Dissolution of the Soviet Union
- Often described as the inevitable outcome of the combined effect of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy triad of perestroika, glasnost, and democratization, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was viewed by few in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or the West as likely a few years prior to its occurrence. However, the increasing instances of ethnic violence in the Caucasus, when combined with internal social pressures stimulated by the end of the one-party totalitarian system in the Eastern Bloc in 1989, the aftereffects of the Chernobyl disaster, and dissemination of information on Joseph Stalin’s repressions, triggered a wave of centrifugal nationalism across the union republics.Spearheaded by Boris Yeltsin, self-styled Russian nationalists lobbied for increasing powers within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, creating centripetal pressures on the USSR. Gorbachev worked diligently to hold the union together from 1990 to 1991. However, nationalist agitation in the Baltic States and Georgia, combined with the rising tide of animosity toward the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), made some reorganization of the union a political necessity. Ironically, the proposed renegotiation of the treaty of union, in effect since 1922, led to the failed August Coup of 1991.In the wake of the crisis, the CPSU was outlawed, Russia recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and Gorbachev was marginalized. In early December, Yeltsin met with the heads of the Belarusian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics outside Minsk. There they signed the Belavezha Accords, effectively terminating the USSR and establishing the framework for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). This occurred despite a national referendum that stipulated the majority of Soviet citizens’ desire to preserve some form of genuine union. Later that month, the leaders of 11 of the union republics—Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan—met in AlmaAta (Almaty), Kazakhstan, where they declared their independence and formalized the creation of the CIS on 21 December 1991. The so-called Alma-Ata Declaration finalized the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Georgia, while not represented at the meeting, ultimately acceded to the new commonwealth, though the Baltic States did not. Following the breakup of the USSR, the Newly Independent States sought to redefine their relations with one another, and particularly with Russia, the successor state to the now-defunct USSR. The end of the Soviet Union proved especially difficult for the 25 million ethnic Russians living outside the new Russian Federation but within the former Soviet Union (in the ensuing decade, nearly 10 million would quit the near abroad for Russia or Third World countries).
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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