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Dissolution of the Soviet Union

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Dissolution of the Soviet Union

Tanks at Red Square during the 1991 Soviet coup d'état

Date December 26, 1991; 26 years ago[1]
Location USSR
Participa People of the USSR
nts Government of the Soviet Union
Governments of Republics of the Soviet
Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics of
the Soviet Union
Outcome Dissolution of the Soviet Union into 15
independent republics
Conclusion of the Cold War
Post-Soviet states (alphabetical order)
1. 5. 9. 13.
Arme Georgi Lithu Turkmenis
nia a ania tan
2. 6. 10. 14.
Azerb Kazak Mold Ukraine
aijan hstan ova 15.
3. 7. 11. Uzbekista
Belar Kyrgyz Russi n
us stan a
4. 8. 12.
Eston Latvia Tajiki
ia stan
Part of a series on the
History of the
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(Soviet Union)

Revolutionary Beginnings
Revolution Civil War New Economic Policy 1922 Treaty
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Socialism in One Country Great Purge
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(Holodomor Kazakhstan famine of 1932-1933)
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(Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact Great Patriotic War Operation
Barbarossa Occupation of the Baltic states Soviet occupation of
Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina Battle of Berlin Soviet
invasion of Manchuria)
Soviet deportations Soviet famine of 1946–47 Cold War
Korean War
Post-Stalin era
Berlin blockade 1954 transfer of Crimea Khrushchev Thaw
On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences We will
bury you 9 March riots Wage reforms Cuban Revolution
Sino-Soviet split Space program Cuban Missile Crisis
Brezhnev era
Brezhnev Doctrine Era of Stagnation 50th anniversary of
the Armenian Genocide protests Prague Spring
Vietnam War
(Laotian Civil War Operation Menu Cambodian Civil War Fall of
Six-Day War Détente Yom Kippur War Dirty War
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(Angolan War of Independence Angolan Civil War Mozambican
War of Independence Mozambican Civil War South African
Border War Rhodesian Bush War)
Cambodian-Vietnamese War Soviet–Afghan War 1980
Summer Olympics
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(1980 Olympic boycott 1984 Olympic boycott)
Polish strike Death and funeral of Brezhnev
Leadership changes and collapse
Invasion of Grenada Glasnost Perestroika Soviet
withdrawal from Afghanistan
Singing Revolution
(Baltic Way Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania
On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia
Estonian Sovereignty Declaration)
Revolutions of 1989
(Pan-European picnic Die Wende Peaceful Revolution Fall of the
Berlin Wall Velvet Revolution End of communist rule in Hungary
Romanian Revolution German reunification)
(Jeltoqsan Nagorno-Karabakh War 9 April tragedy Black
January Osh riots War of Laws Dushanbe riots January Events
The Barricades Referendum Union of Sovereign States August
Coup Ukrainian independence (referendum) Belavezha Accords
Alma-Ata Protocol)
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• vte
The dissolution of the Soviet Union occurred on December 26, 1991,

officially granting self-governing independence to the Republics of the

Soviet Union. It was a result of the declaration number 142-Н of the
Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union.[1] The declaration acknowledged the
independence of the former Soviet republics and created the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), although five of the
signatories ratified it much later or did not do so at all. On the previous
day, 25 December 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth
and final leader of the Soviet Union, resigned, declared his office extinct,
and handed over its powers – including control of the Soviet nuclear
missile launching codes – to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. That
evening at 7:32, the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last
time and replaced with the pre-revolutionary Russian flag.[2]
Previously, from August to December, all the individual republics,
including Russia itself, had either seceded from the union or at the very
least denounced the Treaty on the Creation of the Soviet Union. The
week before the union's formal dissolution, 11 republics signed the Alma-
Ata Protocol formally establishing the CIS and declaring that the Soviet
Union had ceased to exist.[3][4] Both the Revolutions of 1989 and the
dissolution of the USSR also signalled the end of the Cold War.
Several of the former Soviet republics have retained close links with the
Russian Federation and formed multilateral organizations such as the
Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Economic Community,
the Union State, the Eurasian Customs Union, and the Eurasian
Economic Union to enhance economic and security cooperation. On the
other hand, the Baltic states have joined NATO and the European Union.

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External links
Moscow: Mikhail Gorbachev, new General Secretary[edit]
See also: Glasnost and Perestroika

Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by the Politburo on
March 11, 1985, three hours after predecessor Konstantin Chernenko's
death at age 73. Gorbachev, aged 54, was the youngest member of the
Politburo. His initial goal as general secretary was to revive the Soviet
economy, and he realized that doing so would require reforming
underlying political and social structures.[5] The reforms began with
personnel changes of senior Brezhnev-era officials who would impede
political and economic change.[6] On April 23, 1985, Gorbachev brought
two protégés, Yegor Ligachev and Nikolai Ryzhkov, into the Politburo as
full members. He kept the "power" ministries happy by promoting KGB
Head Viktor Chebrikov from candidate to full member and appointing
Minister of Defence Marshal Sergei Sokolov as a Politburo candidate.
This liberalisation, however, fostered nationalist movements and ethnic
disputes within the Soviet Union.[7] It also led indirectly to the revolutions
of 1989, in which Soviet-imposed socialist regimes of the Warsaw Pact
were toppled, all peacefully (with the notable exception of Romania),[8]
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
in 1989 introduced limited competitive elections to a new central
legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies[9] (although the ban on
other political parties was not lifted until 1990).[10]
In May 1985, Gorbachev delivered a speech in Leningrad advocating
reforms and an anti-alcohol campaign to tackle widespread alcoholism.
Prices of vodka, wine, and beer were raised in order to make these
drinks more expensive and to discourage consumption and alcohol
rationing was introduced. Unlike most forms of rationing, which is
typically adopted as a strategy to conserve scarce goods, this was done
to restrict sales with the overt goal of curtailing drunkenness.[11]
Gorbachev's plan also included billboards promoting sobriety, increased
penalties for public drunkenness, and censorship of drinking scenes from
old movies. This mirrored Tsar Nicholas II's program during the First
World War, which was intended to eradicate drunkenness in order to
bolster the war effort. However, that earlier effort was also intended to
preserve grain for only the most essential purposes, which did not
appear to be a goal in Gorbachev's program. Gorbachev soon faced the
same adverse economic reaction to his prohibition as did the last Tsar.
The disincentivization of alcohol consumption was a serious blow to the
state budget according to Alexander Yakovlev, who noted annual
collections of alcohol taxes decreased by 100 billion rubles. Alcohol
sales migrated to the black market and moonshining became more
prevalent as some made "bathtub vodka" with homegrown potatoes.
Poorer, less educated Russians resorted to drinking unhealthy
substitutes such as nail-polish remover, rubbing alcohol, or men's
cologne, resulting in an additional burden on Russia's healthcare sector
due to the increased poisoning cases.[11] The underlying purpose of these
reforms was to prop up the existing centrally planned economy, in
contrast to later reforms, which tended toward market socialism.
On July 1, 1985, Gorbachev promoted Eduard Shevardnadze, First
Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, to full member of the
Politburo, and the following day appointed him minister of foreign affairs,
replacing longtime Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. The latter,
disparaged as "Mr Nyet" in the West, had served for 28 years as Minister
of Foreign Affairs. Gromyko was relegated to the largely ceremonial
position of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (officially
Soviet Head of State), as he was considered an "old thinker." Also on
July 1, Gorbachev sidelined his main rival by removing Grigory Romanov
from the Politburo and he brought Boris Yeltsin and Lev Zaikov into the
CPSU Central Committee Secretariat.
In the fall of 1985, Gorbachev continued to bring younger and more
energetic men into government. On September 27, Nikolai Ryzhkov
replaced 79-year-old Nikolai Tikhonov as Chairman of the Council of
Ministers, effectively the Soviet prime minister, and on October 14,
Nikolai Talyzin replaced Nikolai Baibakov as chairman of the State
Planning Committee (GOSPLAN). At the next Central Committee
meeting on October 15, Tikhonov retired from the Politburo and Talyzin
became a candidate. Finally, on December 23, 1985, Gorbachev
appointed Yeltsin First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party
replacing Viktor Grishin.
Gorbachev continued to press for greater liberalization. On December
23, 1986, the most prominent Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov,
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.[12]
Baltic republics[edit]
The Baltic republics, forcibly reincorporated into the Soviet Union in
1944,[13] pressed for independence, beginning with Estonia in November
1988 when the Estonian legislature passed laws resisting the control of
the central government.[14] While Gorbachev had loosened Soviet control
over Eastern Europe, he had made it known that Baltic separatism would
not be tolerated and be met with embargoes and force if need be, as
there was a tacit agreement in the Politboro of the infeasibility of using
force to keep Poland and Czechoslovakia communist, but said loss of
power would not extend into the USSR itself.[15]
Latvia's Helsinki-86[edit]
Figure of Liberty on the Freedom Monument in Riga, focus of 1986 Latvian
The CTAG (Latvian: Cilvēktiesību aizstāvības grupa, Human Rights
Defense Group) Helsinki-86 was founded in July 1986 in the Latvian port
town of Liepāja by three workers: Linards Grantiņš, Raimonds Bitenieks,
and Mārtiņš Bariss. Its name refers to the human-rights statements of the
Helsinki Accords. 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.[citation needed]
On December 26, 1986, in the early morning hours after a rock concert,
300 working-class 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.[16]
Central Asia[edit]
Kazakhstan: Jeltoqsan riots[edit]
The "Jeltoqsan" (Kazakh for "December") of 1986 were riots in Alma-Ata,
Kazakhstan, sparked by Gorbachev's dismissal of Dinmukhamed
Konayev, 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.[17] Demonstrations started in the morning of
December 17, 1986, with 200 to 300 students in front of the Central
Committee building on Brezhnev Square protesting Konayev's dismissal
and replacement by a Russian. Protesters swelled to 1,000 then to 5,000
as other students joined the crowd. The CPK Central Committee ordered
troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, druzhiniki (volunteers),
cadets, policemen, and the KGB to cordon the square and videotape the
participants. The situation escalated around 5 p.m., as troops were
ordered to disperse the protesters. Clashes between the security forces
and the demonstrators continued throughout the night in Almaty.
On the next day, December 18, 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. The Alma-Ata events were followed by
smaller protests and demonstrations in Shymkent, Pavlodar, Karaganda,
and Taldykorgan. Reports from Kazakh SSR authorities estimated that
the riots drew 3,000 people.[18] Other estimates are of at least 30,000 to
40,000 protestors with 5,000 arrested and jailed, and an unknown
number of casualties.[19] Jeltoqsan leaders say over 60,000 Kazakhs
participated in the protests.[19][20] According to the Kazakh SSR
government, there were two deaths during the riots, including a volunteer
police worker and a student. Both of them had died due to blows to the
head. About 100 others were detained and several others were
sentenced to terms in labor camps.[21] Sources cited by the Library of
Congress claimed that at least 200 people died or were summarily
executed soon thereafter; some accounts estimate casualties at more
than 1,000. The writer Mukhtar Shakhanov claimed that a KGB officer
testified that 168 protesters were killed, but that figure remains
Moscow: One-party democracy[edit]
At the January 28–30, 1987, 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
CPSU 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, stating that
no subject was off-limits for open discussion in the media. Even so, the
cautious Soviet intelligentsia took almost a year to begin pushing the
boundaries to see if he meant what he said. For the first time, the
Communist Party leader had appealed over the heads of Central
Committee members for the people's support in exchange for expansion
of liberties. The tactic proved successful: Within two years political
reform could no longer be sidetracked by Party "conservatives." An
unintended consequence was that having saved reform, Gorbachev's
move ultimately killed the very system it was designed to save.[22]
On February 7, 1987, dozens of political prisoners were freed in the first
group release since Khrushchev's "thaw" in the mid-1950s.[23] On May 6,
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, head of the
Moscow Communist Party and at the time one of Gorbachev's closest
allies.[24] On July 25, 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 merely looked on.[25]
On September 10, 1987, after a lecture from hardliner Yegor Ligachev at
the Politburo for allowing these two unsanctioned demonstrations in
Moscow, Boris Yeltsin wrote a letter of resignation to Gorbachev, who
had been holidaying on the Black Sea.[26] Gorbachev was stunned – no
one had ever voluntarily resigned from the Politburo. At the October 27,
1987, 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, servility to the
general secretary, and opposition from Ligachev that had led to his
(Yeltsin's) resignation.[27] No one had ever addressed the Party leader so
brazenly in front of the Central Committee since Leon Trotsky in the
1920s.[27] In his reply, Gorbachev accused Yeltsin of "political immaturity"
and "absolute irresponsibility." No one backed Yeltsin.
Nevertheless, news of Yeltsin's insubordination and "secret speech"
spread, and soon samizdat versions began to circulate. This 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 USSR.[28] On November 11, 1987, Yeltsin was fired from the post of
First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party.
Baltic republics: Molotov–Ribbentrop protests[edit]
On August 23, 1987, on the 48th anniversary of the secret protocols of
the 1939 Molotov Pact between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin that
ultimately turned the then-independent Baltic states over to the Soviet
Union, 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.[29]
Latvia leads[edit]
On June 14, 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. This was the first large
demonstration in the Baltic republics to commemorate the anniversary of
an event contrary to official Soviet history. The authorities did not crack
down on demonstrators, which encouraged more and larger
demonstrations throughout the Baltic States. The next major anniversary
after the August 23 Molotov Pact demonstration was on November 18,
the date of Latvia’s independence in 1918. On November 18, 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.[30]
Estonia’s first protests[edit]
In spring 1987, a protest movement arose against new phosphate mines
in Estonia. Signatures were collected in Tartu, and students assembled
in the university's main hall to express lack of confidence in the
government. At a demonstration on May 1, 1987, young people showed
up with banners and slogans despite an official ban. On August 15,
1987, former political prisoners formed the MRP-AEG group (Estonians
for the Public Disclosure of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), which was
headed by Tiit Madisson. In September 1987, the Edasi newspaper
published a proposal by Edgar Savisaar, Siim Kallas, Tiit Made, and
Mikk Titma calling for Estonia's transition to autonomy. Initially geared
toward economic independence, then toward a certain amount of political
autonomy, the project, Isemajandav Eesti ("A Self-Managing Estonia")
became known according to its Estonian acronym, IME, which means
"miracle". On October 21, a demonstration dedicated to those who gave
their lives in the 1918–1920 Estonian War of Independence took place in
Võru, which culminated in a conflict with the militia. For the first time in
years, the blue, black, and white national tricolor was publicly
The Caucasus[edit]
Armenia: Environmental concerns and Nagorno-Karabakh[edit]

Environmental concerns over the Metsamor nuclear power plant drove initial
demonstrations in Yerevan.[citation needed]
On October 17, 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 demonstration was led by Armenian
writers such as Silva Kaputikian, Zori Balayan, and Maro Margarian and
leaders from the National Survival organization. The march originated at
the Opera Plaza after speakers, mainly intellectuals, addressed the
The following day 1,000 Armenians participated in another
demonstration calling for Armenian national rights in Karabagh. The
demonstrators demanded the annexation of Nakhchivan and Nagorno-
Karabakh to Armenia, and carried placards to that effect. The police tried
to physically prevent the march and after a few incidents, dispersed the
demonstrators. Nagorno-Karabakh would break out in violence the
following year.[32]
Moscow loses control[edit]
In 1988 Gorbachev started to lose control of two regions of the Soviet
Union, as the Baltic republics were now leaning towards independence,
and the Caucasus descended into violence and civil war.
On July 1, 1988, the fourth and last day of a bruising 19th Party
Conference, Gorbachev won the backing of the tired delegates for his
last-minute proposal to create a new supreme legislative body called the
Congress of People's Deputies. Frustrated by the old guard's resistance,
Gorbachev embarked on a set of constitutional changes to try to
separate party and state, and thereby isolate his conservative Party
opponents. Detailed proposals for the new Congress of People's
Deputies were published on October 2, 1988,[33] and to enable the
creation of the new legislature. The Supreme Soviet, during its
November 29 – December 1, 1988, session, implemented amendments
to the 1977 Soviet Constitution, enacted a law on electoral reform, and
set the date of the election for March 26, 1989.[34]
On November 29, 1988, the Soviet Union ceased to jam all foreign radio
stations, allowing Soviet citizens for the first time to have unrestricted
access to news sources beyond Communist Party control.[35]
Baltic Republics[edit]
In 1986 and 1987 Latvia had been in the vanguard of the Baltic states in
pressing for reform. In 1988 Estonia took over the lead role with the
foundation of the Soviet Union's first popular front and starting to
influence state policy.
Estonian Popular Front[edit]
The Estonian Popular Front was founded in April 1988. On June 16,
1988, Gorbachev replaced Karl Vaino, the "old guard" leader of the
Communist Party of Estonia, with the comparatively liberal Vaino Väljas,
the Soviet ambassador to Nicaragua.[36] In late June 1988, Väljas bowed
to pressure from the Estonian Popular Front and legalized the flying of
the old blue-black-white flag of Estonia, and agreed to a new state
language law that made Estonian the official language of the Republic.[16]
On October 2, the Popular Front formally launched its political platform at
a two-day congress. Väljas attended, gambling that the front could help
Estonia become a model of economic and political revival, while
moderating separatist and other radical tendencies.[37] On November 16,
1988, the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR adopted a declaration of
national sovereignty under which Estonian laws would take precedence
over those of the Soviet Union.[38] Estonia's parliament also laid claim to
the republic's natural resources including land, inland waters, forests,
mineral deposits, and to the means of industrial production, agriculture,
construction, state banks, transportation, and municipal services within
the territory of Estonia's borders.[39]
Latvian Popular Front[edit]
The Latvian Popular Front was founded in June 1988. On October 4,
Gorbachev replaced Boris Pugo, the "old guard" leader of the
Communist Party of Latvia, with the more liberal Jānis Vagris. In October
1988 Vagris bowed to pressure from the Latvian Popular Front and
legalized flying the former carmine red-and-white flag of independent
Latvia, and on October 6 he passed a law making Latvian the country's
official language.[16]
Lithuania’s Sąjūdis[edit]
The Popular Front of Lithuania, called Sąjūdis ("Movement"), was
founded in May 1988. On October 19, 1988, Gorbachev replaced
Ringaudas Songaila, the "old guard" leader of the Communist Party of
Lithuania, with the relatively liberal Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas. In
October 1988 Brazauskas bowed to pressure from Sąjūdis and legalized
the flying of the historic yellow-green-red flag of independent Lithuania,
and in November 1988 passed a law making Lithuanian the country's
official language.[16]
Rebellion in the Caucasus[edit]
Azerbaijan: Violence[edit]
On February 20, 1988, after a week of growing demonstrations in
Stepanakert, capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (the
Armenian majority area within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic),
the Regional Soviet voted to secede and join with the Soviet Socialist
Republic of Armenia.[40] This local vote in a small, remote part of the
Soviet Union made headlines around the world; it was an unprecedented
defiance of republican and national authorities. On February 22, 1988, in
what became known as the "Askeran clash", thousands of Azerbaijanis
marched towards Nagorno-Karabakh, demanding information about
rumors of an Azerbaijani having been killed in Stepanakert. They were
informed that no such incident had occurred, but refused to believe it.
They were informed that no such incident had occurred, but refused to
believe it. Dissatisfied with what they were told, thousands began
marching toward Nagorno-Karabakh, massacring 50 Armenian villagers
in the process.[41] [42] Karabakh authorities mobilised over a thousand
police to stop the march, with the resulting clashes leaving two
Azerbaijanis dead. These deaths, announced on state radio, led to the
Sumgait Pogrom. Between February 26 and March 1, the city of Sumgait
(Azerbaijan) saw violent anti-Armenian rioting during which 32 people
were killed. The authorities totally lost control and occupied the city with
paratroopers and tanks; nearly all of the 14,000 Armenian residents of
Sumgait fled.[43]
Gorbachev refused to make any changes to the status of Nagorno
Karabakh, which remained part of Azerbaijan. He instead sacked the
Communist Party Leaders in both Republics – on May 21, 1988, Kamran
Baghirov was replaced by Abdulrahman Vezirov as First Secretary of the
Azerbaijan Communist Party. From July 23 to September 1988, a group
of Azerbaijani intellectuals began working for a new organization called
the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, loosely based on the Estonian Popular
Front.[44] On September 17, when gun battles broke out between the
Armenians and Azerbaijanis near Stepanakert, two soldiers were killed
and more than two dozen injured.[45] This led to almost tit-for-tat ethnic
polarization in Nagorno-Karabakh's two main towns: The Azerbaijani
minority was expelled from Stepanakert, and the Armenian minority was
expelled from Shusha.[46] On November 17, 1988, in response to the
exodus of tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis from Armenia, a series of
mass demonstrations began in Baku's Lenin Square, lasting 18 days and
attracting half a million demonstrators. On December 5, 1988, the Soviet
militia finally moved in, cleared the square by force, and imposed a
curfew that lasted ten months.[47]
Armenia: Uprising[edit]
The rebellion of fellow Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh had an
immediate effect in Armenia itself. Daily demonstrations, which began in
the Armenian capital Yerevan on February 18, initially attracted few
people, but each day the Nagorno-Karabakh issue became increasingly
prominent and numbers swelled. On February 20, a 30,000-strong crowd
demonstrated in the Theater Square, by February 22, there were
100,000, the next day 300,000, and a transport strike was declared, by
February 25, there were close to 1 million demonstrators – more than a
quarter of Armenia's population-.[48] This was the first of the large,
peaceful public demonstrations that would become a feature of
communism's overthrow in Prague, Berlin, and, ultimately, Moscow.
Leading Armenian intellectuals and nationalists, including future first
President of independent Armenia Levon Ter-Petrossian, formed the
eleven-member Karabakh Committee to lead and organize the new
Gorbachev again refused to make any changes to the status of Nagorno
Karabakh, which remained part of Azerbaijan. Instead he sacked both
Republics' Communist Party Leaders: On May 21, 1988, Karen
Demirchian was replaced by Suren Harutyunyan as First Secretary of the
Communist Party of Armenia. However, Harutyunyan quickly decided to
run before the nationalist wind and on May 28, allowed Armenians to
unfurl the red-blue-orange First Armenian Republic flag for the first time
in almost 70 years.[49] On June 15, 1988, the Armenian Supreme Soviet
adopted a resolution formally approving the idea of Nagorno Karabakh
joining Armenia.[50] Armenia, formerly one of the most loyal Republics,
had suddenly turned into the leading rebel republic. On July 5, 1988,
when a contingent of troops was sent in to remove demonstrators by
force from Yerevan's Zvartnots International Airport, shots were fired and
one student protester was killed.[51] In September, further large
demonstrations in Yerevan led to the deployment of armored vehicles.[52]
In the autumn of 1988 almost all of the 200,000 Azerbaijani minority in
Armenia was expelled by Armenian Nationalists, with over 100 killed in
the process[53] – this, after the Sumgait pogrom earlier that year carried
out by Azerbaijanis against ethnic Armenians and subsequent expulsion
of all Armenians from Azerbaijan. On November 25, 1988, a military
commandant took control of Yerevan as the Soviet government moved to
prevent further ethnic violence.[54]
On December 7, 1988, the Spitak earthquake struck, killing an estimated
25,000 to 50,000 people. When Gorbachev rushed back from a visit to
the United States, he was so angered to be confronted by protesters
calling for Nagorno-Karabakh to be made part of the Armenian Republic
– during a natural disaster – that on December 11, 1988, he ordered the
entire Karabakh Committee to be arrested.[55]
Georgia: First demonstrations[edit]
In November 1988 in Tbilisi, capital of Soviet Georgia, many
demonstrators camped out in front of the republic's legislature calling for
Georgia's independence[56] and in support of Estonia's declaration of
The Western republics[edit]
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Democratic Movement of Moldova[edit]
Beginning in February 1988, the Democratic Movement of Moldova
(formerly Moldavia) organized public meetings, demonstrations, and
song festivals, which gradually grew in size and intensity. In the streets,
the center of public manifestations was the Stephen the Great Monument
in Chişinău, and the adjacent park harboring Aleea Clasicilor (The "Alee
of the Classics [of the Literature]"). On January 15, 1988, in a tribute to
Mihai Eminescu at his bust on the Aleea Clasicilor, Anatol Şalaru
submitted a proposal to continue the meetings. In the public discourse,
the movement called for national awakening, freedom of speech, revival
of Moldavian traditions, and for attainment of official status for the
Romanian language and return to the Latin alphabet. The transition from
"movement" (an informal association) to "front" (a formal association)
was seen as a natural "upgrade" once a movement gained momentum
with the public, and the Soviet authorities no longer dared to crack down
on it.
Demonstrations in Lviv, Ukraine[edit]
On April 26, 1988, about 500 people participated in a march organized
by the Ukrainian Cultural Club on Kiev's Khreschatyk Street to mark the
second anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, carrying placards
with slogans like "Openness and Democracy to the End." Between May
and June 1988, Ukrainian Catholics in western Ukraine celebrated the
Millennium of Christianity in Kievan Rus' in secret by holding services in
the forests of Buniv, Kalush, Hoshiv, and Zarvanytsia. On June 5, 1988,
as the official celebrations of the Millennium were held in Moscow, the
Ukrainian Cultural Club hosted its own observances in Kiev at the
monument to St. Volodymyr the Great, the grand prince of Kievan Rus'.
On June 16, 1988, 6,000 to 8,000 people gathered in Lviv to hear
speakers declare no confidence in the local list of delegates to the 19th
Communist Party conference, to begin on June 29. On June 21, a rally in
Lviv attracted 50,000 people who had heard about a revised delegate
list. Authorities attempted to disperse the rally in front of Druzhba
Stadium. On July 7, 10,000 to 20,000 people witnessed the launch of the
Democratic Front to Promote Perestroika. On July 17, a group of 10,000
gathered in the village Zarvanytsia for Millennium services celebrated by
Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk. The militia tried to
disperse attendees, but it turned out to be the largest gathering of
Ukrainian Catholics since Stalin outlawed the Church in 1946. On August
4, which came to be known as "Bloody Thursday," local authorities
violently suppressed a demonstration organized by the Democratic Front
to Promote Perestroika. Forty-one people were detained, fined, or
sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest. On September 1, local
authorities violently displaced 5,000 students at a public meeting lacking
official permission at Ivan Franko State University.
On November 13, 1988, approximately 10,000 people attended an
officially sanctioned meeting organized by the cultural heritage
organization Spadschyna, the Kyiv University student club Hromada, and
the environmental groups Zelenyi Svit ("Green World") and Noosfera, to
focus on ecological issues. From November 14–18, 15 Ukrainian
activists were among the 100 human-, national- and religious-rights
advocates invited to discuss human rights with Soviet officials and a
visiting delegation of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation
in Europe (also known as the Helsinki Commission). On December 10,
hundreds gathered in Kiev to observe International Human Rights Day at
a rally organized by the Democratic Union. The unauthorized gathering
resulted in the detention of local activists.[58]
Kurapaty, Belarus[edit]
The Partyja BPF (Belarusian Popular Front) was established in 1988 as
a political party and cultural movement for democracy and
independence, à la the Baltic republics’ popular fronts. The discovery of
mass graves in Kurapaty outside Minsk by historian Zianon Pazniak, the
Belarusian Popular Front’s first leader, gave additional momentum to the
pro-democracy and pro-independence movement in Belarus.[59] It claimed
that the NKVD performed secret killings in Kurapaty.[60] Initially the Front
had significant visibility because its numerous public actions almost
always ended in clashes with the police and the KGB.
Moscow: Limited democratization[edit]
Spring 1989 saw the people of the Soviet Union exercising a democratic
choice, albeit limited, for the first time since 1917, when they elected the
new Congress of People's Deputies. Just as important was the
uncensored live TV coverage of the legislature's deliberations, where
people witnessed the previously feared Communist leadership being
questioned and held accountable. This example fueled a limited
experiment with democracy in Poland, which quickly led to the toppling of
the Communist government in Warsaw that summer – which in turn
sparked uprisings that overthrew communism in the other five Warsaw
Pact countries before the end of 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell.
These events showed that the people of Eastern Europe and the Soviet
Union did not support Gorbachev's drive to modernize Communism;
rather, they preferred to abandon it altogether.[citation needed]
This was also the year that CNN became the first non-Soviet broadcaster
allowed to beam its TV news programs to Moscow. Officially, CNN was
available only to foreign guests in the Savoy Hotel, but Muscovites
quickly learned how to pick up signals on their home televisions. That
had a major impact on how Russians saw events in their country, and
made censorship almost impossible.[61]
Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union[edit]

Andrei Sakharov, formerly exiled to Gorky, was elected to the Congress of People's
Deputies in March 1989.
The month-long nomination period for candidates for the Congress of
People's Deputies of the USSR lasted until January 24, 1989. For the
next month, selection among the 7,531 district nominees took place at
meetings organized by constituency-level electoral commissions. On
March 7, a final list of 5,074 candidates was published; about 85% were
Party members.
In the two weeks prior to the 1,500 district polls, elections to fill 750
reserved seats of public organizations, contested by 880 candidates,
were held. Of these seats, 100 were allocated to the CPSU, 100 to the
All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, 75 to the Communist Youth
Union (Komsomol), 75 to the Committee of Soviet Women, 75 to the War
and Labour Veterans' Organization, and 325 to other organizations such
as the Academy of Sciences. The selection process was done in April.
In the March 26 general elections, voter participation was an impressive
89.8%, and 1,958 (including 1,225 district seats) of the 2,250 CPD seats
were filled. In district races, run-off elections were held in 76
constituencies on April 2 and 9 and fresh elections were organized on
April 20 and 14 to May 23,[62] in the 199 remaining constituencies where
the required absolute majority was not attained.[34] While most CPSU-
endorsed candidates were elected, more than 300 lost to independent
candidates such as Yeltsin, physicist Andrei Sakharov and lawyer
Anatoly Sobchak.
In the first session of the new Congress of People's Deputies, from May
25 to June 9, hardliners retained control but reformers used the
legislature as a platform for debate and criticism – which was broadcast
live and uncensored. This transfixed the population; nothing like this
freewheeling debate had ever been witnessed in the U.S.S.R. On May
29, Yeltsin managed to secure a seat on the Supreme Soviet,[63] and in
the summer he formed the first opposition, the Inter-Regional Deputies
Group, composed of Russian nationalists and liberals. Composing the
final legislative group in the Soviet Union, those elected in 1989 played a
vital part in reforms and the eventual breakup of the Soviet Union during
the next two years.
On May 30, 1989, Gorbachev proposed that nationwide local elections,
scheduled for November 1989, be postponed until early 1990 because
there were still no laws governing the conduct of such elections. This
was seen by some as a concession to local Party officials, who feared
they would be swept from power in a wave of anti-establishment
On October 25, 1989, the Supreme Soviet voted to eliminate special
seats for the Communist Party and other official organizations in national
and local elections, responding to sharp popular criticism that such
reserved slots were undemocratic. After vigorous debate, the 542-
member Supreme Soviet passed the measure 254-85 (with 36
abstentions). The decision required a constitutional amendment, ratified
by the full congress, which met December 12–25. It also passed
measures that would allow direct elections for presidents of each of the
15 constituent republics. Gorbachev strongly opposed such a move
during debate but was defeated.
The vote expanded the power of republics in local elections, enabling
them to decide for themselves how to organize voting. Latvia, Lithuania,
and Estonia had already proposed laws for direct presidential elections.
Local elections in all the republics had already been scheduled to take
place between December and March 1990.[65]
Loss of satellite states[edit]
The Eastern Bloc
The six Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe, while nominally
independent, were widely recognized in the international community as
the Soviet satellite states. All had been occupied by the Soviet Red Army
in 1945, had Soviet-style socialist states imposed upon them, and had
very restricted freedom of action in either domestic or international
affairs. Any moves towards real independence were suppressed by
military force – in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Prague
Spring in 1968. Gorbachev abandoned the oppressive and expensive
Brezhnev Doctrine, which mandated intervention in the Warsaw Pact
states, in favor of non-intervention in the internal affairs of allies –
jokingly termed the Sinatra Doctrine in a reference to the Frank Sinatra
song "My Way".
Baltic "Chain of Freedom"[edit]
"Baltic Way" 1989 demonstration in Šiauliai, Lithuania. The coffins are decorated with
national flags of the three Baltic Republics and are placed symbolically beneath
Soviet and Nazi flags.
The Baltic Way or Baltic Chain (also Chain of Freedom Estonian: Balti
kett, Latvian: Baltijas ceļš, Lithuanian: Baltijos kelias, Russian:
Балтийский путь) was a peaceful political demonstration on August 23,
1989.[66] An estimated 2 million people joined hands to form a human
chain extending 600 kilometres (370 mi) across Estonia, Latvia and
Lithuania, which had been forcibly reincorporated into the Soviet Union in
1944. The colossal demonstration marked the 50th anniversary of the
Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact that divided Eastern Europe into spheres of
influence and led to the occupation of the Baltic states in 1940.
In December 1989, the Congress of People's Deputies accepted—and
Gorbachev signed—the report by the Yakovlev Commission condemning
the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact.[67]
Lithuania’s Communist Party splits[edit]
In the March 1989 elections to the Congress of Peoples Deputies, 36 of
the 42 deputies from Lithuania were candidates from the independent
national movement Sąjūdis. This was the greatest victory for any national
organization within the USSR and was a devastating revelation to the
Lithuanian Communist Party of its growing unpopularity.[68]
On December 7, 1989, the Communist Party of Lithuania under the
leadership of Algirdas Brazauskas, split from the Communist Party of the
Soviet Union and abandoned its claim to have a constitutional "leading
role" in politics. A smaller loyalist faction of the Communist Party, headed
by hardliner Mykolas Burokevičius, was established and remained
affiliated with the CPSU. However, Lithuania’s governing Communist
Party was formally independent from Moscow's control – a first for Soviet
Republics and a political earthquake that prompted Gorbachev to
arrange a visit to Lithuania the following month in a futile attempt to bring
the local party back under control.[69] The following year, the Communist
Party lost power altogether in multiparty parliamentary elections which
had caused Vytautas Landsbergis to become the first non-Communist
president of Lithuania since its forced incorporation into the USSR.
Azerbaijan’s blockade[edit]
On July 16, 1989, the Popular Front of Azerbaijan held its first congress
and elected Abulfaz Elchibey, who would become President, as its
Chairman.[70] On August 19, 600,000 protesters jammed Baku’s Lenin
Square (now Azadliq Square) to demand the release of political
prisoners.[71] In the second half of 1989, weapons were handed out in
Nagorno-Karabakh. When Karabakhis got hold of small arms to replace
hunting rifles and crossbows, casualties began to mount; bridges were
blown up, roads were blockaded, and hostages were taken.[72]
In a new and effective tactic, the Popular Front launched a rail blockade
of Armenia,[73] which caused petrol and food shortages because 85
percent of Armenia's freight came from Azerbaijan.[74] Under pressure
from the Popular Front the Communist authorities in Azerbaijan started
making concessions. On September 25, they passed a sovereignty law
that gave precedence to Azerbaijani law, and on October 4, the Popular
Front was permitted to register as a legal organization as long as it lifted
the blockade. Transport communications between Azerbaijan and
Armenia never fully recovered.[74] Tensions continued to escalate and on
December 29, Popular Front activists seized local party offices in
Jalilabad, wounding dozens.
Armenia’s Karabakh Committee released[edit]
On May 31, 1989, the 11 members of the Karabakh Committee, who had
been imprisoned without trial in Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison,
were released, and returned home to a hero's welcome.[75] Soon after his
release, Levon Ter-Petrossian, an academic, was elected chairman of
the anti-communist opposition Pan-Armenian National Movement, and
later stated that it was in 1989 that he first began considering full
Massacre in Tbilisi, Georgia[edit]

Photos of victims (mostly young women) of an April 1989 massacre in Tbilisi,

On April 7, 1989, Soviet troops and armored personnel carriers were
sent to Tbilisi after more than 100,000 people protested in front of
Communist Party headquarters with banners calling for Georgia to
secede from the Soviet Union and for Abkhazia to be fully integrated into
Georgia.[77] On April 9, 1989, troops attacked the demonstrators; some 20
people were killed and more than 200 wounded.[78] This event radicalized
Georgian politics, prompting many to conclude that independence was
preferable to continued Soviet rule. On April 14, Gorbachev removed
Jumber Patiashvili as First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party
and replaced him with former Georgian KGB chief Givi Gumbaridze.
On July 16, 1989, in Abkhazia's capital Sukhumi, a protest against the
opening of a Georgian university branch in the town led to violence that
quickly degenerated into a large-scale inter-ethnic confrontation in which
18 died and hundreds were injured before Soviet troops restored order.[79]
This riot marked the start of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

The Western republics[edit]

Popular Front of Moldova[edit]
In the March 26, 1989, elections to the Congress of People's Deputies,
15 of the 46 Moldavian deputies sent to Moscow were supporters of the
Nationalist/Democratic movement.[80] The Popular Front of Moldova
founding congress took place two months later, on May 20, 1989. During
its second congress (June 30 – July 1, 1989), Ion Hadârcă was elected
its president.
A series of demonstrations that became known as the Grand National
Assembly (Romanian: Marea Adunare Naţională) was the Front’s first
major achievement. Such mass demonstrations, including one attended
by 300,000 people on August 27,[81] convinced the Moldavian Supreme
Soviet on August 31 to adopt the language law making Moldovan the
official language, and replacing the Cyrillic alphabet with Latin
Ukraine’s Rukh[edit]
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In Ukraine, Lviv and Kiev celebrated Ukrainian Independence Day on
January 22, 1989. Thousands gathered in Lviv for an unauthorized
moleben (religious service) in front of St. George's Cathedral. In Kiev, 60
activists met in a Kiev apartment to commemorate the proclamation of
the Ukrainian People's Republic in 1918. On February 11–12, 1989, the
Ukrainian Language Society held its founding congress. On February 15,
1989, the formation of the Initiative Committee for the Renewal of the
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was announced. The
program and statutes of the movement were proposed by the Writers
Association of Ukraine and were published in the journal Literaturna
Ukraina on February 16, 1989. The organization heralded Ukrainian
dissidents such as Vyacheslav Chornovil.
In late February, large public rallies took place in Kiev to protest the
election laws, on the eve of the March 26 elections to the USSR
Congress of People's Deputies, and to call for the resignation of the first
secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Volodymyr Shcherbytsky,
lampooned as "the mastodon of stagnation." The demonstrations
coincided with a visit to Ukraine by Soviet President Gorbachev. On
February 26, 1989, between 20,000 and 30,000 people participated in an
unsanctioned ecumenical memorial service in Lviv, marking the
anniversary of the death of 19th-century Ukrainian artist and nationalist
Taras Shevchenko.
On March 4, 1989, the Memorial Society, committed to honoring the
victims of Stalinism and cleansing society of Soviet practices, was
founded in Kiev. A public rally was held the next day. On March 12, A
pre-election meeting organized in Lviv by the Ukrainian Helsinki Union
and the Marian Society Myloserdia (Compassion) was violently
dispersed, and nearly 300 people were detained. On March 26, elections
were held to the union Congress of People's Deputies; by-elections were
held on April 9, May 14, and May 21. Among the 225 Ukrainian deputies,
most were conservatives, though a handful of progressives made the
From April 20–23, 1989, pre-election meetings were held in Lviv for four
consecutive days, drawing crowds of up to 25,000. The action included a
one-hour warning strike at eight local factories and institutions. It was the
first labor strike in Lviv since 1944. On May 3, a pre-election rally
attracted 30,000 in Lviv. On May 7, The Memorial Society organized a
mass meeting at Bykivnia, site of a mass grave of Ukrainian and Polish
victims of Stalinist terror. After a march from Kiev to the site, a memorial
service was staged.
From mid-May to September 1989, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic hunger
strikers staged protests on Moscow's Arbat to call attention to the plight
of their Church. They were especially active during the July session of
the World Council of Churches held in Moscow. The protest ended with
the arrests of the group on September 18. On May 27, 1989, the
founding conference of the Lviv regional Memorial Society was held. On
June 18, 1989, an estimated 100,000 faithful participated in public
religious services in Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, responding to
Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky's call for an international day of prayer.
On August 19, 1989, the Russian Orthodox Parish of Saints Peter and
Paul announced it would be switching to the Ukrainian Autocephalous
Orthodox Church. On September 2, 1989, tens of thousands across
Ukraine protested a draft election law that reserved special seats for the
Communist Party and for other official organizations: 50,000 in Lviv,
40,000 in Kiev, 10,000 in Zhytomyr, 5,000 each in Dniprodzerzhynsk and
Chervonohrad, and 2,000 in Kharkiv. From September 8–10, 1989, writer
Ivan Drach was elected to head Rukh, the People's Movement of
Ukraine, at its founding congress in Kiev. On September 17, between
150,000 and 200,000 people marched in Lviv, demanding the
legalization of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. On September 21,
1989, exhumation of a mass grave began in Demianiv Laz, a nature
preserve south of Ivano-Frankivsk. On September 28, First Secretary of
the Communist Party of the Ukraine Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, a holdover
from the Brezhnev era, was replaced by Vladimir Ivashko.
On October 1, 1989, a peaceful demonstration of 10,000 to 15,000
people was violently dispersed by the militia in front of Lviv's Druzhba
Stadium, where a concert celebrating the Soviet "reunification" of
Ukrainian lands was being held. On October 10, Ivano-Frankivsk was the
site of a pre-election protest attended by 30,000 people. On October 15,
several thousand people gathered in Chervonohrad, Chernivtsi, Rivne,
and Zhytomyr; 500 in Dnipropetrovsk; and 30,000 in Lviv to protest the
election law. On October 20, faithful and clergy of the Ukrainian
Autocephalous Orthodox Church participated in a synod in Lviv, the first
since its forced liquidation in the 1930s.
On October 24, the union Supreme Soviet passed a law eliminating
special seats for Communist Party and other official organizations'
representatives. On October 26, twenty factories in Lviv held strikes and
meetings to protest the police brutality of October 1 and the authorities'
unwillingness to prosecute those responsible. From October 26–28, the
Zelenyi Svit (Friends of the Earth – Ukraine) environmental association
held its founding congress, and on October 27 the Ukrainian Supreme
Soviet passed a law eliminating the special status of party and other
official organizations.
On October 28, 1989, the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet decreed that
effective January 1, 1990, Ukrainian would be the official language of
Ukraine, while Russian would be used for communication between ethnic
groups. On the same day The Congregation of the Church of the
Transfiguration in Lviv left the Russian Orthodox Church and proclaimed
itself the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The following day, thousands
attended a memorial service at Demianiv Laz, and a temporary marker
was placed to indicate that a monument to the "victims of the repressions
of 1939–1941" soon would be erected.
In mid-November The Shevchenko Ukrainian Language Society was
officially registered. On November 19, 1989, a public gathering in Kiev
attracted thousands of mourners, friends and family to the reburial in
Ukraine of three inmates of the infamous Gulag Camp No. 36 in Perm in
the Ural Mountains: human-rights activists Vasyl Stus, Oleksiy Tykhy,
and Yuri Lytvyn. Their remains were reinterred in Baikove Cemetery. On
November 26, 1989, a day of prayer and fasting was proclaimed by
Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky, thousands of faithful in western Ukraine
participated in religious services on the eve of a meeting between Pope
John Paul II and Soviet President Gorbachev. On November 28, 1989,
the Ukrainian SSR's Council for Religious Affairs issued a decree
allowing Ukrainian Catholic congregations to register as legal
organizations. The decree was proclaimed on December 1, coinciding
with a meeting at the Vatican between the pope and the Soviet
On December 10, 1989, the first officially sanctioned observance of
International Human Rights Day was held in Lviv. On December 17, an
estimated 30,000 attended a public meeting organized in Kiev by Rukh in
memory of Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, who died on December 14.
On December 26, the Supreme Soviet of Ukrainian SSR adopted a law
designating Christmas, Easter, and the Feast of the Holy Trinity official
In May 1989, a Soviet dissident, Mustafa Dzhemilev, was elected to lead
the newly founded Crimean Tatar National Movement. He also led the
campaign for return of Crimean Tatars to their homeland in Crimea after
45 years of exile.
Belarus: Kurapaty[edit]

Meeting in Kurapaty, Byelorussia, 1989

On January 24, 1989, the Soviet authorities in Byelorussia agreed to the
demand of the democratic opposition to build a monument to thousands
of people shot by Stalin-era police in the Kuropaty Forest near Minsk in
the 1930s.[83]
On September 30, 1989, thousands of Byelorussians, denouncing local
leaders, marched through Minsk to demand additional cleanup of the
1986 Chernobyl disaster site in Ukraine. Up to 15,000 protesters wearing
armbands bearing radioactivity symbols and carrying the banned red-
and-white Byelorussian national flag filed through torrential rain in
defiance of a ban by local authorities. Later, they gathered in the city
center near the government's headquarters, where speakers demanded
resignation of Yefrem Sokolov, the republic's Communist Party leader,
and called for the evacuation of half a million people from the
contaminated zones.[84]
Central Asian republics[edit]
Fergana, Uzbekistan[edit]
Thousands of Soviet troops were sent to the Fergana Valley, southeast
of the Uzbek capital Tashkent, to re-establish order after clashes in
which local Uzbeks hunted down members of the Meskhetian minority in
several days of rioting between June 4–11, 1989; about 100 people were
killed.[85] On June 23, 1989, Gorbachev removed Rafiq Nishonov as First
Secretary of the Communist Party of the Uzbek SSR and replaced him
with Karimov, who went on to lead Uzbekistan as a Soviet Republic and
subsequently as an independent state.
Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan[edit]

Nursultan Nazarbayev became leader of the Kazakh SSR in 1989 and later led
Kazakhstan to independence.
In Kazakhstan on June 19, 1989, young men carrying guns, firebombs,
iron bars and stones rioted in Zhanaozen, causing a number of deaths.
The youths tried to seize a police station and a water-supply station.
They brought public transportation to a halt and shut down various shops
and industries.[86] By June 25, the rioting had spread to five other towns
near the Caspian Sea. A mob of about 150 people armed with sticks,
stones and metal rods attacked the police station in Mangishlak, about
90 miles from Zhanaozen, before they were dispersed by government
troops flown in by helicopters. Mobs of young people also rampaged
through Yeraliev, Shepke, Fort-Shevchenko and Kulsary, where they
poured flammable liquid on trains housing temporary workers and set
them on fire.[87]
On June 22, 1989, Gorbachev removed Gennady Kolbin (the ethnic
Russian whose appointment caused riots in December 1986) as First
Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan for his poor handling of
the June events, and replaced him with Nursultan Nazarbayev, an ethnic
Kazakh who went on to lead Kazakhstan as a Soviet Republic and
subsequently as an independent state for decades.
Moscow loses six republics[edit]
On February 7, 1990, the Central Committee of the CPSU accepted
Gorbachev’s recommendation that the party give up its monopoly on
political power.[88] In 1990, all fifteen constituent republics of the USSR
held their first competitive elections, with reformers and ethnic
nationalists winning many seats. The CPSU lost the elections in six
• In Lithuania, to Sąjūdis, on February 24 (run-off elections on March 4,
7, 8, and 10).
• In Moldova, to the Popular Front of Moldova, on February 25.
• In Estonia, to the Estonian Popular Front, on March 18.
• In Latvia, to the Latvian Popular Front, on March 18 (run-off elections
on March 25, April 1, and April 29).
• In Armenia, to the Pan-Armenian National Movement, on May 20 (run-
off elections on June 3 and July 15).
• In Georgia, to Round Table-Free Georgia, on October 28 (run-off
election on November 11).
The constituent republics began to declare their national sovereignty and
began a "war of laws" with the Moscow central government; they
rejected union-wide legislation that conflicted with local laws, asserted
control over their local economy and refused to pay taxes. President
Landsbergis of Lithuania also exempted Lithuanian men from mandatory
service in the Soviet Armed Forces. This conflict caused economic
dislocation as supply lines were disrupted, and caused the Soviet
economy to decline further.[89]
Rivalry between USSR and RSFSR[edit]
On March 4, 1990, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic held
relatively free elections for the Congress of People's Deputies of Russia.
Boris Yeltsin was elected, representing Sverdlovsk, garnering 72 percent
of the vote.[90] On May 29, 1990, Yeltsin was elected chair of the
Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, despite the fact that
Gorbachev asked Russian deputies not to vote for him.
Yeltsin was supported by democratic and conservative members of the
Supreme Soviet, who sought power in the developing political situation.
A new power struggle emerged between the RSFSR and the Soviet
Union. On June 12, 1990, the Congress of People's Deputies of the
RSFSR adopted a declaration of sovereignty. On July 12, 1990, Yeltsin
resigned from the Communist Party in a dramatic speech at the 28th

Lithuania’s Vytautas Landsbergis

Baltic republics[edit]
Gorbachev’s visit to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on January 11–13,
1990, provoked a pro-independence rally attended by an estimated
250,000 people.
On March 11, the newly elected parliament of the Lithuanian SSR
elected Vytautas Landsbergis, the leader of Sąjūdis, as its chairman and
proclaimed the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania,
making Lithuania the first Soviet Republic to break away from the USSR.
Moscow reacted with an economic blockade keeping the troops in
Lithuania ostensibly "to secure the rights of ethnic Russians".[92]

Estonia’s Edgar Savisaar

On March 25, 1990, the Estonian Communist Party voted to split from
the CPSU after a six-month transition.[93]
On March 30, 1990, the Estonian Supreme Council declared the Soviet
occupation of Estonia since World War II to be illegal and began
reestablishing Estonia as an independent state.
On April 3, 1990, Edgar Savisaar of the Popular Front of Estonia was
elected Chairman of the Council of Ministers (the equivalent of being
Prime Minister).

Latvia’s Ivars Godmanis

Latvia declared the restoration of independence on May 4, 1990, with the
declaration stipulating a transitional period to complete independence.
The Declaration stated that although Latvia had de facto lost its
independence in World War II, the country had de jure remained a
sovereign country because the annexation had been unconstitutional
and against the will of the Latvian people. The declaration also stated
that Latvia would base its relationship with the Soviet Union on the basis
of the Latvian–Soviet Peace Treaty of 1920, in which the Soviet Union
recognized Latvia's independence as inviolable "for all future time". May
4 is now a national holiday in Latvia.
On May 7, 1990, Ivars Godmanis of the Latvian Popular Front was
elected Chairman of the Council of Ministers (the equivalent of being
Latvia's Prime Minister).
Azerbaijan’s Black January[edit]
During the first week of January 1990, in the Azerbaijani exclave of
Nakhchivan, the Popular Front led crowds in the storming and
destruction of the frontier fences and watchtowers along the border with
Iran, and thousands of Soviet Azerbaijanis crossed the border to meet
their ethnic cousins in Iranian Azerbaijan.[94] It was the first time the
Soviet Union had lost control of an external border.

Azerbaijani stamp with photos of Black January

Ethnic tensions had escalated between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis
in spring and summer 1988.[95] On January 9, 1990, after the Armenian
parliament voted to include Nagorno-Karabakh within its budget,
renewed fighting broke out, hostages were taken, and four Soviet
soldiers were killed.[96] On January 11, Popular Front radicals stormed
party buildings and effectively overthrew the communist powers in the
southern town of Lenkoran.[96] Gorbachev resolved to regain control of
Azerbaijan; the events that ensued are known as "Black January." Late
on January 19, 1990, after blowing up the central television station and
cutting the phone and radio lines, 26,000 Soviet troops entered the
Azerbaijani capital Baku, smashing barricades, attacking protesters, and
firing into crowds. On that night and during subsequent confrontations
(which lasted until February), more than 130 people died. Most of these
were civilians. More than 700 civilians were wounded, hundreds were
detained, but only a few were actually tried for alleged criminal offenses.
Civil liberties suffered. Soviet Defence Minister Dmitry Yazov stated that
the use of force in Baku was intended to prevent the de facto takeover of
the Azerbaijani government by the non-communist opposition, to prevent
their victory in upcoming free elections (scheduled for March 1990), to
destroy them as a political force, and to ensure that the Communist
government remained in power. This marked the first time the Soviet
Army took one of its own cities by force.[97]
The army had gained control of Baku, but by January 20 it had
essentially lost Azerbaijan. Nearly the entire population of Baku turned
out for the mass funerals of "martyrs" buried in the Alley of Martyrs.[97]
Thousands of Communist Party members publicly burned their party
cards. First Secretary Vezirov decamped to Moscow and Ayaz Mutalibov
was appointed his successor in a free vote of party officials. The ethnic
Russian Viktor Polyanichko remained second secretary and the power
behind the throne.[98]
Following the hardliners' takeover, the September 30, 1990 elections
(runoffs on October 14) were characterized by intimidation; several
Popular Front candidates were jailed, two were murdered, and
unabashed ballot stuffing took place, even in the presence of Western
observers.[99] The election results reflected the threatening environment;
out of the 350 members, 280 were Communists, with only 45 opposition
candidates from the Popular Front and other non-communist groups,
who together formed a Democratic Bloc ("Dembloc").[100] In May 1990
Mutalibov was elected Chairman of the Supreme Soviet unopposed.[101]
The Western republics[edit]
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Viacheslav Chornovil, a prominent Ukrainian dissident and a lead figure of Rukh.
On January 21, 1990, Rukh organized a 300-mile (480 km) human chain
between Kiev, Lviv, and Ivano-Frankivsk. Hundreds of thousands joined
hands to commemorate the proclamation of Ukrainian independence in
1918 and the reunification of Ukrainian lands one year later (1919
Unification Act). On January 23, 1990, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic
Church held its first synod since its liquidation by the Soviets in 1946 (an
act which the gathering declared invalid). On February 9, 1990, the
Ukrainian Ministry of Justice officially registered Rukh. However, the
registration came too late for Rukh to stand its own candidates for the
parliamentary and local elections on March 4. At the 1990 elections of
people's deputies to the Supreme Council (Verkhovna Rada), candidates
from the Democratic Bloc won landslide victories in western Ukrainian
oblasts. A majority of the seats had to hold run-off elections. On March
18, Democratic candidates scored further victories in the run-offs. The
Democratic Bloc gained about 90 out of 450 seats in the new parliament.
On April 6, 1990, the Lviv City Council voted to return St. George
Cathedral to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The Russian
Orthodox Church refused to yield. On April 29–30, 1990, the Ukrainian
Helsinki Union disbanded to form the Ukrainian Republican Party. On
May 15 the new parliament convened. The bloc of conservative
communists held 239 seats; the Democratic Bloc, which had evolved into
the National Council, had 125 deputies. On June 4, 1990, two candidates
remained in the protracted race for parliament chair. The leader of the
Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), Volodymyr Ivashko, was elected
with 60 percent of the vote as more than 100 opposition deputies
boycotted the election. On June 5–6, 1990, Metropolitan Mstyslav of the
U.S.-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church was elected patriarch of the
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) during that Church's
first synod. The UAOC declared its full independence from the Moscow
Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which in March had
granted autonomy to the Ukrainian Orthodox church headed by the
Metropolitan Filaret.

Leonid Kravchuk became Ukraine's leader in 1990.

On June 22, 1990, Volodymyr Ivashko withdrew his candidacy for leader
of the Communist Party of Ukraine in view of his new position in
parliament. Stanislav Hurenko was elected first secretary of the CPU. On
July 11, Ivashko resigned from his post as chairman of the Ukrainian
Parliament after he was elected deputy general secretary of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Parliament accepted the
resignation a week later, on July 18. On July 16 Parliament
overwhelmingly approved the Declaration on State Sovereignty of
Ukraine – with a vote of 355 in favour and four against. The people's
deputies voted 339 to 5 to proclaim July 16 a Ukrainian national holiday.
On July 23, 1990, Leonid Kravchuk was elected to replace Ivashko as
parliament chairman. On July 30, Parliament adopted a resolution on
military service ordering Ukrainian soldiers "in regions of national conflict
such as Armenia and Azerbaijan" to return to Ukrainian territory. On
August 1, Parliament voted overwhelmingly to shut down the Chernobyl
Nuclear Power Plant. On August 3, it adopted a law on the economic
sovereignty of the Ukrainian republic. On August 19, the first Ukrainian
Catholic liturgy in 44 years was celebrated at St. George Cathedral. On
September 5–7, the International Symposium on the Great Famine of
1932–1933 was held in Kiev. On September 8, The first "Youth for
Christ" rally since 1933 took place held in Lviv, with 40,000 participants.
In September 28–30, the Green Party of Ukraine held its founding
congress. On September 30, nearly 100,000 people marched in Kiev to
protest against the new union treaty proposed by Gorbachev.
On October 1, 1990, parliament reconvened amid mass protests calling
for the resignations of Kravchuk and of Prime Minister Vitaliy Masol, a
leftover from the previous régime. Students erected a tent city on
October Revolution Square, where they continued the protest.
On October 17 Masol resigned, and on October 20, Patriarch Mstyslav I
of Kiev and all Ukraine arrived at Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, ending a 46-
year banishment from his homeland. On October 23, 1990, Parliament
voted to delete Article 6 of the Ukrainian Constitution, which referred to
the "leading role" of the Communist Party.
On October 25–28, 1990, Rukh held its second congress and declared
that its principal goal was the "renewal of independent statehood for
Ukraine". On October 28 UAOC faithful, supported by Ukrainian
Catholics, demonstrated near St. Sophia’s Cathedral as newly elected
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksei and Metropolitan Filaret
celebrated liturgy at the shrine. On November 1, the leaders of the
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and of the Ukrainian Autocephalous
Orthodox Church, respectively, Metropolitan Volodymyr Sterniuk and
Patriarch Mstyslav, met in Lviv during anniversary commemorations of
the 1918 proclamation of the Western Ukrainian National Republic.
On November 18, 1990, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
enthroned Mstyslav as Patriarch of Kiev and all Ukraine during
ceremonies at Saint Sophia's Cathedral. Also on November 18, Canada
announced that its consul-general to Kiev would be Ukrainian-Canadian
Nestor Gayowsky. On November 19, the United States announced that
its consul to Kiev would be Ukrainian-American John Stepanchuk. On
November 19, the chairmen of the Ukrainian and Russian parliaments,
respectively, Kravchuk and Yeltsin, signed a 10-year bilateral pact. In
early December 1990 the Party of Democratic Rebirth of Ukraine was
founded; on December 15, the Democratic Party of Ukraine was
Central Asian republics[edit]
Tajikistan: Dushanbe riots[edit]
Main article: 1990 Dushanbe riots

Tajik nationalist protesters squared off against the Soviet Army in Dushanbe.
On February 12–14, 1990, anti-government riots took place in
Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, as tensions rose between nationalist
Tajiks and ethnic Armenian refugees, after the Sumgait pogrom and anti-
Armenian riots in Azerbaijan in 1988. During these riots, demonstrations
sponsored by the nationalist Rastokhez movement turned violent.
Radical economical and political reforms were demanded by the
protesters which in turned torched government buildings; shops and
other businesses were attacked and looted. 26 people were killed and
565 people were injured.
Kirghizia: Osh massacre[edit]
Main article: Osh riots (1990)
In June 1990, the city of Osh and its environs experienced bloody ethnic
clashes between ethnic Kirghiz nationalist group Osh Aymaghi and
Uzbek nationalist group Adolat over the land of a former collective farm.
There were about 1,200 casualties, including over 300 dead and 462
seriously injured. The riots broke out over the division of land resources
in and around the city.[103]
Moscow’s crisis[edit]
On January 14, 1991, Nikolai Ryzhkov resigned from his post as
Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or premier of the Soviet Union, and
was succeeded by Valentin Pavlov in the newly established post of
Prime Minister of the Soviet Union.
On March 17, 1991, in a Union-wide referendum 76.4 percent of voters
endorsed retention of a reformed Soviet Union.[104] The Baltic republics,
Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova boycotted the referendum as well as
Checheno-Ingushetia (an autonomous republic within Russia that had a
strong desire for independence, and by now referred to itself as
Ichkeria).[105] In each of the other nine republics, a majority of the voters
supported the retention of a reformed Soviet Union.
Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin[edit]

Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first democratically elected President

On June 12, 1991, Boris Yeltsin won 57 percent of the popular vote in
the democratic elections, defeating Gorbachev's preferred candidate,
Nikolai Ryzhkov, who won 16 percent of the vote. Following Yeltsin's
election as president, Russia declared itself independent.[106] In his
election campaign, Yeltsin criticized the "dictatorship of the center," but
did not yet suggest that he would introduce a market economy.
Baltic republics[edit]
Main article: January Events (Lithuania)
On January 13, 1991, Soviet troops, along with the KGB Spetsnaz Alpha
Group, stormed the Vilnius TV Tower in Lithuania to suppress the
independence movement. Fourteen unarmed civilians were killed and
hundreds more injured. On the night of July 31, 1991, Russian OMON
from Riga, the Soviet military headquarters in the Baltics, assaulted the
Lithuanian border post in Medininkai and killed seven Lithuanian
servicemen. This event further weakened the Soviet Union's position
internationally and domestically, and stiffened Lithuanian resistance.
Main article: The Barricades

Barricade erected in Riga to prevent the Soviet Army from reaching the Latvian
Parliament, July 1991.
The bloody attacks in Lithuania prompted Latvians to organize defensive
barricades (the events are still today known as "The Barricades")
blocking access to strategically important buildings and bridges in Riga.
Soviet attacks in the ensuing days resulted in six deaths and several
injuries; one person died later of their wounds.
Main article: Tallinn TV Tower
When Estonia had officially restored its independence during the coup
(see below) in the dark hours of August 20, 1991, at 11:03 pm Tallinn
time, many Estonian volunteers surrounded the Tallinn TV Tower in an
attempt to prepare to cut off the communication channels after the Soviet
troops seized it and refused to be intimidated by the Soviet troops. When
Edgar Savisaar confronted the Soviet troops for ten minutes, they finally
retreated from the TV tower after a failed resistance against the
August coup[edit]
Main article: 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt
Tanks in Red Square during the 1991 coup attempt.
Faced with growing separatism, Gorbachev sought to restructure the
Soviet Union into a less centralized state. On August 20, 1991, the
Russian SFSR was scheduled to sign a New Union Treaty that would
have converted the Soviet Union into a federation of independent
republics with a common president, foreign policy and military. It was
strongly supported by the Central Asian republics, which needed the
economic advantages of a common market to prosper. However, it would
have meant some degree of continued Communist Party control over
economic and social life.
More radical reformists were increasingly convinced that a rapid
transition to a market economy was required, even if the eventual
outcome meant the disintegration of the Soviet Union into several
independent states. Independence also accorded with Yeltsin's desires
as president of the Russian Federation, as well as those of regional and
local authorities to get rid of Moscow’s pervasive control. In contrast to
the reformers' lukewarm response to the treaty, the conservatives,
"patriots," and Russian nationalists of the USSR – still strong within the
CPSU and the military – were opposed to weakening the Soviet state
and its centralized power structure.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin speaks atop a tank outside the White House in
defiance of the August 1991 coup.
On August 19, 1991, Gorbachev's vice president, Gennady Yanayev,
Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, KGB
chief Vladimir Kryuchkov and other senior officials acted to prevent the
union treaty from being signed by forming the "General Committee on
the State Emergency," which put Gorbachev – on holiday in Foros,
Crimea – under house arrest and cut off his communications. The coup
leaders issued an emergency decree suspending political activity and
banning most newspapers.
Coup organizers expected popular support but found that public opinion
in large cities and in the republics was mostly against them, manifested
by public demonstrations, especially in Moscow. Russian SFSR
President Yeltsin condemned the coup and garnered popular support.
Thousands of Muscovites came out to defend the White House (the
Russian Federation's parliament and Yeltsin's office), the symbolic seat
of Russian sovereignty at the time. The organizers tried but ultimately
failed to arrest Yeltsin, who rallied opposition to the coup by making
speeches from atop a tank. The special forces dispatched by the coup
leaders took up positions near the White House, but members refused to
storm the barricaded building. The coup leaders also neglected to jam
foreign news broadcasts, so many Muscovites watched it unfold live on
CNN. Even the isolated Gorbachev was able to stay abreast of
developments by tuning into the BBC World Service on a small transistor
After three days, on August 21, 1991, the coup collapsed. The
organizers were detained and Gorbachev was reinstated as president,
albeit with his power much depleted.
The fall: August–December 1991[edit]

Signing of the agreement to establish the Commonwealth of Independent States

(CIS), December 8, 1991.
On August 24, 1991, Gorbachev dissolved the Central Committee of the
CPSU, resigned as the party's general secretary, and dissolved all party
units in the government. Five days later, the Supreme Soviet indefinitely
suspended all CPSU activity on Soviet territory, effectively ending
Communist rule in the Soviet Union and dissolving the only remaining
unifying force in the country. Gorbachev established a State Council of
the Soviet Union on 5 September, designed to bring him and the highest
officials of the remaining republics into a collective leadership, able to
appoint a premier of the Soviet Union; it never functioned properly,
though Ivan Silayev de facto took the post through the Committee on the
Operational Management of the Soviet Economy and the Interstate
Economic Committee and tried to form a government though with rapidly
reducing powers.
The Soviet Union collapsed with dramatic speed in the last quarter of
1991. Between August and December, 10 republics declared their
independence, largely out of fear of another coup. By the end of
September, Gorbachev no longer had the authority to influence events
outside of Moscow. He was challenged even there by Yeltsin, who had
begun taking over what remained of the Soviet government, including the
On September 17, 1991, General Assembly resolution numbers 46/4,
46/5, and 46/6 admitted Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to the United
Nations, conforming to Security Council resolution numbers 709, 710,
and 711 passed on September 12 without a vote.[108][109]
By 7 November 1991, most newspapers referred to the country as the
'former Soviet Union'.[110]
The final round of the Soviet Union's collapse began with a Ukrainian
popular referendum on December 1, 1991, in which 90 percent of voters
opted for independence. The secession of Ukraine, long second only to
Russia in economic and political power, ended any realistic chance of
Gorbachev keeping the Soviet Union together even on a limited scale.
The leaders of the three principal Slavic republics, Russia, Ukraine, and
Belarus (formerly Byelorussia), agreed to discuss possible alternatives to
the union.
On December 8, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus secretly
met in Belavezhskaya Pushcha, in western Belarus, and signed the
Belavezha Accords, which proclaimed the Soviet Union had ceased to
exist and announced formation of the Commonwealth of Independent
States (CIS) as a looser association to take its place. They also invited
other republics to join the CIS. Gorbachev called it an unconstitutional
coup. However, by this time there was no longer any reasonable doubt
that, as the preamble of the Accords put it, "the USSR, as a subject of
international law and a geopolitical reality, is ceasing its existence."
On December 12, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR formally
ratified the Belavezha Accords and renounced the 1922 Union Treaty. It
also recalled the Russian deputies from the Supreme Soviet of the
USSR. The legality of this action was questionable, since Soviet law did
not allow a republic to unilaterally recall its deputies.[111] However, no one
in either Russia or the Kremlin objected. Any objections from the latter
would have likely had no effect, since the Soviet government had
effectively been rendered impotent long before December. On the
surface, it appeared that the largest republic had formally seceded.
However, this is not the case. Russia apparently took the line that it was
not possible to secede from a country that no longer existed. Later that
day, Gorbachev hinted for the first time that he was considering stepping
On December 17, 1991, along with 28 European countries, the European
Community, and four non-European countries, the three Baltic Republics
and nine of the twelve remaining Soviet republics signed the European
Energy Charter in the Hague as sovereign states.[113]

Five double-headed Russian eagles (below) replace the former state emblem of the
Soviet Union and the "СССР" letters (above) in the façade of the Grand Kremlin
Palace after the dissolution of the USSR.
Doubts remained over whether the Belavezha Accords had legally
dissolved the Soviet Union, since they were signed by only three
republics. However, on December 21, 1991, representatives of 11 of the
12 remaining republics – all except Georgia – signed the Alma-Ata
Protocol, which confirmed the dissolution of the Union and formally
established the CIS. They also "accepted" Gorbachev's resignation.
While Gorbachev hadn't made any formal plans to leave the scene yet,
he did tell CBS News that he would resign as soon as he saw that the
CIS was indeed a reality.[114]
In a nationally televised speech early in the morning of December 25,
1991, Gorbachev resigned as president of the USSR – or, as he put it, "I
hereby discontinue my activities at the post of President of the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics." He declared the office extinct, and all of its
powers (such as control of the nuclear arsenal) were ceded to Yeltsin. A
week earlier, Gorbachev had met with Yeltsin and accepted the fait
accompli of the Soviet Union's dissolution. On the same day, the
Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR adopted a statute to change
Russia's legal name from "Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic"
to "Russian Federation," showing that it was now a sovereign state.
On the night of December 25, at 7:32 p.m. Moscow time, after
Gorbachev left the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time,
and the Russian tricolor was raised in its place at 11:40 pm, symbolically
marking the end of the Soviet Union. In his parting words, he defended
his record on domestic reform and détente, but conceded, "The old
system collapsed before a new one had time to start working."[115] On that
same day, the President of the United States George H.W. Bush held a
brief televised speech officially recognizing the independence of the 11
remaining republics.
On December 26, the upper chamber of the Union's Supreme Soviet
voted both itself and the Soviet Union out of existence. (The lower
chamber, the Council of the Union, had been unable to work since
December 12, when the recall of the Russian deputies left it without a
quorum.) The following day Yeltsin moved into Gorbachev's former
office, though the Russian authorities had taken over the suite two days
earlier. By the end of 1991, the few remaining Soviet institutions that had
not been taken over by Russia ceased operation, and individual
republics assumed the central government's role.
The Alma-Ata Protocol also addressed other issues, including UN
membership. Notably, Russia was authorized to assume the Soviet
Union's UN membership, including its permanent seat on the Security
Council. The Soviet Ambassador to the UN delivered a letter signed by
Russian President Yeltsin to the UN Secretary-General dated December
24, 1991, informing him that by virtue of the Alma-Ata Protocol, Russia
was the successor state to the USSR. After being circulated among the
other UN member states, with no objection raised, the statement was
declared accepted on the last day of the year, December 31, 1991.

Consequences and impact[edit]

The breakup of the Soviet Union saw a massive impact in the sporting
world. Before its dissolution, the team had just qualified for Euro 1992,
but their place was instead taken by the CIS national football team. After
the tournament, the former Soviet Republics competed as separate
independent nations, with FIFA allocating the Soviet team's record to
Before the start of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville and the
Summer Olympics in Barcelona, The Olympic Committee of the USSR
formally existed until March 12, 1992, when it disbanded but it was
succeeded by the Russian Olympic Committee. However, 12 of the 15
former Soviet Republics competed together as the Unified Team and
marched under the Olympic Flag in Barcelona, where they finished first
in the medal rankings. Separately, Lithuania, Lativa, and Estonia also
competed as independent nations in the 1992 Games. The Unified Team
also competed in Albertville earlier in the year (represented by six of the
twelve ex-Republics), and finished second in the medal ranking at those
Games. Afterwards, the individual IOCs of the non-Baltic former
republics were established and made their debut in the 1996 Summer
Olympic Games in Atlanta.
The Soviet Union's calling code of +7 continues to be used by Russia
and Kazakhstan. Between 1993 and 1997, many newly independent
republics implemented their own numbering plans such as Belarus
(+375) and Ukraine (+380).
Chronology of declarations of restored and
newly independent states[edit]
States with limited recognition are shown in italics.

Animated map showing independent states, and territorial changes to the Soviet
Union, in chronological order.
Before the coup[edit]
• Lithuania – March 11, 1990
• Estonia (transitional) – March 30, 1990
• Latvia (transitional) – May 4, 1990
• Abkhazia – August 25, 1990
• Tatarstan - August 30, 1990
• Transnistria – September 2, 1990
• Georgia – April 9, 1991
During the coup[edit]

Zviazda, a state newspaper of the Belarusian SSR, issue from August 25, 1991. The
headline reads, Belarus is independent!
• Gagauzia – August 19, 1991
• Estonia (effective) – August 20, 1991
• Latvia (effective) – August 21, 1991
After the coup[edit]

Country emblems of the independent states, before and after the dissolution of the
Soviet Union.
• Ukraine – August 24, 1991
• Byelorussia/Belarus – August 25, 1991
• Moldova – August 27, 1991
• Kirghizia – August 31, 1991
• Uzbekistan – September 1, 1991
• Nagorno-Karabakh Republic – September 2, 1991
• Tajikistan – September 9, 1991
• Armenia – September 21, 1991
• Azerbaijan – October 18, 1991
• Turkmenistan – October 27, 1991
• Chechen Republic of Ichkeria – November 1, 1991
• South Ossetia – November 28, 1991
• Russian SFSR/Russian Federation – December 12, 1991 (the
Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR formally ratified the
Belavezha Accords, renounced the 1922 Union Treaty, and
recalled Russian deputies from the Supreme Soviet of the USSR).
• Kazakhstan – December 16, 1991
Further information: Nostalgia for the Soviet Union
According to a 2014 poll, 57 percent of citizens of Russia regretted the
collapse of the Soviet Union, while 30 percent said they did not. Elderly
people tended to be more nostalgic than younger Russians.[117] 50% of
respondents in Ukraine in a similar poll held in February 2005 stated they
regret the disintegration of the Soviet Union.[118] Similar poll conducted in
2016 showed only 35% Ukrainians regretting the Soviet Union collapse,
and 50% not regretting this.[119]
On 25 January 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Lenin
and his advocating for the individual republics' right to political secession
for the breakup of the Soviet Union.[120]
The breakdown of economic ties that followed the collapse of the Soviet
Union led to a severe economic crisis and catastrophic fall in living
standards in post-Soviet states and the former Eastern Bloc,[121] which
was even worse than the Great Depression.[122][123] Poverty and economic
inequality surged; between 1988/1989 and 1993/1995, the Gini ratio
increased by an average of 9 points for all former socialist countries.[124]
Even before Russia's financial crisis in 1998, Russia's GDP was half of
what it had been in the early 1990s.[123]
United Nations membership[edit]
In a letter dated December 24, 1991, Boris Yeltsin, the President of the
Russian Federation, informed the United Nations Secretary-General that
the membership of the Soviet Union in the Security Council and all other
UN organs was being continued by the Russian Federation with the
support of the 11 member countries of the Commonwealth of
Independent States.
However, the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Ukrainian
Soviet Socialist Republic had already joined the UN as original members
on October 24, 1945, together with the Soviet Union. After declaring
independence, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic changed its name
to Ukraine on August 24, 1991, and on September 19, 1991, the
Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic informed the UN that it had
changed its name to the Republic of Belarus.
The other twelve independent states established from the former Soviet
Republics were all admitted to the UN:
• September 17, 1991: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania
• March 2, 1992: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan,
and Uzbekistan
• July 31, 1992: Georgia
Explanations of Soviet dissolution in
Historiography on Soviet dissolution can be roughly classified in two
groups: intentionalist accounts and structuralist accounts.
Intentionalist accounts contend that Soviet collapse was not inevitable,
and resulted from the policies and decisions of specific individuals
(usually, Gorbachev and Yeltsin). One characteristic example of
intentionalist writing is historian Archie Brown's The Gorbachev Factor,
which argues Gorbachev was the main force in Soviet politics at least in
the period 1985–1988; even later, he largely spearheaded the political
reforms and developments, as opposed to 'being led by events'.[125] This
was especially true of the policies of perestroika and glasnost, market
initiatives, and foreign policy stance, as political scientist George
Breslauer has seconded, labelling Gorbachev a "man of the events".[126]
In a slightly different vein, David Kotz and Fred Weir have contended that
Soviet elites were responsible for spurring on both nationalism and
capitalism, from which they could personally benefit (this is also
demonstrated by their continued presence in the higher economic and
political echelons of post-Soviet republics).[127]
Structuralist accounts, by contrast, take a more deterministic view, in
which Soviet dissolution was an outcome of deeply-rooted structural
issues, which planted a 'time-bomb'. For example, Stephen Walker has
argued that while minority nationalities were denied power at the Union
level, confronted by a culturally-destabilizing form of economic
modernization, and subjected to a certain amount of Russification, they
were at the same time strengthened by several policies pursued by
Soviet regime (such as indigenization of leadership, support for local
languages, etc.) – which over time created conscious nations.
Furthermore, the basic legitimating myths of the Soviet Union federative
system – that it was a voluntary and mutual union of allied peoples –
eased the task of secession/ independence.[128] On January 25, 2016,
Russian president Vladimir Putin supported this view, calling Lenin's
support of the right of secession for the Soviet Republics a "delay-action
See also[edit]
Soviet Union
1990s portal

• Belavezha Accords
• Breakup of Yugoslavia
• Dissolution of Czechoslovakia
• German reunification
• History of the Soviet Union (1982–91)
• History of Russia (1992–present)
• Predictions of Soviet collapse
• Union of Sovereign States
a Jump up 
^ Russian: Распа́д Сове́тского Сою́за, tr. Raspád Sovétskogo
1 ^ Jump up to: a
 b (in Russian) 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 state and subject of international
2 Jump up 
^ "Gorbachev, Last Soviet Leader, Resigns; U.S. Recognizes
Republics' Independence". The New York Times. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
3 Jump up 
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Archontology. March 27, 2009. Retrieved April 3, 2009.
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Effort". The New York Times. November 28, 1988. Retrieved March 30,
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16 ^ Jump up to: a
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Chronicle. San Francisco, Calif.: February 19, 1987. p. 22
19 ^ Jump up to: a
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Gorbachev". The New York Times. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
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in Moscow". The New York Times. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
26 Jump up 
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the Soviet Union. Transworld Ireland (2011). ISBN 978-1-84827-112-8, p.
27 ^ Jump up to: a
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Day of the Soviet Union. Transworld Ireland (2011). ISBN 978-1-84827-
112-8, p. 74
28 Jump up 
^ Keller, Bill (November 1, 1987). "Critic of Gorbachev Offers to
Resign His Moscow Party Post". The New York Times.
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Change". The New York Times. October 2, 1988.
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Finland: UPI. October 23, 1989. p. 9. Retrieved March 18, 2010.
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Model or Exception?". The New York Times.
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63. ISBN 0-7425-2453-1.
40 Jump up 
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ISBN 0-8147-1945-7
41 Jump up 
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Toll to Date,” RL 531/88, Dec. 14, 1988, pp. 1–2.
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63 by Stuart J. Kaufman
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1945-7, p. 40
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45 Jump up 
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1945-7, p. 23
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ISBN 0-8147-1945-7
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Calls For Annexing Disputed Territory". The New York Times. Retrieved
June 23, 2011.
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of Armenian Protest". The New York Times. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
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ISBN 0-8147-1945-7
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Armenians Express Rage at Gorbachev". The New York Times. Retrieved
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a Local Operation". Retrieved June 24, 2014.
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In Armenia Capital, With 1,400 Arrests". The New York Times. Retrieved
June 23, 2011.
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Enshrinement". The New York Times.
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The Last Day of the Soviet Union. Transworld Ireland (2011)
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Seated in Supreme Soviet". The New York Times.
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of Local Voting". The New York Times.
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to Abolish Official Seats". The New York Times.
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East European Politics: From Communism to Democracy. Rowman &
Littlefield. p. 238. ISBN 0-7425-4068-5.
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71 Jump up 
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1945-7, p. 71
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Armenia Issue". The New York Times.
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8147-1945-7, p. 87
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Prison, Find Celebrity". The New York Times.
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77 Jump up 
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Protests". The New York Times. April 8, 1989.
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Protesters Battle the Police in Soviet Georgia". The New York Times.
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York Times. July 18, 1989.
80 Jump up 
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People's Deputies". 24 May 1989. Archived from the original on February
26, 2012. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
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^ Esther B. Fein, "Baltic Nationalists Voice Defiance But Say
They Won't Be Provoked", in The New York Times, August 28, 1989
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^ "Belarus Plans to Build Memorial to Stalin's Victims". The New
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June 12, 1989.
86 Jump up 
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Rampage in Kazakhstan". The New York Times.
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Attack The Police in Soviet Kazakhstan". The New York Times.
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This Day in History – 2/7/1990". Retrieved June 23, 2011.
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Longmann Group Ltd (1995) ISBN 0-582-08922-0
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2000. page 739–740.
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Delay". The New York Times. March 26, 1990.
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1945-7, p. 90
96 ^ Jump up to: a
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ISBN 0-8147-1945-7
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ISBN 0-8147-1945-7
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1945-7, p. 94
99 Jump up 
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(enacted on April 3, 1990) and 1457-I[permanent dead link] (enacted on April 26,
1990) this could be done only by referendum with two-thirds of all
registered voters supporting it. No special referendum on the secession
from the USSR was held in the Russian SFSR
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11, 2000
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Years? A New World Bank Report", Transition Newsletter, World Bank, K-
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124 Jump up 
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History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century.
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University Press. ISBN 978-0-19288-052-9.
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Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 274–275. ISBN 978-
127 Jump up 
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was a Revolution from Above". The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union: 155–
128 Jump up 
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Breakup of the Soviet Union. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
ISBN 978-0-74252-453-8.
129 Jump up 
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Right to Secession", sputniknews, January 25, 2016
Further reading[edit]
• "After the Fall: Building Nations out of the Soviet Union" (PDF). History
of the International Monetary Fund 1990–1999 – Tearing Down
Walls. International Monetary Fund.
• Aron, Leon. Boris Yeltsin : A Revolutionary Life. Harper Collins (2000).
ISBN 0-00-653041-9
• Aron, Leon. "The 'Mystery' of Soviet Collapse." Journal of Democracy
17.2 (2006): 21–35.
• Beissinger, Mark. "Nationalism and the Collapse of Soviet
Communism" Contemporary European History 18.3 (2009): 331–
• Brown, Archie. The Gorbachev Factor. Oxford University Press (1997).
ISBN 978-0-19288-052-9.
• Cohen, Stephen. "Was the Soviet System Reformable?" Slavic Review
63.3 (2004): 459–488.
• Crawshaw, Steve. Goodbye to the USSR: The Collapse of Soviet
Power. Bloomsbury (1992). ISBN 0-7475-1561-1
• Dallin, Alexander. "Causes of the Collapse of the USSR." Post-Soviet
Affairs 8.4 (1992).
• Dawisha, Karen & Parrott, Bruce (Editors). "Conflict, cleavage, and
change in Central Asia and the Caucasus". Cambridge University
Press (1997). ISBN 0-521-59731-5
• de Waal, Thomas. Black Garden. NYU (2003). ISBN 0-8147-1945-7
• Gorbachev, Mikhail. Memoirs. Doubleday (1995). ISBN 0-385-40668-1
• Gvosdev, Nikolas K., ed. The Strange Death of Soviet Communism: A
Post-Script. Transaction Publishers (2008). ISBN 978-1-41280-
• Kotz, David, and Fred Weir. “The Collapse of the Soviet Union was a
Revolution from Above.” In The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union,
edited by Laurie Stoff, 155–164. Thomson Gale (2006).
• Mayer, Tom. "The Collapse of Soviet Communism: A Class Dynamics
Interpretation." Social Forces 80.3 (2002): 759–811.
• Miller, Chris (13 October 2016). The Struggle to Save the Soviet
Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR.
University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-4696-3018-2.
• O'Clery, Conor. Moscow December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the
Soviet Union. Transworld Ireland (2011). ISBN 978-1-84827-112-8
• Segrillo, Angelo. The Decline of the Soviet Union: A Hypothesis on
Industrial Paradigms, Technological Revolutions and the Roots of
Perestroika. LEA Working Paper Series, no. 2, December 2016.
• Plokhy, Serhii. The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union.
Oneworld (2014). ISBN 978-1-78074-646-3
• Strayer, Robert. Why Did the Soviet Union Collapse? Understanding
Historical Change. M. E. Sharpe (1998). ISBN 978-0-76560-004-2
• Suny, Ronald. Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the
Collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford University Press (1993).
ISBN 978-0-80472-247-6
• Walker, Edward W. Dissolution: Sovereignty and the Breakup of the
Soviet Union. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (2003). ISBN 978-0-
External links[edit]
• Photographs of the fall of the USSR by photojournalist Alain-Pierre
Hovasse, a first-hand witness of these events.
• Guide to the James Hershberg poster collection, Special Collections
Research Center, The Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, The
George Washington University. This collection contains posters
documenting the changing social and political culture in the former
Soviet Union and Europe (particularly Eastern Europe) during the
collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the
Soviet Union. A significant portion of the posters in this collection
were used in a 1999 exhibit at Gelman Library titled "Goodbye
Comrade: An Exhibition of Images from the Revolution of '89 and
the Collapse of Communism."
• Lowering of the Soviet flag in December 25, 1991
• U.S. Response to the End of the USSR from the Dean Peter Krogh
Foreign Affairs Digital Archives
• Miller, Chris (March 5, 2017). "The Struggle to Save the Soviet
Economy". C-Span.




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Categories: Dissolution of the Soviet UnionHistory of the
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