The Fall Of The USSR

The Fall Of The USSR

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was the biggest nation in the world, approximately covering a sixth of Earth’s total land surface. The European area lied on a quarter of the country’s area, and was the cultural and economic center. The eastern part of the country extended up to the Pacific Ocean in the east and reached Afghanistan in the south. The Soviet Union included 11 time zones and five climatic zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert, and mountains. In addition, the country was highly rich in various resources: freshwater (Lake Baikal), oil, natural gas, gold among other valuable resources.

The Russian Empire of the Tsars was later overthrown in 1917 while its successor the Soviet Union faced the same fate through disintegration in 1991. The two were the largest states in the world covering a combined area of about 15 per cent of the world’s land surface and almost a hundred times the size of Great Britain. They embraced every kind of soil and climate, from the permanently frozen Arctic to the Central Asian tropics. A large part of the country experiences a harsh continental climate with the main agricultural areas located at the latitude of Canada and the northern United States. In contrast, the severe conditions lead to a variation in the annual produce from the farms.[1]

Such was the might of the Soviet Union that in 1921, the Bolsheviks were proclaimed the victors in the civil war. The victory was celebrated as an accomplishment that would be one of the great triumphs in official lore for the rest of the Soviet era. In fact, growing opposition to these exactions was the principal development that convinced Lenin to change course in the direction of what soon became known as the new Economic Policy.[2]

  1. I. Lenin was the organizer of the Russian Communist movement. He viewed the Russian Empire as one political and economic whole, and almost completely ignored its national differences. As a student of Marxism, Lenin neglected the national problem and centered his attention on theorizing the capitalist development of Russia. Both as a Russian idealist and as a Marxist Utopian, Lenin failed to comprehend the inner nature of national problems and demands. Accordingly, he observed and solved the problems in accordance with the interests of the center rather than with those of the periphery.

The Treaty of the USSR signed in 1922 would prove to be a turning point to the life of the Soviet Union as many delegate arrived in Moscow. These delegates sourced from different convened at the Bolshoi conference with an ultimate goal of signing the so-called Treaty of the USSR, which meant the creation of the biggest state based on Marxism-Leninism ideology. As a result, the country was made up of 15 constituent parts: Russia itself, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Latvia, and Estonia. The Soviet Union existed for almost 70 years falling apart in August, 1991.

Soviet approaches to the Ukrainian SSR, Belorussian SSR, and other Republics, suggest that the Soviet regimes saw the Union’s component parts not simply as colonies to be absorbed or nations to be liberated, but as the raw material for a unified Soviet Socialist society. In their continuing discussions about the national question, Soviet leaders, administrators, and experts distinguished between “advanced” nationalities (for example, Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians) whose nationalistic impulses endangered less-developed settlers, and “backward” citizens and ethnographic groups that required the assistance of Soviet to attain a higher national-cultural development.[3]

The Russian revolution of 1917 was sparked by protesting women who lamented the abuse form their government. On 23 February 1917 thousands of female textile-workers took to the streets of Petrograd, the Russian capital, to protest about bread shortage and to mark International Women’s Day. The following day, more than 200,000 workers were on strike and demonstrators marched to the city centre. By 25 February, students and members of the middle classes had joined the protesters with placards proclaiming ‘Down with the War’ and ‘Down with the Tsarist Government’.[4] On 26 February, soldiers from the garrison were ordered to fire on the crowds, killing hundreds. The next morning the Volynskii regiment mutinied thus prompting other units following suit and in effect giving birth to a revolution. The February Revolution gave rise to a short-lived mood of national unity and optimism.[5]

Later on, there would be an October uprising timed to coincide with the eve of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. On the night of 24-5 October (6-7 November, New Style) Red Guards and pro-Bolshevik troops, organized by Trotsky, seized key points in the city. Kerensky, the head minister of the Provisional Government, had belatedly announced plans for the election of a constituent assembly. However, he fled away from the capital after the Bolsheviks struck, and his colleagues were arrested by the insurgents in the Winter Palace. This provided an opportunity for Lenin to establish a military dictatorship, exercised through the Red Guard and the pro-Bolshevik garrison troops. The first ‘Leninist decrees’ were of decisive significance. The ‘Decree on Land’ abolished private ownership and authorized local committees and Soviets to distribute all private and church lands to the peasants according to ‘labor norm’. Lenin’s most pressing need was peace with Germany as evidenced by negotiations that began on 22 December 1917, and ended only on 3 March 1918 with the signature of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty.

The Civil war broke out in 1918 after losing control of about three-quarters of the country that they claimed to rule. Industry and transport were nationalized by the Bolsheviks. The strategic co-ordination between the White forces based in Siberia, south Russia, Archangel, and Estonia was never achieved, and attempts to link up these widely separated armies failed. The White Forces had no industrial base, and were chronically short of ammunition. Political divisions and popular discontent at home limited the material support, which Britain, France, and the USA gave to the White armies, and their troops, like those of the Japanese, fought no major battle with the Bolsheviks. Thus, handicapped, the White generals were unable to consolidate their successive advances into Soviet territory. As the civil war ended, the masses were resentful and restive. Lenin had to plan for the survival of his regime in an alien and uncongenial domestic and international environment. Abroad, the Soviet state would seek recognition by bourgeois states; strengthen it by trading with them.

After Lenin’s death in 1924 Stalin’s power grew gradually and his personal dictatorship only emerged as a result of the mass purges of the party members in 1936– 1938 which allowed him to destroy the oligarchical system. The thesis of the decisive role of the ‘Great Terror ’ in the consolidation of Stalin’s personal dictatorship has long been accepted in the historiography and relying on the punitive organs, Stalin had several members of the Politburo executed and subordinated his remaining colleagues with threats of violence to them and their families. Younger leaders brought into the Politburo by Stalin were raised in the spirit a different political tradition, the essence of which was personal loyalty to the leader.[6]

Hitler’s invasion in June 1941 converted the ‘imperialist war’ at once into a ‘war of the peoples against fascism’.[7] Britain offered alliance and the United States extended its ‘lend-lease’ operation to the Soviet Union. The anti-Hitler alliance held firmly throughout the war, in spite of Stalin’s real or pretended suspicions that the western powers might conclude a separate peace with Germany, and that they deliberately delayed opening a second front in order to weaken the Soviet Union. Though the Germans in the first few months of war occupied White Russia and the Ukraine and invested Leningrad, the Soviet government had succeeded in evacuating some 1,500 industrial enterprises to the rear, and quickly reconstructed an industrial base. The defeat and capture of Field Marshal von Paulus’ huge army at Stalingrad in January 1943, after four months of furious fighting, marked the turning point in the war. Between August 1944 and May 1945 the Soviet armies rolled on westward and southward, occupying Romania, Bulgaria, the Baltic States, Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. On 25 April 1945 Soviet troops surrounded Berlin, and linked up with American troops on the Elbe. Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies on 7 May. Soviet losses, human and material, were enormous: 20 million killed, 1,710 urban centers destroyed, 25 million people left homeless, thousands of enterprises and thousands of kilometers of railway put out of action. Through it all, the Soviet armies fought with unsurpassed heroism and endurance.

In September 1953 N. S. Khrushchev was elected First Secretary of the Central Committee, and soon established himself as the dominant figure in the new Presidium. For eleven years he towered above his colleagues, and more powerfully than any other individual he influenced the pace and direction of the remarkable changes in Soviet policy after Stalin. At the Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956 Khrushchev dramatically contradicted Stalin’s (and Lenin’s) darkest idea.[8] On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin crashed through a barrier that has kept Man imprisoned since the day when he first learned to walk upright. Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. But Gagarin’s achievement was the climax of stupendous effort by what is perhaps the greatest team of scientists and engineers ever to pursue one purpose.[9]

After the Second World War the western strategic aim at that stage was to contain the Soviet Union all around through interlinked military pacts and use the bases in those countries to launch massive nuclear strikes on it. That led to the formation of NATO (formed in 1949 in response to the Berlin Blockade), the Soviet response to this threat of massive retaliation was twofold. They developed the long range TU-16 bomber which in a one-way mission could reach the US. Secondly they expedited the development of long range missiles. In 1960 the U-2 spy aircraft piloted by Gary Powers which took off from Peshawar was shot down over Russia by a Soviet SA-2 missile.

Finally it was not capitalism which collapsed but Communism. By 1951, the Marshall Plan revived the industries of Western European countries to a level 40 per cent higher than the pre-war level. As the Wes t European standard of living went up, as the 20th Party Congress of the Soviet Communist Party disclosed the Stalinist atrocities, accompanied by suppression of popular upheavals in East Germany, Poland and Hungary the membership of Communist parties got reduced and their influence in the respective polities declined. However, the strong Soviet power dominating the Soviet republics and Eastern Europe was able to maintain peace and order during the Cold War period and it broke down with the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia broke into two and Yugoslavia has fragmented into seven. There are tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan on Nagorno Karabakh and Georgia faces secessionism from Abkazia. Ukraine has developed internal strains between the Catholic West with deep Ukranian nationalism and Eastern part with a large proportion of Russians of the Orthodox Church.

The Cold War confrontation in the Western Hemisphere led to the Cuban missile crisis. Russian deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962 was analogous to the US deployment of similar missiles in Turkey done earlier. However, having nuclear missiles targeted at the US from 90 miles from their coast was intolerable to the US. Therefore it was a very serious crisis. Fortunately, both sides displayed adequate restraint. An agreement was reached to withdraw missiles from Cuba by the Soviet Union in return for the US pledge to withdraw its missiles from Turkey and not to attack Cuba and topple the Castro regime. By 1985 the US President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev in their summit in Geneva declared that a nuclear war cannot be won and should not be started. Next year at Rejkyavik Summit they both almost reached an agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons, only to be pulled back from it by their advisers – particularly the American advisers. Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985. He initiated the perestroika (restructuring) programme and introduced glasnost (openness) in administration. He also repudiated the Brezhnev doctrine and loosened the Soviet stronghold over Eastern European countries. He tried to convert the Soviet Union into a Social Democratic Federation. In the process various constituent republics declared themselves independent and the Soviet Union got dissolved by 1991. Divided Germany was united a little earlier with Soviet approval.

The Communist regimes in Eastern European countries were replaced nonviolently except in Rumania where the regime change was violent. This brief overview of the Cold War brings out that both sides were by and large cautious in handling nuclear weapons, especially in the European context. The end of the Cold War resulted in the break-up of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The Cold War proved that Communism was not as robust an ideology as it was considered to be. Religious faith as well as the spirit of nationalism proved to be much stronger. However, there is no denying the enormous impact of Marxism on democracy and the consequent emergence of social democracy, still under evolution and the concept of a welfare state. The Cold War would not have been cold but for the nearly simultaneous development of nuclear weapons and missiles in two centers of power in the world.[10]

From our perspective today, Gorbachev looks like a transitional, quasi-tragic figure who failed in nearly everything he attempted to do. In 1985, remember, he set out to revitalize the Soviet economy; in the end however he only managed to accelerate—some would insist, cause—its collapse. He also sought to transform the USSR into a more dynamic and attractive superpower; however, by the time he was forced from office in 1991 the Soviet Union was no longer a major force in world politics. And he tried to construct a new relationship between the peoples of the Soviet Union, but his ambiguous policies in this vital sphere only resulted in the fragmentation of the empire. Ideally, it is expected that Gorbachev may not go down well in the history books of Russians.[11]

The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) Congress of People’s

Deputies formed in 1990. In the same fashion as the USSR congress, the RSFSR congress appointed a full time parliament of Supreme Soviet. Unsurprisingly, the first chair of the congress was Yeltsin, but he left parliament when he was elected president of RSFSR a year later. An intense power struggle between president and parliament followed. Eventually, yelsin would in 1993 forcibly dissolve both the Supreme Soviet and the congress. The approval of the new constitution was done through a national referendum in December 1993 effectively replaciong the congress and Supreme Soviet with a bicameral Federal Assembly.[12]

The term ‘Tandem’ was used to describe the Putin–Medvedev combination that ruled Russia from 2008 to 2012, when Medvedev was president and Putin prime minister. Many people saw Putin as the real wielder of power, with Medvedev as his puppet. Others, however, saw Medvedev as a visionary, someone who envisioned large scale schemes – even though these schemes have not yet come to fruition.[13]



  1. Davies, Robert W. 1998. Soviet economic development from Lenin to Khrushchev. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  2. Suny, R. G. 2006. The Cambridge History of Russia. Cambridge.
  3. Hirsch, F. 2000. Toward an Empire of Nations.
  4. Smith, S.A. 2002. The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
  5. Davis, S., J. Harris. 2005. Stalin: A New History. Cambridge University Press.
  6. Auty, R. and D. Obolensky 1991. An Introduction to Russian History. Cambridge.
  7. Burchett, W., A. Purdy Cosmonaut 1961 Yuri Gagarin: First Man in Space. London.
  8. Chari, Ch. 2010. Superpower Rivalry and Conflict. USA, Canada.
  9. Cox, M. 2009. Why Did We Get the End of the Cold War Wrong? BJPIR: vol.11
  10. Encyclopedia of Russian History. The USA, 2004.
  11. Black, J.L. 2015. The Russian Presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, 2008-12, NY.





The Collapse of the Soviet Union – Outline

  1. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
  • Better known as the Soviet Union or USSR
  • Formed officially in 1992
  • Eventually contained 15 republics
  1. Today’s Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Latvia, and Estonia
  2. Formed from Russia, its former territories, and territories acquired following World War II
  • Fell apart in 1991
  1. Early history
  • Russian Revolution
  1. Russia and its territories still largely unindustrialized
  2. Revolution overthrew the tsar
  • Russian Civil War
  1.          Red (Bolsheviks) eventually beat the Whites
  2. Bloody conflict

iii.        Whites assisted by foreign powers such as the United States

  • Reds saw foreign powers as threats to the fledgling Soviet state iv. Left country in wise shape than before the revolution

III. World War II

  1. Country still not on par with the rest of Europe when Germany invaded
  2. Country was left devastated by the fighting

Millions upon millions killed

  1. Cities bombed beyond recognition
  2. Fields and crops destroyed
  3. Recovery long and hard
  4. No outside assistance
  5. Superpower

iii. Had to rebuild USSR while securing hold on Eastern Europe (iron curtain)

  1. USSR’s command economy after World War II
  2. Soviets rebuilt their industrial base with German equipment
  3. Space race
  4. Sputnik I launched in 1957
  5. Yuri Gagarin first person in space in 1961

iii. Valentina Tereshkova first w man in space in 1963

  1. Arms race
  2. Competition with the U.S. to have the largest arsenal 1. At the expense of manufacturing consumer goods
  3. Consumer goods inferior
  4. Luxury items very rare
  5. Massive military budget
  6. Many historians believe that the U.S.A. won the Cold War by outspending and bankrupting the U.S.S.R.
  7. Agriculture
  8. Collective agriculture highly unproductive
  9. Soviet Union forced to import grain
  10. Bureaucracy
  11. Production levels determined by Moscow rather than by plant managers
  12. Local needs not addressed
  13. Workforce
  14. Guaranteed employment
  15. Little motivation to do quality work
  16. Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule
  • Came to power in 1985
  • Foreign policies
  1. Removed Soviet troops from Afghanistan
  2. Signed nuclear disarmament treaties with the U.S. under President Ronald Reagan
  • Domestic policies
  1. Glasnost – policy of openness
  2. Perestroika – restructuring of the Soviet economy and government

iii. Shrunk the bureaucracy

  1. Allowed some degree of private enterprise
  2. Increased local control
  3. Farmers’ markets
  4. Collapse of the Soviet Union
  • Results of reforms
  • Inflation
  • Increased shortages
  • Unemployment
  • Sparked unrest in satellite states and republics
  1. 1989 – Bulgaria and Poland free of Soviet control
  2. 1991 – Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) independent
  • Failed coup d’état
  • Military-backed hardliners attempted to oust Gorbachev
  • Failed, but Gorbachev still resigned
  • Remaining Soviet republics separated


  1. Commonwealth of Independent States formed from several former republics
  2. CIS now largely defunct
  • No more Soviet Union
  1. Russia as an independent country
  2. Boris Yeltsin
  3. First president of Russia, 1991-1999
  4. Vladimir Putin
  5. President, 2000-2008
  6. Dmitry Medvedev
  7. President since 2008
  8. But Vladimir Putin still in control of country as prime minister


[1] R. W. Davies Soviet economic development from Lenin to Khrushchev. Cambridge, 1998

[2] R.G.Suny The Cambridge History of Russia. Cambridge, 2006

[3] F. Hirsch Toward an Empire of Nations. 2000

[4] Davies, Robert W. 1998. Soviet economic development from Lenin to Khrushchev. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press.

[5] S.A. Smith The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2002

[6] S. Davis, J. Harris Stalin: A New History. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

[7] Davies, Robert W. 1998. Soviet economic development from Lenin to Khrushchev. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press.

[8] R.Auty and D. Obolensky An Introduction to Russian History. Cambridge, 1991

[9] W.Burchett, A. Purdy Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin: First Man in Space. London, 1961.

[10] Ch. Chari Superpower Rivalry and Conflict. USA, Canada, 2010.

[11] M. Cox Why Did We Get the End of the Cold War Wrong? BJPIR: 2009, vol.11


[12] Encyclopedia of Russian History. The USA, 2004

[13] J.L. Black The Russian Presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, 2008-12, NY, 2015

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