Soviet Union: The Rapid Collapse


Russian President Boris Yeltsin speaks atop a tank outside the White House in defiance of the August 1991 coup. (Photo from via Wikimedia Commons)
Russian President Boris Yeltsin speaks atop a tank outside the White House in defiance of the August 1991 coup. (Photo from via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the 24th anniversary of the final winding down of the USSR.

Here are some things you may not have known about the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The collapse of the Soviet Union began in earnest in 1985 with the election of Mikhail Gorbachev as general secretary of the Communist Party. He aimed to revive a sagging Soviet economy, but needed to change the underlying political and social structure. The first step in this was replacing more conservative members of the party. Instead of creating economic stimulus, these moves stoked nationalists in the constituent republics. The instability in the USSR also led indirectly to the Eastern Bloc revolutions of 1989.

In 1986, the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began pushing for independence from Moscow. In 1988, Estonia passed a law resisting the control of the federal government. Nationalist movements also began to gain popularity in the central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

In 1989 the central government allowed limited democratic elections, largely picking from Communist Party candidates. 1989 also saw protests against the Communist government of China and all-out revolutions in the Warsaw Pact countries of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania. Followed by revolutions the next year in East Germany and Bulgaria. In 1990, six Soviet republics voted for non-Communist majorities.

In August 1991, Communist conservatives, including the vice president, prime minister, defense minister and head of the KGB formed the General Committee on the State Emergency, and put Gorbachev under house arrest in an attempted coup. The organizers of the coup found themselves with little public support. After three days the coup collapsed and Gorbachev returned as president.

Three days later, Gorbachev dissolved the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which was followed by the suspension of all Communist Party activity in the Soviet Union. The USSR recognized the independence of the Baltic states on September 6, 1991. Between August and December all former Soviet republics declared their independence. On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president and ceded power to the new president of an independent Russia, Boris Yeltsin. That day, the Soviet flag was lowered for the final time at the Kremlin, replaced by the Russian flag. On December 26, the Supreme Soviet voted itself and the Soviet Union out of existence. On December 31, all Soviet institutions that weren’t taken over by Russia ceased to exist. Also on that day, the United Nations accepted Russia as the successor state to the USSR.

Our question, in 1997 Mikhail Gorbachev appeared in a television commercial for what U.S. restaurant chain?

Today is New Year’s Eve. It’s also National Champagne Day and World Peace Mediation Day. It’s the birthday of actor Anthony Hopkins, musician John Denver and former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.


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