Collapse of the Soviet Union
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The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the disolution of the Soviet Union into fifteen independent states. It is held to have occurred either on the December 8 signing of the Belavezha Accords, or Gorbachev's resignation on December 25. The former superpower lost its positions in the influence over world policy, science and military strength. It resulted in economic crisis in Russia and other former Soviet republics, which continued for at least five years. The Cold War effectively ended with the Soviet Union's collapse.
 Leadup to the collapse
In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union began experiencing upheaval as the political consequences of glasnost reverberated throughout the country. With the Revolutions of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Soviet backed client states fell throughout Eastern Europe. Despite efforts at containment, the upheaval in Eastern Europe inevitably spread to nationalities within the USSR. Constituent republics of the Soviet Union started asserting sovereignty over their territories or even declaring independence, citing Article 72 of the USSR Constitution, which stated that any constituent republic was free to secede. Many held their first free elections in the Soviet era for their own national legislatures in 1990. Many of these legislatures proceeded to produce legislation contradicting the Union laws in what was known as "The War of Laws." There was increasing number of clashes between independence movements and authorities. On April 9, 1989, Soviet troops were used to break up a peaceful demonstration at the government building in Tbilisi, where twenty Georgians were killed and hundreds wounded and poisoned.
A referendum for the preservation of the USSR was held on March 17, 1991, with the majority of the population voting for preservation of the Union in most republics. In an attempt to gain more power, on June 12, 1990, the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR adopted a declaration of sovereignty and Boris Yeltsin quit the CPSU in July 1990. On June 12, 1991, Yeltsin won 57% of the popular vote in the democratic presidential elections for the Russian republic, defeating Gorbachev's preferred candidate, Nikolai Ryzhkov. In his election campaign, Yeltsin criticized the "dictatorship of the center", but did not suggest the introduction of a market economy. Instead, he said that he would put his head on the railtrack in the event of increased prices. Yeltsin took office on July 10.
 Baltic States desiring independence
- See also: January Events
The Estonian supreme soviet made an early declaration of sovereignty (November 16, 1988); a law on economic independence (May 1989) confirmed by the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet that November; a language law making Estonian the official language (January 1989); and local and republic election laws stipulating residency requirements for voting and candidacy (August, November 1989). On May 4, 1990, the Latvian SSR Supreme Council, elected in the first democratic elections since 1930s, adopted a declaration restoring independence that included a transition period. Lithuania declared independence on on March 11, 1990. When food prices were increased on January 8 1991, the "Jedinstvo" movement organized an unsanctioned rally in front of the Supreme Council. Protesters tried to storm the parliament building, but were driven away by unarmed security forces using water cannons. On January 10, 1991, while Western attention was focused on the imminent Gulf War, U.S.S.R. authorities seized the main publishing house and other premises in Vilnius and attempted to suppress the elected government by sponsoring a so called "National Salvation Committee". Three days later, the Soviets forcibly took over the TV tower, killing 14 unarmed civilians and injuring 700.
 August 1991 coup
A New Union Treaty had been scheduled to be signed on 20 August 1991, with a loose federal system of government. The New Union Treaty would have made the Soviet Republics independent republics in a federation with a common president, foreign policy, and military. The treaty would have transferred a major share of the central presidential authority to the republics. It was interupted by a group calling itself the State Emergency Committee (Государственный Комитет по Чрезвычайному Положению, ГКЧП) attempted to seize power in Moscow on the day before, 19 August 1991. The committee's eight members included KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, Internal Affairs Minister Boris Pugo, Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov, and Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov. The coup dissolved due to large public demonstrations and the efforts of Boris Yeltsin who became the real power in Russia as a result. Gorbachev returned to Moscow as president but resigned as General Secretary and vowed to purge the party of conservatives.
 Declarations of Independence
Between the last day of the coup and September 22nd, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kirgizia, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan and Armenia declared their independence. Simultaneously, Boris Yeltsin ordered the CPSU to suspend its activities on the territory of Russia and closed the Central Committee building at Staraya Ploschad. Boris Yeltsin took control of the central broadcasting company and key economic ministries and agencies. Symbolically, the Russian flag now flew beside the Soviet flag at the Kremlin. In light of these circumstances, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary of the CPSU on August 24th and advised the Central Committee to dissolve itself. Gorbachev's hopes of a new Union were further hit when the Congress of People's Deputies dissolved itself on September 5th. Though Gorbachev and the representatives of 8 republics (excluding Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldavia, Ukraine and the Baltic States) signed an agreement on forming a new economic community on 18 October
After the coup, the Soviet republics accelerated their process towards independence, declaring their sovereignty one by one. Their local authorities started to seize property that became available to them. On September 6, 1991, the Soviet government recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which the western powers had always held to be sovereign. It was "re-recognized" by the United States and other western countries who throughout the era of Cold War had considered the 1940 Soviet annexation of the three Baltic nations illegal. For several months after his return to Moscow, Gorbachev and his aides made futile attempts to restore stability and legitimacy to the central institutions. In November seven republics agreed to a new union treaty that would form a confederation called the Union of Sovereign States. But Ukraine was unrepresented in that group, and Yeltsin soon withdrew to seek additional advantages for Russia. In the absence of the CPSU, there was no way to keep the Soviet Union together. From Yeltsin's perspective, Russia's participation in another union would be senseless because inevitably Russia would assume responsibility for the increasingly severe economic woes of the other republics.
Meanwhile, the situation of the Soviet economy continued to deteriorate. By December 1991, food shortages in central Russia resulted in the introduction of food rationing in the Moscow area for the first time since World War II. However, Gorbachev, as President of the USSR, and his government were still opposed to any rapid market reforms in the country's collapsing economy. To break Gorbachev's opposition, Yeltsin decided to disband the Soviet Union in accordance with the Treaty of the Union of 1922 and therefore to remove Gorbachev and the government of the USSR from power. This was seen as a forced measure to save the country from a complete economic collapse and was at the time widely supported by Russia's population. The step was also enthusiastically supported by the governments of Ukraine and Belarus, which were parties of the Treaty of 1922 along with Russia. On December 1, 1991, Ukraine declared its independence from the USSR after a popular referendum wherein 90% of voters opted for independence.
 Commonwealth of Independent states
On December 8, Yeltsin and the leaders of Belarus (which adopted that name in August 1991) and Ukraine, Stanislav Shushkevich and Leonid Kravchuk, met at the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Natural Reserve, about 50 km (30 mi) north of Brest in Belarus, and signed an agreement establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States and annulled the 1922 union treaty that had established the Soviet Union. At the same time they announced that the new alliance would be open to all republics of the former Soviet Union, as well as other nations sharing the same goals. Another signing ceremony was held in Alma-Ata on December 21 to expand the CIS to include the five republics of Central Asia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Georgia did not join until 1993; the three Baltic republics never joined.
 Gorbachev's resignation
On December 25, 1991, a now-defeated Gorbachev announced his resignation as Soviet president; the red hammer and sickle flag of the Soviet Union was lowered from the Kremlin and replaced with the tricolour flag of the Russian state; the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. Exactly six years after Gorbachev had appointed Boris Yeltsin to run the Moscow city committee of the party, Yeltsin now was president of the largest successor state to the Soviet Union. By December 31, 1991 all official Soviet institutions had ceased operations as individual republics assumed the central government's role.