Reasons of the collapse of the Soviet Union

Student: Cristina- Daniela FERARU
Coordinator: prof.Arkadiusz KOTLINSKI
Polkowice, Poland
On Christmas Day 1991, the Soviet flag flew over the Kremlin in Moscow for
the last time. A few days earlier, representatives from 11 Soviet republics
(Ukraine, the Russian Federation, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) met in the
Kazakh city of Alma-Ata and announced that they would no longer be part of
the Soviet Union.
The USSR officially ceased to exist on 31 December1991. The collapse of the
Soviet Union in December 1991 changed the world’s geopolitical balance.
When the Soviet Union fell, it ended the tenure of a superpower with the
resources of more than a dozen countries. The fall left its largest component,
Russia, unable to wield anything like the global clout that the Soviet Union had
for decades. The concluding drama of the Cold War -- the collapse of
communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the end of the fourdecade-old East-West conflict -- unfolded in three acts between 1989 and 1991.
Stagnating Economy
Afghanistan Quagmire
Cherynobyl Disaster
Local Nationalism
Excessive Military Focus
Reduced Motivation of Fear
Ethnic Fragmentation
The Soviet Union had grown to a size large enough to the point where it
became cumbersome to continue state planning. The massive and intricate
Soviet economy became too large to manage by state planners, who were
unwilling to enable more autonomy at mid-managerial level to remain
responsive down to a localized level. This resulted in failed economic policies
(failure to respond timely to continuous changes), while thwarting innovation.
Managers commonly fudged numbers to show that quotas and goals were being
After a decade of over-inflated military expenditures, dwindling oil revenue,
and a centrally-planned economy that was too rigid to adapt to consumer
demands, Mikhail Gorbachev, upon assuming office, declared the Soviet
economy to be in a "pre-crisis." Gorbachev immediately transformed the face of
Soviet politics.
After reforming the government, Gorbachev set out to reform the economy and
ultimately, Soviet society. Gorbachev's economic reforms ( perestroika, or
restructuring), were perceived as noble, but poorly executed.
Gorbachev intended glasnost to strengthen the communist regime, he did not
initiate a crack-down when Soviet citizens went beyond the original intent of
glasnost. Soviet intellectuals began questioning the very tenets of Soviet
Communism and attacked the Communist Party in newspapers, journals, film,
and books. Eastern European thinkers followed the lead of their Soviet
Consequently, glasnost had the unintended effect of spurring nationalist and
anti-communist movements in Eastern Europe and the Soviet republics.
Dissidents in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and other Soviet-satellite
states staged labor demonstrations. Citizens took to the streets, demanding that
the Communist Party step aside and allow democratic elections.
In February, 1990, the Communist Party agreed to relinquish its political
monopoly. Many of the civic groups that had been voicing displeasure with the
Soviet system formed political parties. Most of these new parties, especially
those outside of Russia had a nationalist agenda. Within a month, the Baltic
republic of Lithuania declared itself an independent state. Other Soviet
republics quickly followed.
The Soviet-friendly Afghan government was threatened by anti-communist
insurgents, which grew to outnumber the Afghanistan army. The USSR supplied
tens of thousands of troops and war machines. However, support transformed into
an invasion followed by occupation of various cities and towns, bogging the
Soviets down into a guerilla war with an increasingly growing and zealous
Afghan resistance movement.
By the time of the Soviet withdrawal from 1987- 89, nothing concrete had been
gained, and the USSR left damaged and humiliated.
Gorbachev brought perestroika to the Soviet Union's foreign
economic sectorin 1987 with measures that the country's economists
considered bold at that time. His program virtually eliminated the
monopoly that the Ministry of Foreign Trade had once held on most
trade operations. It permitted the ministries of the various industrial and
agricultural branches to conduct foreign trade in sectors under their
responsibility rather than having to operate indirectly through the
bureaucracy of trade ministry organizations. In addition, regional and
local organizations and individual state enterprises were permitted to
conduct foreign trade.
Some free market elements were added, but not enough to bring about
reform. The free-market policies were enough to result in failed
businesses, but shortages became common as price controls were kept in
place. With price ceilings limiting profits, the incentive to produce
sufficient quantities was removed.
The changes to foreign policy were among the most productive
steps Gorbachev took. They included improving relations with the US,
adapting a policy of non-intervention in Central and Eastern Europe and
talking about nuclear non-proliferation with his American counterpart.
According to the man himself, they were not easy steps – but they were
possible because perestroika had already begun.
The move also allowed private business ownership, something that
hadn't been allowed in decades. Together with the idea of glasnost, or
openness, which shone a light on the country's problems and allowed
greater media freedom, the two words and the ideas behind them
captured the hearts and minds of millions of Soviet people.
But the reality of those changes were, perhaps, a little disappointing.
What most people remember about those days, after the excitement of
the planned changes died down, are the empty shelves in food stores,
the day-long queues for a little butter, some sugar or cheap and not very
fresh fish. Many argued that Gorbachev's reforms were too slow, too
mild, that more radical measures were needed to lift the country out of
its economic slump. As Time Magazine wrote at the time, Gorbachev's
promises were "good talk with no goods."
Glasnost was the official Soviet governmental policy of openness and
transparency implemented in the mid-1980s. It allowed for honesty in
discussing the problems and shortcomings of the country, and for
consultation in the governing and leadership of the U.S.S.R. Glasnost,
which can mean "publicity," encouraged a dissemination of information
and was initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 as a part of his
emerging perestroika policy. It was used by Gorbachev to reduce
corruption among the Communist leaders of the Soviet government and
to curtail the censorship that was characteristic of Communist rule.
With the Soviet public becoming more disenchanted with their secretive
government, Gorbachev attempted to compensate by committing to
openness and transparency with the media. However, this backfired as
the public learned of long-standing political cover ups revealing past and
recent atrocities, missteps by leadership, social and health failures of the
USSR and the true extent of national economic problems. This further
eroded support for the regime.
It was the nuclear power plant accident in the Ukraine town of Cherynobyl. It
was initially covered up by the Soviet government, compounding the health
crisis, while further sowing the seeds of distrust within the constituency, as the
extent of the disaster and the cover-up came to light.
The accident caused the largest uncontrolled radioactive release into the
environment ever recorded for any civilian operation, and large quantities of
radioactive substances were released into the air for about 10 days. This caused
serious social and economic disruption for large populations in Belarus, Russia
and Ukraine. Two radionuclides, the short-lived iodine-131 and the long-lived
caesium-137, were particularly significant for the radiation dose they delivered
to members of the public.
Several organisations have reported on the impacts of the Chernobyl accident,
but all have had problems assessing the significance of their observations
because of the lack of reliable public health information before 1986.
With declining public perception of the Soviet government (due to political
blunders), nationalism grew within each of the individual republics, creating
independence ambitions in republics such as Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia
and Lithuania.
Nationalism was pursued to a different extent in each area. In the Baltic
republics, the claim for independence had always been strongest as these areas
had been forcibly incorporated into the USSR only in 1940, which followed
after they were secured in the War by mass deportations possibly amounting to
over a tenth of the regions population. The area saw mass Russian immigration
during the post-war years and fears of the peril from the East abounded among
the indigenous population. Moreover, despite political, religious (the Roman
Catholic Lithuanians and Protestant Latvians and Estonians suffered the same
religious persecutions under Khruschëv as other denominations) and cultural
repression, in economic terms the Balts were the wealthiest peoples in the
USSR, better off even than the Russians themselves, with none of the economic
grounds for remaining in the Union which applied in the Caucasus or Central
Asia. The Baltics provided the model for other regions, with the Popular Fronts,
notably in Lithuania, providing the model for mass independence movements in
other regions.
The USSR was overly-focused on military build-up, neglecting
domestic troubles that would play a major role in bringing down the
USSR. This was largely due to the perceived need to keep pace
with the massive U.S. military build up.
Friendlier relations with the U.S. in the 70s, 80s meant that the general
public was no longer completely motivated to strengthen itself against the
American threat.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the Soviet regime proclaimed a policy of
detente and sought increased economic cooperation and disarmament
negotiations with the West. However, the Soviet stance on human rights
and its invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 created new tensions between the
two countries. These tensions continued to exist until the dramatic
democratic changes of 1989-91 led to the collapse during this past year of
the Communist system and opened the way for an unprecedented new
friendship between the United States and Russia, as well as the other new
nations of the former Soviet Union.
The USSR used “Slav Nation/Pride” propaganda as justification in creating a
unified Slav state. However, Russia was clearly the favored and dominant state,
while others (including Turkish/Central Asian constituents) were oppressed.
Russians clearly viewed themselves as superior, despite asking client states to
buy into Slav unity/patriotism/pride, which became a transparent effort to draw
other Slav nations in under a false romantic ideal. As a result, non-Russians
were quick to separate from the Soviet Union when it entered troubled waters.
Mobilization and claims for autonomy threatened not only the central state but
also those local populations - especially Russians - who had strong investments
in the central state. Other ethnic rivalries, such as the enmity of Azerbaijanis
and Armenians, also intensified. But the crucial conflicts set Estonians,
Georgians, and their counterparts elsewhere against both the central state and its
local defenders. A spiral began: the more ethnic groups challenged the state
with relative impunity, the more other ethnic groups felt emboldened to
challenge the state.
The conflict became even more acute where (as in the Baltic states) local
majorities declared their legislative institutions autono- mous and started to
organize independent military forces. The economic weakening of the central
government surely signaled its vulnerability to nationalist demands, and may even
have stimulated them, either by making union with the center less attractive in
economic terms, or by imposing burdens on peripheral populations that added to
their grievances.
The United States of America manipulated the USSR economic system through
sabotage and other negative activities towards the state and its economy,
creating cracks . In 1982, US president Ronald Reagan approved a CIA plan to
sabotage the Soviet Union's economy through covert transfers of technology
that contained hidden malfunctions, including software that later triggered a
huge explosion in a gas pipeline, according to a former White House official.
At the time, the US was attempting to block Western Europe from importing
Soviet natural gas. There were also signs that the Soviets were trying to steal a
wide variety of Western technology. Then, a KGB insider revealed the specific
shopping list and the CIA slipped the flawed software to the Soviets in a way
they would not detect it.
The sabotage of the gas pipeline has not been previously disclosed, and at the
time was a closely guarded secret.
The role that Reagan and the US played in the collapse of the Soviet Union is
still a matter of debate. Some argue that US policy was the key factor; others
say that internal Soviet factors were more important, including economic
decline and President Mikhail Gorbachev's revolutionary policies of glasnost
and perestroika.
Growing dissatisfaction among the countries of Eastern Europe (and the fall of
puppet regimes) meant that the USSR could not exploit those resources to prop
up the union. This led to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact beginning in 1989.
The central government was then increasingly pressured by nationalist
movements in the Ukraine, Caucasus, Georgia and outlying Asian states.
In 1975 all European states, except Albaniasigned the Helsinki Accods.The
countries that signed also pledges to respect human rights and to cooperate in
economic and scientific matters. The problems between the satellite countries
escalated until communism was finally crushed.In 1991, communism fell in the
Soviet Union, ending the feuds between the satellite states and the U.S.S.R.
The collapse of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics radically changed the
world's economic and political environment. No other conflict of interest
dominated the post World War Two world like the cold war did. One man is
credited with ending the cold war, Mikhail Gorbachev. This however was not
the biggest event Gorbachev was responsible for. The end of the cold war was
just a by-product of the other major event he was involved with. That is the fall
of communism in the USSR and the collapse of the USSR itself.
The collapse of the USSR caused Gorbachev to resign as President of the Soviet
Union on the 25th of December, 1991. His successor, Boris Yeltsin took steps to
adopt a fully functioning market economy. This went beyond Gorbachev’s
economic reform policy of perestroika, it meant Russia was no longer
communist. This marked the collapse of communism, the end of the Cold War,
and the beginning of the modern unipolar world order.
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