A historic date
The dissolution of the USSR
The end of an era
The resignation speech
The formal dissolution
The end of an empire but without military defeat
Gorbachev's rise to power
The need for reform
The Congress of the CPSU
Perestroika, Glanost and Uskoreniye
What is Perestroika for Gorbachev?
The essence of Perestroika
The renewal
Disarmament
Reticences and obstacles
The failure of Perestroika
The political conflict was getting tough
The USSR did not yield
The malaise and the crisis
The two-year period '90 -'91
Lithuania
The Vilnius massacre
Latvia and Estonia
The Referendum on the preservation of the USSR
The boycott
The rise of Yeltsin
The standoff between Gorbachev and Yeltsin
Gorbachev forcibly detained in Crimea
The coup d'état
The failure of the 'August Coup'
Fake news
The army refused to open fire on the demonstrators
Yeltsin incites the people
Independence
The Commonwealth of Independent States
Going back in time?
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A historic date

Moscow, 25 December 1991: the red flag with the hammer and sickle no longer flies on the highest flagpole in the Kremlin. Instead, Russia's white, blue, and red plag is hoisted up in its place, the tricolor flag that dates back to the era of the tsars.

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The dissolution of the USSR

Mikhail Sergeevič Gorbačëv, or in English Mikhail Gorbachev, had just resigned as president of the Soviet Union.

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The end of an era

Almost too quietly, one of the protagonists of the twentieth century drops the curtain on 70 years of history, without the clamor of solemn ceremonies nor crowds gathered to witness it.

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The resignation speech

Gorbachev resigned as president with a TV speech lasting just over ten minutes, in which he explained: "The old system collapsed before the new one started to work, and the social crisis became even more acute..... I'd like to stress: radical changes in such a vast country, and a country with such heritage, cannot pass painlessly without difficulties and shake-up."

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The formal dissolution

On December 26, 1991, his successor, Boris Yeltsin, formally dissolved the USSR, a regime which, before the last agitated years of Russian history, seemed to be solid, immutable and eternal.

In the photo: Gorbachev follows Yeltsin's speech on TV

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The end of an empire but without military defeat

For the first time in human history, an empire of this size ceased to exist and not because it was defeated on the battlefield.

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Gorbachev's rise to power

Gorbachev came to power in 1985, when the USSR was going through a challenging period: The price of oil had dropped dramatically, military spending on the arms race with the United States, and the war in Afghanistan was excessive, and consumer goods were starting to run out.

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The need for reform

Gorbachev understood immediately that the country's economy needed radical reform to regain dynamism: the Soviet system, under the weight of international competitors and the inefficiency of the bureaucratic machine, had to change.

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The Congress of the CPSU

In a speech at the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1986, Gorbachev made a ruthless analysis of the country's political, economic, technological, and moral degradation. "What the USSR needs today," said Gorbachev, is the "radical renewal of the mentality of everyone, from the simple worker to the minister, and the improvement of the style of work in general."

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Perestroika, Glanost and Uskoreniye

Gorbachev wants to face this challenge with three weapons: perestroika ("restructuring"), glasnost ("transparency"), and Uskoreniye ("acceleration").

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What is Perestroika for Gorbachev?

In the book "Perestroika" Gorbachev writes:
"It is the development of democracy, socialist self-government, the encouragement of initiative and creative activity, ... greater glasnost, criticism, and self-criticism in all spheres of our society. "

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The essence of Perestroika

And again: "The final result of perestroika is a total renewal of every aspect of Soviet life."

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The renewal

What did the renewal advocated by Gorbachev include? First of all, the privatization of many state economic sectors, freedom of information, and reduced military and political control over the satellite countries. Last but not least, the signing of treaties with the United States for the disarmament of missiles.

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Disarmament

Military competition with the United States was no longer economically sustainable for the USSR. Gorbachev resumed dialogue with his counterpart, and in 1987 agreements were signed with the United States to reduce military arsenals.

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Reticences and obstacles

However, while applauded abroad, Gorbachev's reformism encountered reticence and obstacles at home, both among the conservatives of his party and among the progressives. In the country, there were moments of crisis and tension.

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The failure of Perestroika

Economic, political, and institutional changes and the policy of détente with the West fail to achieve the desired results.

Image credit: By USSR Post -Public domain

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The political conflict was getting tough

Faced with a shortage of consumer goods, rising prices, rampant corruption, and social unrest, the political conflict became even more bitter.

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The USSR did not yield

Yet, despite the crisis, the Velvet Revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the birth of the first non-communist government in Poland, at the beginning of 1990, the USSR still did not seem to show signs of abating.

(Pictured: A woman reads a copy of Royalty Magazine in a conference room during Princess Anne's visit to Moscow in 1990)

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The malaise and the crisis

But the malaise would not take long to manifest itself, mainly due to the re-emergence of ethnic nationalism in the Soviet republics. The tipping point came between 1990 and 1991.

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The two-year period '90 -'91

In this period, the three Baltic republics and Georgia declared their sovereignty. They were followed by Russia, within which a faction, led by Boris Yeltsin, began to move parallel to the official one.

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Lithuania

The first of the Soviet republics to declare themselves independent was Lithuania in March 1990. The central government reacted with economic sanctions, but to no avail. The country had always felt culturally and politically foreign to the Soviet Union.

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The Vilnius massacre

In early 1991, Gorbachev's descent towards authoritarianism began: he ordered the Soviet army to shoot Lithuanian protesters in what is known as the Vilnius massacre. There were many dead and wounded.

In the photo: Mugshot of the prisoners of the former KGB prison, now a genocide museum in Vilnius

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Latvia and Estonia

In Moscow, a huge crowd protested against the repression. Latvia and Estonia declared themselves independent in solidarity with the victims, following the Lithuanian example.

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The Referendum on the preservation of the USSR

It was now clear how the movements of history were leading to the breakup of the Soviet Union. In what appeared to be a last-ditch effort to maintain the status quo, Gorbachev called a referendum on the preservation of the USSR. It seemed to be a success (the "yes" won with about 78% of the vote).

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The boycott

But was it really a success? In reality, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and the three Baltic republics decided to boycott it and not participate in the vote. The signal they were sending was unmistakable: their desire was independence.

Pictured: Boris Yeltsin, center, in Armenia in 1991

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The rise of Yeltsin

Thus began the negotiations between Moscow and the individual republics: to save the USSR, it was impossible to ignore the autonomist aspirations. Indeed, radical nationalism had begun to make its voice heard even within Russia. And there was the figure of a new leader on the horizon: Boris Yeltsin.

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The standoff between Gorbachev and Yeltsin

In the tumultuous history of those years, Gorbachev and Yeltsin had become the two protagonists of a tug-of-war between two forces: those of radical independence and those aimed at preserving the status quo.

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Gorbachev forcibly detained in Crimea

Gorbachev's negotiations led to the signing of a treaty that would sanction a less centralized community made up of independent Soviet states. Still, on August 18, 1991, he was forcibly detained with his family in his residence in Foros, Crimea.

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The coup d'état

In a final attempt to save the Soviet system, the Conservatives were attempting a coup d'état with the support of some senior officials: they intended to oust Gorbachev and thus save the USSR.

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The failure of the 'August Coup'

What happened was just the opposite: the coup, the so-called 'August Coup,' did nothing but accelerate the breakup of the Soviet Union and allow Yeltsin to gain more and more power.

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Fake news

In the aftermath of Gorbachev's arrest, various members of the Soviet government, including Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov and Vice President Gennadiy Janaev, declared, together with KGB head Vladimir Kryuckov, that, for health reasons, Gorbachev could not continue in office as president of the Soviet Union. The vice president would overtake Gorbachev's duties.

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The army refused to open fire on the demonstrators

Then Moscow was invaded by the army and special troops who wanted to occupy the city militarily. However, the people's reaction was not long in coming: the tanks were literally stopped by thousands of people who took to the streets to block them.

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Yeltsin incites the people

On June 12, 1991, Yeltsin was elected president of the Russian Republic, and he urged the citizens to fight for freedom. The army refused to open fire on the demonstrators and the "August Coup" failed miserably. The Russian flag becomes a symbol.

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Independence

On August 24, the tanks withdrew from the streets of Moscow, and Yeltsin now had the reins of the country in his hands. The declarations of independence of the other republics followed quickly: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan.

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The Commonwealth of Independent States

On 8 December 1991, as president of Russia, Yeltsin himself signed the Belaveža Agreement with the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus, which sanctions the absolute disintegration of the USSR and the birth of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), open to all former Soviet republics.

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Going back in time?

Is it a coincidence that the same venue in Belarus was chosen for the negotiations relating to the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict, where the end of the USSR was decreed on 8 December 1991? Could Putin's dream be to cancel this historic event?

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