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The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was dissolved on 26 December 1991 by Declaration № 142-Н of the Soviet of the Republics of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, formally establishing the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a sovereign state and subject of international law. It also brought an end to the Soviet Union's federal government and General Secretary (also President) Mikhail Gorbachev's effort to reform the Soviet political and economic system in an attempt to stop a period of political stalemate and economic backslide. The Soviet Union had experienced internal stagnation and ethnic separatism. Although highly centralized until its final years, the country was made up of 15 top-level republics that served as homelands for different ethnicities. By late 1991, amid a catastrophic political crisis, with several republics already departing the Union and the waning of centralized power, the leaders of three of its founding members, the Russian, Byelorussian, and Ukrainian SSRs, declared that the Soviet Union no longer existed. Eight more republics joined their declaration shortly thereafter. Gorbachev resigned on 25 December 1991 and what was left of the Soviet parliament voted to end itself.
|Part of the Cold War and the Revolutions of 1989
|16 November 1988 – 26 December 1991 (1988-11-16 – 1991-12-26)
(3 years, 1 month, and 10 days)
The process began with growing unrest in the country's various constituent national republics developing into an incessant political and legislative conflict between them and the central government. Estonia was the first Soviet republic to declare state sovereignty inside the Union on 16 November 1988. Lithuania was the first republic to declare full independence restored from the Soviet Union by the Act of 11 March 1990 with its Baltic neighbors and the Southern Caucasus republic of Georgia joining it over the next two months.
In August 1991, communist hardliners and military elites tried to overthrow Gorbachev and stop the failing reforms in a coup but failed. The turmoil led to the government in Moscow losing most of its influence, and many republics proclaiming independence in the following days and months. The secession of the Baltic states was recognized in September 1991. The Belovezha Accords were signed on 8 December by President Boris Yeltsin of Russia, President Kravchuk of Ukraine, and Chairman Shushkevich of Belarus, recognizing each other's independence and creating the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to replace the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan was the last republic to leave the Union, proclaiming independence on 16 December. All the ex-Soviet republics, with the exception of Georgia and the Baltic states, joined the CIS on 21 December, signing the Alma-Ata Protocol. On 25 December, Gorbachev resigned and turned over his presidential powers—including control of the nuclear launch codes—to Yeltsin, who was now the first president of the Russian Federation. That evening, the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time and replaced with the Russian tricolor flag. The following day, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR's upper chamber, the Soviet of the Republics formally dissolved the Union. The events of the dissolution resulted in its 15 constituent republics gaining full independence which also marked the major conclusion of the Revolutions of 1989 and the end of the Cold War.
In the aftermath of the Cold War, several of the former Soviet republics have retained close links with Russia and formed multilateral organizations such as the CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the Union State, for economic and military cooperation. On the other hand, the Baltic states and all of the other former Warsaw Pact states became part of the European Union (EU) and joined NATO, while some of the other former Soviet republics like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have been publicly expressing interest in following the same path since the 1990s, despite Russian attempts to persuade them otherwise.
1985: Gorbachev elected
Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by the Politburo on 11 March 1985, just over four hours after his predecessor Konstantin Chernenko died at the age of 73. Gorbachev, aged 54, was the youngest member of the Politburo. His initial goal as general secretary was to revive the stagnating Soviet economy, and he realized that doing so would require reforming underlying political and social structures. The reforms began with personnel changes of senior Brezhnev-era officials who would impede political and economic change. On 23 April 1985, Gorbachev brought two protégés, Yegor Ligachev and Nikolai Ryzhkov, into the Politburo as full members. He kept the "power" ministries favorable by promoting KGB Chief Viktor Chebrikov from candidate to full member and appointing Minister of Defence Marshal Sergei Sokolov as a Politburo candidate. That liberalization, however, fostered nationalist movements and ethnic disputes within the Soviet Union. It also led indirectly to the revolutions of 1989 in which Soviet-imposed socialist regimes of the Warsaw Pact were toppled peacefully (with the notable exception of Romania), which in turn increased pressure on Gorbachev to introduce greater democracy and autonomy for the Soviet Union's constituent republics. Under Gorbachev's leadership, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1989 introduced limited competitive elections to a new central legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies (although the ban on other political parties was not lifted until 1990).
On 1 July 1985, Gorbachev sidelined his main rival by removing Grigory Romanov from the Politburo and brought Boris Yeltsin into the Central Committee Secretariat. On 23 December 1985, Gorbachev appointed Yeltsin First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party, replacing Viktor Grishin.
1986: Sakharov returns
Gorbachev continued to press for greater liberalization. On 23 December 1986 Andrei Sakharov, the most prominent Soviet dissident, returned to Moscow shortly after receiving a personal telephone call from Gorbachev telling him that after almost seven years his internal exile for defying the authorities was over.
1987: One-party democracy
At the 28–30 January Central Committee plenum, Gorbachev suggested a new policy of demokratizatsiya throughout Soviet society. He proposed that future Communist Party elections should offer a choice between multiple candidates, elected by secret ballot. However, the party delegates at the Plenum watered down Gorbachev's proposal, and democratic choice within the Communist Party was never significantly implemented.
Gorbachev also radically expanded the scope of glasnost and stated that no subject was off limits for open discussion in the media. On 7 February, dozens of political prisoners were freed in the first group release since the Khrushchev Thaw in the mid-1950s.
On 10 September, Boris Yeltsin wrote a letter of resignation to Gorbachev. At the 27 October plenary meeting of the Central Committee, Yeltsin, frustrated that Gorbachev had not addressed any of the issues outlined in his resignation letter, criticized the slow pace of reform, and servility to the general secretary. In his reply, Gorbachev accused Yeltsin of "political immaturity" and "absolute irresponsibility". Nevertheless, news of Yeltsin's insubordination and "secret speech" spread, and soon samizdat versions began to circulate. That marked the beginning of Yeltsin's rebranding as a rebel and rise in popularity as an anti-establishment figure. The following four years of political struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev played a large role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On 11 November, Yeltsin was fired from the post of First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party.
In the years leading up to the dissolution, various protests and resistance movements occurred or took hold throughout the Soviet Union, which were variously suppressed or tolerated.
The CTAG (Latvian: Cilvēktiesību aizstāvības grupa, lit. 'Human Rights Defense Group') Helsinki-86 was founded in July 1986 in the Latvian port town of Liepāja. Helsinki-86 was the first openly anti-Communist organization in the U.S.S.R., and the first openly organized opposition to the Soviet regime, setting an example for other ethnic minorities' pro-independence movements.
On 26 December 1986, 300 Latvian youths gathered in Riga's Cathedral Square and marched down Lenin Avenue toward the Freedom Monument, shouting, "Soviet Russia out! Free Latvia!" Security forces confronted the marchers, and several police vehicles were overturned.
The Jeltoqsan ('December') of 1986 were riots in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, sparked by Gorbachev's dismissal of Dinmukhamed Kunaev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and an ethnic Kazakh, who was replaced with Gennady Kolbin, an outsider from the Russian SFSR. Demonstrations started in the morning of 17 December 1986, with 200 to 300 students in front of the Central Committee building on Brezhnev Square. On the next day, 18 December, protests turned into civil unrest as clashes between troops, volunteers, militia units, and Kazakh students turned into a wide-scale confrontation. The clashes could only be controlled on the third day.
On 6 May 1987, Pamyat, a Russian nationalist group, held an unsanctioned demonstration in Moscow. The authorities did not break up the demonstration and even kept traffic out of the demonstrators' way while they marched to an impromptu meeting with Boris Yeltsin.
On 25 July 1987, 300 Crimean Tatars staged a noisy demonstration near the Kremlin Wall for several hours, calling for the right to return to their homeland, from which they were deported in 1944; police and soldiers looked on.
On 23 August 1987, the 48th anniversary of the secret protocols of the 1939 Molotov Pact, thousands of demonstrators marked the occasion in the three Baltic capitals to sing independence songs and attend speeches commemorating Stalin's victims. The gatherings were sharply denounced in the official press and closely watched by the police but were not interrupted.
On 14 June 1987, about 5,000 people gathered again at Freedom Monument in Riga, and laid flowers to commemorate the anniversary of Stalin's mass deportation of Latvians in 1941. The authorities did not crack down on demonstrators, which encouraged more and larger demonstrations throughout the Baltic States. On 18 November 1987, hundreds of police and civilian militiamen cordoned off the central square to prevent any demonstration at Freedom Monument, but thousands lined the streets of Riga in silent protest regardless.
On 17 October 1987, about 3,000 Armenians demonstrated in Yerevan complaining about the condition of Lake Sevan, the Nairit chemicals plant, and the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant, and air pollution in Yerevan. Police tried to prevent the protest but took no action to stop it once the march was underway. The following day 1,000 Armenians participated in another demonstration calling for Armenian national rights in Karabakh and the proposed unification of both Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The police tried to physically prevent the march and after a few incidents, dispersed the demonstrators.