorbachev's dismissal of Dinmukhamed Konayev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and an ethnic Kazakh, who was replaced with Gennady Kolbin, an outsider from the Russian SFSR.[18] Demonstrations started in the morning of December 17, 1986, with 200 to 300 students in front of the Central Committee building on Brezhnev Square protesting Konayev's dismissal and replacement by a Russian. Protesters swelled to 1,000 then to 5,000 as other students joined the crowd. The CPK Central Committee ordered troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, druzhiniki (volunteers), cadets, policemen, and the KGB to cordon the square and videotape the participants. The situation escalated around 5 p.m., as troops were ordered to disperse the protesters. Clashes between the security forces and the demonstrators continued throughout the night in Almaty.

On the next day, December 18, protests turned into civil unrest as clashes between troops, volunteers, militia units, and Kazakh students turned into a wide-scale confrontation.

1987


At the January 28–30, 1987, Central Committee plenum, Gorbachev suggested a new policy of demokratizatsiya throughout Soviet society. He proposed that future Communist Party elections should offer a choice between multiple candidates, elected by secret ballot. However, the CPSU delegates at the Plenum watered down Gorbachev's proposal, and democratic choice within the Communist Party was never significantly implemented.

Gorbachev also radically expanded the scope of Glasnost, stating that no subject was off-limits for open discussion in the media. Even so, the cautious Soviet intelligentsia took almost a year to begin pushing the boundaries to see if he meant what he said. For the first time, the Communist Party leader had appealed over the heads of Central Committee members for the people's support in exchange for expansion of liberties. The tactic proved successful: Within two years political reform could no longer be sidetracked by party conservatives. An unintended consequence was that having saved reform, Gorbachev's move ultimately killed the very system it was designed to save.[23]

On February 7, 1987, dozens of political prisoners were freed in the first group release since the Khrushchev Thaw in the mid-1950s.[24] On May 6, 1987, Pamyat, a Russian nationalist group, held an unsanctioned demonstration in Moscow. The authorities did not break up the demonstration and even kept traffic out of the demonstrators' way while they marched to an impromptu meeting with Boris Yeltsin, head of the Moscow Communist Party and at the time one of Gorbachev's closest allies.[25] On July 25, 1987, 300 Crimean Tatars staged a noisy demonstration near the Kremlin Wall for several hours, calling for the right to return to their homeland, from which they were deported in 1944; police and soldiers merely looked on.[26]

On September 10, 1987, after a lecture from hardliner Yegor Ligachev at the Politburo for allowing these two unsanctioned demonstrations in Moscow, Boris Yeltsin wrote a letter of resignation to Gorbachev, who had been holidaying on the Black Sea.[27] Gorbachev was stunned – no one had ever voluntarily resigned from the Politburo. At the October 27, 1987 plenary meeting of the Central Committee, Yeltsin, frustrated that Gorbachev had not addressed any of the issues outlined in his resignation letter, criticized the slow pace of reform, servility to the general secretary, and opposition from Ligachev that had led to his (Yeltsin's) resignation.[28][28] ws of Yeltsin's insubordination and "secret speech" spread, and soon samizdat versions began to circulate. This marked the beginning of Yeltsin's rebranding as a rebel and rise in popularity as an anti-establishment figure. The following four years of political struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev played a large role in the dissolution of the USSR.[29] On November 11, 1987, Yeltsin was fired from the post of First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party.

On August 23, 1987, the 48th anniversary of the secret protocols of the 1939 Molotov Pact between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin that ultimately turned the then-independent Baltic states over to the Soviet Union, thousands of demonstrators marked the occasion in the three Baltic capitals to sing independence songs and attend speeches commemorating Stalin's victims. The gatherings were sharply denounced in the official press and closely watched by the police but were not interrupted.[30]

On June 14, 1987, about 5,000 people gathered again at Freedom Monument in Riga, and laid flowers to commemorate the anniversary of Stalin's mass deportation of Latvians in 1941. This was the first large demonstration in the Baltic republics to commemorate the anniversary of an event contrary to official Soviet history. The authorities did not crack down on demonstrators, which encouraged more and larger demonstrations throughout the Baltic States. The next major anniversary after the August 23 Molotov Pact demonstration was on November 18, the date of Latvia's independence in 1918. On November 18, 1987, hundreds of police and civilian militiamen cordoned off the central square to prevent any demonstration at Freedom Monument, but thousands lined the streets of Riga in silent protest regardless.[31]

In spring 1987, a protest movement arose against new phosphate mines in Estonia. Signatures were collected in Tartu, and students assembled in the university's main hall to express lack of confidence in the government. At a demonstration on May 1, 1987, young people showed up with banners and slogans despite an official ban. On August 15, 1987, former political prisoners formed the MRP-AEG group (Estonians for the Public Disclosure of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), which was headed by Tiit Madisson. In September 1987, the Edasi newspaper published a proposal by Edgar Savisaar, Siim Kallas, Tiit Made, and Mikk Titma calling for Estonia's transition to autonomy. Initially geared toward economic independence, then toward a certain amount of political autonomy, the project, Isemajandav Eesti ("A Self-Managing Estonia") became known according to its Estonian acronym, IME, which means "miracle". On October 21, a demonstration dedicated to those who gave their lives in the 1918–1920 Estonian War of Independence took place in Võru, which culminated in a conflict with the militia. For the first time in years, the blue, black, and white national tricolor was publicly displayed.[32]

First anti-Soviet protests in Lithuania took place on August 23, 1987.

On October 17, 1987, about 3,000 Armenians demonstrated in Yerevan complaining about the condition of Lake Sevan, the Nairit chemicals plant, and the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant, and air pollution in Yerevan. Police tried to prevent the protest but took no action to stop it once the march was underway. The demonstration was led by Armenian writers such as Silva Kaputikian, Zori Balayan, and Maro Margarian and leaders from the National Survival organization. The march originated at the Opera Plaza after speakers, mainly intellectuals, addressed the crowd.[33]

The following day 1,000 Armenians participated in another demonstration calling for Armenian national rights in Karabagh. The demonstrators demanded the annexation of Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, and carried placards to that effect. The police tried to physically prevent the march and after a few incidents, dispersed the demonstrators. Nagorno-Karabakh would break out in violence the following year.[33]

1988


In 1988, Gorbachev started to lose control of two regions of the Soviet Union, as the Baltic republics were now leaning towards independence, and the Caucasus descended into violence and civil war.

On July 1, 1988, the fourth and last day of a bruising 19th Party Conference, Gorbachev won the backing of the tired delegates for his last-minute proposal to create a new supreme legislative body called the Congress of People's Deputies. Frustrated by the old guard's resistance, Gorbachev embarked on a set of constitutional changes to attempt separation of party and state, thereby isolating his conservative Party opponents. Detailed proposals for the new Congress of People's Deputies were published on October 2, 1988,[34] and to enable the creation of the new legislature. The Supreme Soviet, during its November 29 – December 1, 1988, session, implemented amendments to the 1977 Soviet Constitution, enacted a law on electoral reform, and set the date of the election for March 26, 1989.[35]

On November 29, 1988, the Soviet Union ceased to jam all foreign radio stations, allowing Soviet citizens for the first time since a brief period in the 1960s to have unrestricted access to news sources beyond Communist Party control.[36]

In 1986 and 1987, Latvia had been in the vanguard of the Baltic states in pressing for reform.

The Estonian Popular Front was founded in April 1988. On June 16, 1988, Gorbachev replaced Karl Vaino, the "old guard" leader of the Communist Party of Estonia, with the comparatively liberal Vaino Väljas.[37] In late June 1988, Väljas bowed to pressure from the Estonian Popular Front and legalized the flying of the old blue-black-white flag of Estonia, and agreed to a new state language law that made Estonian the official language of the Republic.[17]

On October 2, the Popular Front formally launched its political platform at a two-day congress.

The Latvian Popular Front was founded in June 1988. On October 4, Gorbachev replaced Boris Pugo, the "old guard" leader of the Communist Party of Latvia, with the more liberal Jānis Vagris. In October 1988 Vagris bowed to pressure from the Latvian Popular Front and legalized flying the former carmine red-and-white flag of independent Latvia, and on October 6 he passed a law making Latvian the country's official language.[17]

The Popular Front of Lithuania, called Sąjūdis ("Movement"), was founded in May 1988. On October 19, 1988, Gorbachev replaced Ringaudas Songaila, the "old guard" leader of the Communist Party of Lithuania, with the relatively liberal Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas. In October 1988 Brazauskas bowed to pressure from Sąjūdis and legalized the flying of the historic yellow-green-red flag of independent Lithuania, and in November 1988 passed a law making Lithuanian the country's official language and the former national anthem Tautiška giesmė was later reinstated.[17]

On February 20, 1988, after a week of growing demonstrations in Stepanakert, capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (the Armenian majority area within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic), the Regional Soviet voted to secede and join with the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia.[41] This local vote in a small, remote part of the Soviet Union made headlines around the world; it was an unprecedented defiance of republican and national authorities. On February 22, 1988, in what became known as the "Askeran clash", thousands of Azerbaijanis marched towards Nagorno-Karabakh, demanding information about rumors of an Azerbaijani having been killed in Stepanakert. They were informed that no such incident had occurred, but refused to believe it. Dissatisfied with what they were told, thousands began marching toward Nagorno-Karabakh, massacring 50 Armenian villagers in the process.[42][43] Karabakh authorities mobilised over a thousand police to stop the march, with the resulting clashes leaving two Azerbaijanis dead. These deaths, announced on state radio, led to the Sumgait Pogrom. Between February 26 and March 1, the city of Sumgait (Azerbaijan) saw violent anti-Armenian rioting during which 32 people were killed. The authorities totally lost control and occupied the city with paratroopers and tanks; nearly all of the 14,000 Armenian residents of Sumgait fled.[44]

Gorbachev refused to make any changes to the status of Nagorno Karabakh, which remained part of Azerbaijan.

The rebellion of fellow Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh had an immediate effect in Armenia itself. Daily demonstrations, which began in the Armenian capital Yerevan on February 18, initially attracted few people, but each day the Nagorno-Karabakh issue became increasingly prominent and numbers swelled. On February 20, a 30,000-strong crowd demonstrated in the Theater Square, by February 22, there were 100,000, the next day 300,000, and a transport strike was declared, by February 25, there were close to 1 million demonstrators—more than a quarter of Armenia's population.[44] This was the first of the large, peaceful public demonstrations that would become a feature of communism's overthrow in Prague, Berlin, and, ultimately, Moscow. Leading Armenian intellectuals and nationalists, including future first president of independent Armenia Levon Ter-Petrossian, formed the eleven-member Karabakh Committee to lead and organize the new movement.

Gorbachev again refused to make any changes to the status of Nagorno Karabakh, which remained part of Azerbaijan.

On December 7, 1988, the Spitak earthquake struck, killing an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 people. When Gorbachev rushed back from a visit to the United States, he was so angered to be confronted by protesters calling for Nagorno-Karabakh to be made part of the Armenian Republic during a natural disaster that on December 11, 1988 ordered the entire Karabakh Committee to be arrested.[56]

In Tbilisi, capital of Soviet Georgia, many demonstrators camped out in front of the republic's legislature in November 1988 calling for Georgia's independence and in support of Estonia's declaration of sovereignty.[57]

Beginning in February 1988, the Democratic Movement of Moldova (formerly Moldavia) organized public meetings, demonstrations, and song festivals, which gradually grew in size and intensity. In the streets, the center of public manifestations was the Stephen the Great Monument in Chişinău, and the adjacent park harboring Aleea Clasicilor (The "Alley of Classics [of Literature]"). On January 15, 1988, in a tribute to Mihai Eminescu at his bust on the Aleea Clasicilor, Anatol Şalaru submitted a proposal to continue the meetings. In the public discourse, the movement called for national awakening, freedom of speech, revival of Moldavian traditions, and for attainment of official status for the Romanian language and return to the Latin alphabet. The transition from "movement" (an informal association) to "front" (a formal association) was seen as a natural "upgrade" once a movement gained momentum with the public, and the Soviet authorities no longer dared to crack down on it.

On April 26, 1988, about 500 people participated in a march organized by the Ukrainian Cultural Club on Kiev's Khreschatyk Street to mark the second anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, carrying placards with slogans like "Openness and Democracy to the End." Between May and June 1988, Ukrainian Catholics in western Ukraine celebrated the Millennium of Christianity in Kievan Rus' in secret by holding services in the forests of Buniv, Kalush, Hoshiv, and Zarvanytsia. On June 5, 1988, as the official celebrations of the Millennium were held in Moscow, the Ukrainian Cultural Club hosted its own observances in Kiev at the monument to St. Volodymyr the Great, the grand prince of Kievan Rus'.

On June 16, 1988, 6,000 to 8,000 people gathered in Lviv to hear speakers declare no confidence in the local list of delegates to the 19th Communist Party conference, to begin on June 29.

On November 13, 1988, approximately 10,000 people attended an officially sanctioned meeting organized by the cultural heritage organization Spadschyna, the Kyiv University student club Hromada, and the environmental groups Zelenyi Svit ("Green World") and Noosfera, to focus on ecological issues. From November 14–18, 15 Ukrainian activists were among the 100 human-, national- and religious-rights advocates invited to discuss human rights with Soviet officials and a visiting delegation of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the Helsinki Commission). On December 10, hundreds gathered in Kiev to observe International Human Rights Day at a rally organized by the Democratic Union. The unauthorized gathering resulted in the detention of local activists.[58]

The Partyja BPF (Belarusian Popular Front) was established in 1988 as a political party and cultural movement for democracy and independence, à la the Baltic republics’ popular fronts. The discovery of mass graves in Kurapaty outside Minsk by historian Zianon Pazniak, the Belarusian Popular Front's first leader, gave additional momentum to the pro-democracy and pro-independence movement in Belarus.[59] It claimed that the NKVD performed secret killings in Kurapaty.[60] Initially the Front had significant visibility because its numerous public actions almost always ended in clashes with the police and the KGB.

1989


Spring 1989 saw the people of the Soviet Union exercising a democratic choice, albeit limited, for the first time since 1917, when they elected the new Congress of People's Deputies.

This was also the year that CNN became the first non-Soviet broadcaster allowed to beam its TV news programs to Moscow. Officially, CNN was available only to foreign guests in the Savoy Hotel, but Muscovites quickly learned how to pick up signals on their home televisions. That had a major impact on how Soviets saw events in their country, and made censorship almost impossible.[61]

The month-long nomination period for candidates for the Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR lasted until January 24, 1989. For the next month, selection among the 7,531 district nominees took place at meetings organized by constituency-level electoral commissions. On March 7, a final list of 5,074 candidates was published; about 85% were Party members.

In the two weeks prior to the 1,500 district polls, elections to fill 750 reserved seats of public organizations, contested by 880 candidates, were held.

In the March 26 general elections, voter participation was an impressive 89.8%, and 1,958 (including 1,225 district seats) of the 2,250 CPD seats were filled.

In the first session of the new Congress of People's Deputies, from May 25 to June 9, hardliners retained control but reformers used the legislature as a platform for debate and criticism – which was broadcast live and uncensored.

On May 30, 1989, Gorbachev proposed that nationwide local elections, scheduled for November 1989, be postponed until early 1990 because there were still no laws governing the conduct of such elections.

On October 25, 1989, the Supreme Soviet voted to eliminate special seats for the Communist Party and other official organizations in national and local elections, responding to sharp popular criticism that such reserved slots were undemocratic.

The vote expanded the power of republics in local elections, enabling them to decide for themselves how to organize voting.

The six Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe, while nominally independent, were widely recognized as the Soviet satellite states. All had been occupied by the Soviet Red Army in 1945, had Soviet-style socialist states imposed upon them, and had very restricted freedom of action in either domestic or international affairs. Any moves towards real independence were suppressed by military force – in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968. Gorbachev abandoned the oppressive and expensive Brezhnev Doctrine, which mandated intervention in the Warsaw Pact states, in favor of non-intervention in the internal affairs of allies – jokingly termed the Sinatra Doctrine in a reference to the Frank Sinatra song "My Way". Poland was the first republic to democratize following the enactment of the April Novelization, as agreed upon following the Polish Round Table Agreement talks from February to April between the government and the Solidarity trade union, and soon the Pact began to dissolve itself. The last of the countries to end communism, Romania, only did so following the violent Romanian Revolution.

The Baltic Way or Baltic Chain (also Chain of Freedom Estonian: Balti kett, Latvian: Baltijas ceļš, Lithuanian: Baltijos kelias, Russian: Балтийский путь) was a peaceful political demonstration on August 23, 1989.[66] An estimated 2 million people joined hands to form a human chain extending 600 kilometres (370 mi) across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which had been forcibly reincorporated into the Soviet Union in 1944. The colossal demonstration marked the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact that divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence and led to the occupation of the Baltic states in 1940.

Just months after the Baltic Way protests, in December 1989, the Congress of People's Deputies accepted—and Gorbachev signed—the report by the Yakovlev Commission condemning the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact which led to the annexations of the three Baltic republics.[67]

In the March 1989 elections to the Congress of Peoples Deputies, 36 of the 42 deputies from Lithuania were candidates from the independent national movement Sąjūdis. This was the greatest victory for any national organization within the USSR and was a devastating revelation to the Lithuanian Communist Party of its growing unpopularity.[68]

On December 7, 1989, the Communist Party of Lithuania under the leadership of Algirdas Brazauskas, split from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and abandoned its claim to have a constitutional "leading role" in politics. A smaller loyalist faction of the Communist Party, headed by hardliner Mykolas Burokevičius, was established and remained affiliated with the CPSU. However, Lithuania's governing Communist Party was formally independent from Moscow's control – a first for Soviet Republics and a political earthquake that prompted Gorbachev to arrange a visit to Lithuania the following month in a futile attempt to bring the local party back under control.[69] The following year, the Communist Party lost power altogether in multiparty parliamentary elections which had caused Vytautas Landsbergis to become the first non-Communist leader (Chairman of the Supreme Council of Lithuania) of Lithuania since its forced incorporation into the USSR.

On July 16, 1989, the Popular Front of Azerbaijan held its first congress and elected Abulfaz Elchibey, who would become President, as its chairman.[70] On August 19, 600,000 protesters jammed Baku's Lenin Square (now Azadliq Square) to demand the release of political prisoners.[71] In the second half of 1989, weapons were handed out in Nagorno-Karabakh. When Karabakhis got hold of small arms to replace hunting rifles and crossbows, casualties began to mount; bridges were blown up, roads were blockaded, and hostages were taken.[44]

In a new and effective tactic, the Popular Front launched a rail blockade of Armenia,[73] which caused petrol and food shortages because 85 percent of Armenia's freight came from Azerbaijan.[44] Under pressure from the Popular Front the Communist authorities in Azerbaijan started making concessions. On September 25, they passed a sovereignty law that gave precedence to Azerbaijani law, and on October 4, the Popular Front was permitted to register as a legal organization as long as it lifted the blockade. Transport communications between Azerbaijan and Armenia never fully recovered.[44] Tensions continued to escalate and on December 29, Popular Front activists seized local party offices in Jalilabad, wounding dozens.

On May 31, 1989, the 11 members of the Karabakh Committee, who had been imprisoned without trial in Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina prison, were released, and returned home to a hero's welcome.[75] Soon after his release, Levon Ter-Petrossian, an academic, was elected chairman of the anti-communist opposition Pan-Armenian National Movement, and later stated that it was in 1989 that he first began considering full independence as his goal.[76]

On April 7, 1989, Soviet troops and armored personnel carriers were sent to Tbilisi after more than 100,000 people protested in front of Communist Party headquarters with banners calling for Georgia to secede from the Soviet Union and for Abkhazia to be fully integrated into Georgia.[77] On April 9, 1989, troops attacked the demonstrators; some 20 people were killed and more than 200 wounded.[78][79] This event radicalized Georgian politics, prompting many to conclude that independence was preferable to continued Soviet rule. On April 14, Gorbachev removed Jumber Patiashvili as First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party and replaced him with former Georgian KGB chief Givi Gumbaridze.

On July 16, 1989, in Abkhazia's capital Sukhumi, a protest against the opening of a Georgian university branch in the town led to violence that quickly degenerated into a large-scale inter-ethnic confrontation in which 18 died and hundreds were injured before Soviet troops restored order.[80] This riot marked the start of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

In the March 26, 1989, elections to the Congress of People's Deputies, 15 of the 46 Moldavian deputies sent to Moscow were supporters of the Nationalist/Democratic movement.[81] The Popular Front of Moldova founding congress took place two months later, on May 20, 1989. During its second congress (June 30 – July 1, 1989), Ion Hadârcă was elected its president.

A series of demonstrations that became known as the Grand National Assembly (Romanian: Marea Adunare Naţională) was the Front's first major achievement. Such mass demonstrations, including one attended by 300,000 people on August 27,[82] convinced the Moldavian Supreme Soviet on August 31 to adopt the language law making Romanian the official language, and replacing the Cyrillic alphabet with Latin characters.[83]

In Ukraine, Lviv and Kiev celebrated Ukrainian Independence Day on January 22, 1989. Thousands gathered in Lviv for an unauthorized moleben (religious service) in front of St. George's Cathedral. In Kiev, 60 activists met in a Kiev apartment to commemorate the proclamation of the Ukrainian People's Republic in 1918. On February 11–12, 1989, the Ukrainian Language Society held its founding congress. On February 15, 1989, the formation of the Initiative Committee for the Renewal of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was announced. The program and statutes of the movement were proposed by the Writers Union of Ukraine and were published in the journal Literaturna Ukraina on February 16, 1989. The organization heralded Ukrainian dissidents such as Vyacheslav Chornovil.

In late February, large public rallies took place in Kiev to protest the election laws, on the eve of the March 26 elections to the USSR Congress of People's Deputies, and to call for the resignation of the first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, lampooned as "the mastodon of stagnation". The demonstrations coincided with a visit to Ukraine by Soviet President Gorbachev. On February 26, 1989, between 20,000 and 30,000 people participated in an unsanctioned ecumenical memorial service in Lviv, marking the anniversary of the death of 19th-century Ukrainian artist and nationalist Taras Shevchenko.

On March 4, 1989, the Memorial Society, committed to honoring the victims of Stalinism and cleansing society of Soviet practices, was founded in Kiev.

From April 20–23, 1989, pre-election meetings were held in Lviv for four consecutive days, drawing crowds of up to 25,000.

From mid-May to September 1989, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic hunger strikers staged protests on Moscow's Arbat to call attention to the plight of their Church. They were especially active during the July session of the World Council of Churches held in Moscow. The protest ended with the arrests of the group on September 18. On May 27, 1989, the founding conference of the Lviv regional Memorial Society was held. On June 18, 1989, an estimated 100,000 faithful participated in public religious services in Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, responding to Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky's call for an international day of prayer.

On August 19, 1989, the Russian Orthodox Parish of Saints Peter and Paul announced it would be switching to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

On October 1, 1989, a peaceful demonstration of 10,000 to 15,000 people was violently dispersed by the militia in front of Lviv's Druzhba Stadium, where a concert celebrating the Soviet "reunification" of Ukrainian lands was being held.

On October 24, the union Supreme Soviet passed a law eliminating special seats for Communist Party and other official organizations' representatives.

On October 28, 1989, the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet decreed that effective January 1, 1990, Ukrainian would be the official language of Ukraine, while Russian would be used for communication between ethnic groups.

In mid-November The Shevchenko Ukrainian Language Society was officially registered.

On December 10, 1989, the first officially sanctioned observance of International Human Rights Day was held in Lviv.

In May 1989, a Soviet dissident, Mustafa Dzhemilev, was elected to lead the newly founded Crimean Tatar National Movement. He also led the campaign for return of Crimean Tatars to their homeland in Crimea after 45 years of exile.

On January 24, 1989, the Soviet authorities in Byelorussia agreed to the demand of the democratic opposition to build a monument to thousands of people shot by Stalin-era police in the Kuropaty Forest near Minsk in the 1930s.[84]

On September 30, 1989, thousands of Byelorussians, denouncing local leaders, marched through Minsk to demand additional cleanup of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster site in Ukraine. Up to 15,000 protesters wearing armbands bearing radioactivity symbols and carrying the banned red-and-white national flag used by the government-in-exile filed through torrential rain in defiance of a ban by local authorities. Later, they gathered in the city center near the government's headquarters, where speakers demanded resignation of Yefrem Sokolov, the republic's Communist Party leader, and called for the evacuation of half a million people from the contaminated zones.[85]

Thousands of Soviet troops were sent to the Fergana Valley, southeast of the Uzbek capital Tashkent, to re-establish order after clashes in which local Uzbeks hunted down members of the Meskhetian minority in several days of rioting between June 4–11, 1989; about 100 people were killed.[86] On June 23, 1989, Gorbachev removed Rafiq Nishonov as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Uzbek SSR and replaced him with Karimov, who went on to lead Uzbekistan as a Soviet Republic and subsequently as an independent state.

In Kazakhstan on June 19, 1989, young men carrying guns, firebombs, iron bars and stones rioted in Zhanaozen, causing a number of deaths. The youths tried to seize a police station and a water-supply station. They brought public transportation to a halt and shut down various shops and industries.[87] By June 25, the rioting had spread to five other towns near the Caspian Sea. A mob of about 150 people armed with sticks, stones and metal rods attacked the police station in Mangishlak, about 90 miles from Zhanaozen, before they were dispersed by government troops flown in by helicopters. Mobs of young people also rampaged through Yeraliev, Shepke, Fort-Shevchenko and Kulsary, where they poured flammable liquid on trains housing temporary workers and set them on fire.[88]

With the government and CPSU shocked by the riots, on June 22, 1989, as a result of the riots Gorbachev removed Gennady Kolbin (the ethnic Russian whose appointment caused riots in December 1986) as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan for his poor handling of the June events, and replaced him with Nursultan Nazarbayev, an ethnic Kazakh who went on to lead Kazakhstan as a Soviet Republic and subsequently to independence. Nazarbayev would lead Kazakhstan for 27 years until he stepped down as president on 19 March 2019.

1990


On February 7, 1990, the Central Committee of the CPSU accepted Gorbachev's recommendation that the party give up its monopoly on political power.[89] In 1990, all fifteen constituent republics of the USSR held their first competitive elections, with reformers and ethnic nationalists winning many seats. The CPSU lost the elections in six republics:

The constituent republics began to declare their national sovereignty and began a "war of laws" with the Moscow central government; they rejected union-wide legislation that conflicted with local laws, asserted control over their local economy, and refused to pay taxes.

On March 4, 1990, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic held relatively free elections for the Congress of People's Deputies of Russia. Boris Yeltsin was elected, representing Sverdlovsk, garnering 72 percent of the vote.[23] On May 29, 1990, Yeltsin was elected chair of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, despite the fact that Gorbachev asked Russian deputies not to vote for him.

Yeltsin was supported by democratic and conservative members of the Supreme Soviet, who sought power in the developing political situation.

Gorbachev's visit to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on January 11–13, 1990, provoked a pro-independence rally attended by an estimated 250,000 people.

On March 11, the newly elected parliament of the Lithuanian SSR elected Vytautas Landsbergis, the leader of Sąjūdis, as its chairman and proclaimed the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania, making Lithuania the first Soviet Republic to break away from the USSR. Moscow reacted with an economic blockade keeping the troops in Lithuania ostensibly "to secure the rights of ethnic Russians".[93]

On March 25, 1990, the Estonian Communist Party voted to split from the CPSU after a six-month transition.[94]

On March 30, 1990, the Estonian Supreme Council declared the Soviet occupation of Estonia since World War II to be illegal and began reestablishing Estonia as an independent state.

On April 3, 1990, Edgar Savisaar of the Popular Front of Estonia was elected chairman of the Council of Ministers (the equivalent of being Prime Minister).

Latvia declared the restoration of independence on May 4, 1990, with the declaration stipulating a transitional period to complete independence. The Declaration stated that although Latvia had de facto lost its independence in World War II, the country had de jure remained a sovereign country because the annexation had been unconstitutional and against the will of the Latvian people. The declaration also stated that Latvia would base its relationship with the Soviet Union on the basis of the Latvian–Soviet Peace Treaty of 1920, in which the Soviet Union recognized Latvia's independence as inviolable "for all future time". May 4 is now a national holiday in Latvia.

On May 7, 1990, Ivars Godmanis of the Latvian Popular Front was elected chairman of the Council of Ministers (the equivalent of being Latvia's Prime Minister).

During the first week of January 1990, in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, the Popular Front led crowds in the storming and destruction of the frontier fences and watchtowers along the border with Iran, and thousands of Soviet Azerbaijanis crossed the border to meet their ethnic cousins in Iranian Azerbaijan.[95] It was the first time the Soviet Union had lost control of an external border.

Ethnic tensions had escalated between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis in spring and summer 1988.[44] On January 9, 1990, after the Armenian parliament voted to include Nagorno-Karabakh within its budget, renewed fighting broke out, hostages were taken, and four Soviet soldiers were killed.[97] On January 11, Popular Front radicals stormed party buildings and effectively overthrew the communist powers in the southern town of Lenkoran.[97] Gorbachev resolved to regain control of Azerbaijan; the events that ensued are known as "Black January". Late on January 19, 1990, after blowing up the central television station and cutting the phone and radio lines, 26,000 Soviet troops entered the Azerbaijani capital Baku, smashing barricades, attacking protesters, and firing into crowds. On that night and during subsequent confrontations (which lasted until February), more than 130 people died. Most of these were civilians. More than 700 civilians were wounded, hundreds were detained, but only a few were actually tried for alleged criminal offenses.

Civil liberties suffered. Soviet Defence Minister Dmitry Yazov stated that the use of force in Baku was intended to prevent the de facto takeover of the Azerbaijani government by the non-communist opposition, to prevent their victory in upcoming free elections (scheduled for March 1990), to destroy them as a political force, and to ensure that the Communist government remained in power. This marked the first time the Soviet Army took one of its own cities by force.[98]

The army had gained control of Baku, but by January 20 it had essentially lost Azerbaijan.

Following the hardliners' takeover, the September 30, 1990 elections (runoffs on October 14) were characterized by intimidation; several Popular Front candidates were jailed, two were murdered, and unabashed ballot stuffing took place, even in the presence of Western observers.[103] The election results reflected the threatening environment; out of the 350 members, 280 were Communists, with only 45 opposition candidates from the Popular Front and other non-communist groups, who together formed a Democratic Bloc ("Dembloc").[104] In May 1990 Mutalibov was elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet unopposed.[103]

On January 21, 1990, Rukh organized a 300-mile (480 km) human chain between Kiev, Lviv, and Ivano-Frankivsk. Hundreds of thousands joined hands to commemorate the proclamation of Ukrainian independence in 1918 and the reunification of Ukrainian lands one year later (1919 Unification Act). On January 23, 1990, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church held its first synod since its liquidation by the Soviets in 1946 (an act which the gathering declared invalid). On February 9, 1990, the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice officially registered Rukh. However, the registration came too late for Rukh to stand its own candidates for the parliamentary and local elections on March 4. At the 1990 elections of people's deputies to the Supreme Council (Verkhovna Rada), candidates from the Democratic Bloc won landslide victories in western Ukrainian oblasts. A majority of the seats had to hold run-off elections. On March 18, Democratic candidates scored further victories in the run-offs. The Democratic Bloc gained about 90 out of 450 seats in the new parliament.

On April 6, 1990, the Lviv City Council voted to return St. George Cathedral to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The Russian Orthodox Church refused to yield. On April 29–30, 1990, the Ukrainian Helsinki Union disbanded to form the Ukrainian Republican Party. On May 15 the new parliament convened. The bloc of conservative communists held 239 seats; the Democratic Bloc, which had evolved into the National Council, had 125 deputies. On June 4, 1990, two candidates remained in the protracted race for parliament chair. The leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), Volodymyr Ivashko, was elected with 60 percent of the vote as more than 100 opposition deputies boycotted the election. On June 5–6, 1990, Metropolitan Mstyslav of the U.S.-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church was elected patriarch of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) during that Church's first synod. The UAOC declared its full independence from the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which in March had granted autonomy to the Ukrainian Orthodox church headed by the Metropolitan Filaret.

On June 22, 1990, Volodymyr Ivashko withdrew his candidacy for leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine in view of his new position in parliament. Stanislav Hurenko was elected first secretary of the CPU. On July 11, Ivashko resigned from his post as chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament after he was elected deputy general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Parliament accepted the resignation a week later, on July 18. On July 16 Parliament overwhelmingly approved the Declaration on State Sovereignty of Ukraine – with a vote of 355 in favour and four against. The people's deputies voted 339 to 5 to proclaim July 16 a Ukrainian national holiday.

On July 23, 1990, Leonid Kravchuk was elected to replace Ivashko as parliament chairman. On July 30, Parliament adopted a resolution on military service ordering Ukrainian soldiers "in regions of national conflict such as Armenia and Azerbaijan" to return to Ukrainian territory. On August 1, Parliament voted overwhelmingly to shut down the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. On August 3, it adopted a law on the economic sovereignty of the Ukrainian republic. On August 19, the first Ukrainian Catholic liturgy in 44 years was celebrated at St. George Cathedral. On September 5–7, the International Symposium on the Great Famine of 1932–1933 was held in Kiev. On September 8, The first "Youth for Christ" rally since 1933 took place held in Lviv, with 40,000 participants. In September 28–30, the Green Party of Ukraine held its founding congress. On September 30, nearly 100,000 people marched in Kiev to protest against the new union treaty proposed by Gorbachev.

On October 1, 1990, parliament reconvened amid mass protests calling for the resignations of Kravchuk and of Prime Minister Vitaliy Masol, a leftover from the previous régime. Students erected a tent city on October Revolution Square, where they continued the protest.

On October 17 Masol resigned, and on October 20, Patriarch Mstyslav I of Kiev and all Ukraine arrived at Saint Sophia's Cathedral, ending a 46-year banishment from his homeland. On October 23, 1990, Parliament voted to delete Article 6 of the Ukrainian Constitution, which referred to the "leading role" of the Communist Party.

On October 25–28, 1990, Rukh held its second congress and declared that its principal goal was the "renewal of independent statehood for Ukraine".

On November 18, 1990, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church enthroned Mstyslav as Patriarch of Kiev and all Ukraine during ceremonies at Saint Sophia's Cathedral. Also on November 18, Canada announced that its consul-general to Kiev would be Ukrainian-Canadian Nestor Gayowsky. On November 19, the United States announced that its consul to Kiev would be Ukrainian-American John Stepanchuk. On November 19, the chairmen of the Ukrainian and Russian parliaments, respectively, Kravchuk and Yeltsin, signed a 10-year bilateral pact. In early December 1990 the Party of Democratic Rebirth of Ukraine was founded; on December 15, the Democratic Party of Ukraine was founded.[106]

On February 12–14, 1990, anti-government riots took place in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, as tensions rose between nationalist Tajiks and ethnic Armenian refugees, after the Sumgait pogrom and anti-Armenian riots in Azerbaijan in 1988. During these riots, demonstrations sponsored by the nationalist Rastokhez movement turned violent. Radical economical and political reforms were demanded by the protesters which in turn torched government buildings; shops and other businesses were attacked and looted. 26 people were killed and 565 people were injured.

In June 1990, the city of Osh and its environs experienced bloody ethnic clashes between ethnic Kirghiz nationalist group Osh Aymaghi and Uzbek nationalist group Adolat over the land of a former collective farm. There were about 1,200 casualties, including over 300 dead and 462 seriously injured. The riots broke out over the division of land resources in and around the city.[107]

1991


On January 14, 1991, Nikolai Ryzhkov resigned from his post as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or premier of the Soviet Union, and was succeeded by Valentin Pavlov in the newly established post of Prime Minister of the Soviet Union.

On March 17, 1991, in a Union-wide referendum 76.4 percent of voters endorsed retention of a reformed Soviet Union.[109] The Baltic republics, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova boycotted the referendum as well as Checheno-Ingushetia (an autonomous republic within Russia that had a strong desire for independence, and by now referred to itself as Ichkeria).[110] In each of the other nine republics, a majority of the voters supported the retention of a reformed Soviet Union.

On June 12, 1991, Boris Yeltsin won 57 percent of the popular vote in the democratic elections, defeating Gorbachev's preferred candidate, Nikolai Ryzhkov, who won 16 percent of the vote. Following Yeltsin's election as president, Russia declared itself independent.[111] In his election campaign, Yeltsin criticized the "dictatorship of the center", but did not yet suggest that he would introduce a market economy.

On January 13, 1991, Soviet troops, along with the KGB Spetsnaz Alpha Group, stormed the Vilnius TV Tower in Lithuania to suppress the independence movement. Fourteen unarmed civilians were killed and hundreds more injured. On the night of July 31, 1991, Russian OMON from Riga, the Soviet military headquarters in the Baltics, assaulted the Lithuanian border post in Medininkai and killed seven Lithuanian servicemen. This event further weakened the Soviet Union's position internationally and domestically, and stiffened Lithuanian resistance.

The bloody attacks in Lithuania prompted Latvians to organize defensive barricades (the events are still today known as "The Barricades") blocking access to strategically important buildings and bridges in Riga. Soviet attacks in the ensuing days resulted in six deaths and several injuries; one person died later of their wounds.

When Estonia had officially restored its independence during the coup (see below) in the dark hours of August 20, 1991, at 11:03 pm Tallinn time, many Estonian volunteers surrounded the Tallinn TV Tower in an attempt to prepare to cut off the communication channels after the Soviet troops seized it and refused to be intimidated by the Soviet troops. When Edgar Savisaar confronted the Soviet troops for ten minutes, they finally retreated from the TV tower after a failed resistance against the Estonians.

Faced with growing separatism, Gorbachev sought to restructure the Soviet Union into a less centralized state. On August 20, 1991, the Russian SFSR was scheduled to sign a New Union Treaty that would have converted the Soviet Union into a federation of independent republics with a common president, foreign policy and military. It was strongly supported by the Central Asian republics, which needed the economic advantages of a common market to prosper. However, it would have meant some degree of continued Communist Party control over economic and social life.

More radical reformists were increasingly convinced that a rapid transition to a market economy was required, even if the eventual outcome meant the disintegration of the Soviet Union into several independent states.

On August 19, 1991, Gorbachev's vice president, Gennady Yanayev, Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov and other senior officials acted to prevent the union treaty from being signed by forming the "General Committee on the State Emergency", which put Gorbachev – on holiday in Foros, Crimea – under house arrest and cut off his communications. The coup leaders issued an emergency decree suspending political activity and banning most newspapers.

Coup organizers expected popular support but found that public opinion in large cities and in the republics was mostly against them, manifested by public demonstrations, especially in Moscow.

Thousands of Muscovites came out to defend the White House (the Russian Federation's parliament and Yeltsin's office), the symbolic seat of Russian sovereignty at the time. The organizers tried but ultimately failed to arrest Yeltsin, who rallied opposition to the coup by making speeches from atop a tank. The special forces dispatched by the coup leaders took up positions near the White House, but members refused to storm the barricaded building. The coup leaders also neglected to jam foreign news broadcasts, so many Muscovites watched it unfold live on CNN. Even the isolated Gorbachev was able to stay abreast of developments by tuning into the BBC World Service on a small transistor radio.[112]

After three days, on August 21, 1991, the coup collapsed.

On August 24, 1991, Gorbachev dissolved the Central Committee of the CPSU, resigned as the party's general secretary, and dissolved all party units in the government.

The Soviet Union collapsed with dramatic speed in the last quarter of 1991.

On September 17, 1991, General Assembly resolution numbers 46/4, 46/5, and 46/6 admitted Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to the United Nations, conforming to Security Council resolution numbers 709, 710, and 711 passed on September 12 without a vote.[113][114]

By 7 November 1991, most newspapers referred to the country as the 'former Soviet Union'.[115]

The final round of the Soviet Union's collapse began with a Ukrainian popular referendum on December 1, 1991, in which 90 percent of voters opted for independence. The secession of Ukraine, long second only to Russia in economic and political power, ended any realistic chance of Gorbachev keeping the Soviet Union together even on a limited scale. The leaders of the three Slavic republics, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (formerly Byelorussia), agreed to discuss possible alternatives to the union.

On December 8, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus secretly met in Belavezhskaya Pushcha, in western Belarus, and signed the Belavezha Accords, which proclaimed the Soviet Union had ceased to exist and announced formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a looser association to take its place. They also invited other republics to join the CIS. Gorbachev called it an unconstitutional coup. However, by this time there was no longer any reasonable doubt that, as the preamble of the Accords put it, "the USSR, as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality, is ceasing its existence."

On December 12, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR formally ratified the Belavezha Accords and renounced the 1922 Union Treaty. It also recalled the Russian deputies from the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The legality of this action was questionable, since Soviet law did not allow a republic to unilaterally recall its deputies.[[CITE|undefined|http://iv.garant.ru/SESSION/PILOT/loadfavorite.html?pid=6335703&page=1¶_id=2147483649]] However, no one in either Russia or the Kremlin objected. Any objections from the latter would have likely had no effect, since the Soviet government had effectively been rendered impotent long before December. On the surface, it appeared that the largest republic had formally seceded. However, this is not the case. Russia apparently took the line that it was not possible to secede from a country that no longer existed. Later that day, Gorbachev hinted for the first time that he was considering stepping down.[117]

On December 17, 1991, along with 28 European countries, the European Economic Community, and four non-European countries, the three Baltic Republics and nine of the twelve remaining Soviet republics signed the European Energy Charter in the Hague as sovereign states.[118]

Doubts remained over whether the Belavezha Accords had legally dissolved the Soviet Union, since they were signed by only three republics.

In a nationally televised speech early in the morning of December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president of the USSR – or, as he put it, "I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."

On the night of December 25, at 7:32 p.m.

On December 26, the Council of the Republics, the upper chamber of the Union's Supreme Soviet, voted both itself and the Soviet Union out of existence.[121] (The lower chamber, the Council of the Union, had been unable to work since December 12, when the recall of the Russian deputies left it without a quorum.) The following day Yeltsin moved into Gorbachev's former office, though the Russian authorities had taken over the suite two days earlier. By the end of 1991, the few remaining Soviet institutions that had not been taken over by Russia ceased operation, and individual republics assumed the central government's role.

The Alma-Ata Protocol also addressed other issues, including UN membership.

Consequences and impact


The breakup of the Soviet Union saw a massive impact in the sporting world.

Before the start of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville and the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, The Olympic Committee of the USSR formally existed until March 12, 1992, when it disbanded but it was succeeded by the Russian Olympic Committee. However, 12 of the 15 former Soviet Republics competed together as the Unified Team and marched under the Olympic Flag in Barcelona, where they finished first in the medal rankings. Separately, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia also competed as independent nations in the 1992 Games. The Unified Team also competed in Albertville earlier in the year (represented by six of the twelve ex-Republics), and finished second in the medal ranking at those Games. Afterwards, the individual IOCs of the non-Baltic former republics were established. Some NOCs made their debuts at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer. and anothers made it at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Members of the Unified Team in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona consisted of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Only six teams competed earlier in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville.

The Soviet Union's calling code of +7 continues to be used by Russia and Kazakhstan. Between 1993 and 1997, many newly independent republics implemented their own numbering plans such as Belarus (+375) and Ukraine (+380). The Internet domain .su remains in use alongside the internet domains of the newly created countries.

Chronology of declarations of restored and newly independent states


States with limited recognition are shown in italics.

Legacy


In Armenia, 12% of respondents said the USSR collapse did good, while 66% said it did harm. In Kyrgyzstan, 16% of respondents said the collapse of the USSR did good, while 61% said it did harm.[125] Ever since the collapse of the USSR, annual polling by the Levada Center has shown that over 50 percent of Russia's population regretted its collapse, with the only exception to this being in 2012. A 2018 Levada Center poll showed that 66% of Russians lamented the fall of the Soviet Union.[126] According to a 2014 poll, 57 percent of citizens of Russia regretted the collapse of the Soviet Union, while 30 percent said they did not. Elderly people tended to be more nostalgic than younger Russians.[127] 50% of respondents in Ukraine in a similar poll held in February 2005 stated they regret the disintegration of the Soviet Union.[128] However, a similar poll conducted in 2016 showed only 35% Ukrainians regretting the Soviet Union collapse and 50% not regretting this.[129] On 25 January 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Vladimir Lenin and his advocating for the individual republics' right to political secession for the breakup of the Soviet Union.[130]

The breakdown of economic ties that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a severe economic crisis and catastrophic fall in living standards in post-Soviet states and the former Eastern Bloc,[131] which was even worse than the Great Depression.[132][133] Poverty and economic inequality surged between 1988–1989 and 1993–1995, with the Gini ratio increasing by an average of 9 points for all former socialist countries.[134] Even before Russia's financial crisis in 1998, Russia's GDP was half of what it had been in the early 1990s.[133] In the decades following the end of the Cold War, only five or six of the post-communist states are on a path to joining the wealthy capitalist West while most are falling behind, some to such an extent that it will take over 50 years to catch up to where they were before the end of communism.[135][136] In a 2001 study by economist Steven Rosefielde, he calculated that there were 3.4 million premature deaths in Russia from 1990 to 1998, which he partly blames on the "shock therapy" that came with the Washington Consensus.[137]

In a letter dated December 24, 1991, Boris Yeltsin, the President of the Russian Federation, informed the United Nations Secretary-General that the membership of the Soviet Union in the Security Council and all other UN organs was being continued by the Russian Federation with the support of the 11 member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

However, the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic had already joined the UN as original members on October 24, 1945, together with the Soviet Union. After declaring independence, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic changed its name to Ukraine on August 24, 1991 and on September 19, 1991, the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic informed the UN that it had changed its name to the Republic of Belarus.

The other twelve independent states established from the former Soviet Republics were all admitted to the UN:

  • 17 September 1991: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania
  • 2 March 1992: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan
  • 31 July 1992: Georgia

Explanations of Soviet dissolution in historiography


Historiography on Soviet dissolution can be roughly classified in two groups, namely intentionalist accounts and structuralist accounts.

Intentionalist accounts contend that Soviet collapse was not inevitable and resulted from the policies and decisions of specific individuals (usually Gorbachev and Yeltsin).

By contrast, structuralist accounts take a more deterministic view in which Soviet dissolution was an outcome of deeply-rooted structural issues, which planted a "time-bomb".

See also


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