1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia
Top 10 Soviet Union related articles
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Geography
- 3 History
- 4 Foreign relations
- 5 Politics
- 6 Administrative divisions
- 7 Military
- 8 Space program
- 9 Economy
- 10 Demographics
- 11 Legacy
- 12 Culture
- 13 Sport
- 14 Environment
- 15 See also
- 16 Notes
- 17 References
- 18 Bibliography
- 19 Further reading
- 20 External links
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Союз Советских Социалистических Республик
Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik
Motto: "Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь!"
"Proletarii vsekh stran, soyedinyaytes'!"
("Workers of the world, unite!")
The Soviet Union from 1945 to 1991
and largest city
|Recognised regional languages|
|Ethnic groups |
|Head of state|
• 1922–1946 (first)
• 1988–1991 (last)
|Head of government|
• 1922–1924 (first)
• 1991 (last)
|Legislature||Congress of Soviets|
|Soviet of Nationalities|
|Soviet of the Union|
|Historical era||20th century|
|7 November 1917|
|30 December 1922|
• Civil War ended
|16 June 1923|
|31 January 1924|
|5 December 1936|
|25 February 1956|
|9 October 1977|
|11 March 1990|
|14 March 1990|
|19–22 August 1991|
|8 December 1991|
|26 December 1991|
|22,402,200 km2 (8,649,500 sq mi)|
• 1991 estimate
|8.4/km2 (21.8/sq mi)|
|GDP (PPP)||1990 estimate|
|$2.7 trillion (2nd)|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||1990 estimate|
|$2.7 trillion (2nd)|
• Per capita
|Currency||Soviet ruble (руб) (SUR)|
|Time zone||(UTC+2 to +12)|
|ISO 3166 code||SU|
The Soviet Union,[d] officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics[e] (USSR),[f] was a federal socialist state in Northern Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics,[g] in practice its government and economy were highly centralized. It was a one-party state governed by the Communist Party, with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian SFSR. Other major urban centers were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata and Novosibirsk. It was the largest country in the world by surface area, spanning over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones and over 7,200 kilometers (4,500 mi) north to south. Its territory included much of Eastern Europe as well as part of Northern Europe and all of Northern and Central Asia. It had five climate zones such as tundra, taiga, steppes, desert, and mountains.
The Soviet Union had its roots in the October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks, headed by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the provisional government that had replaced the Tsar. They established the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (renamed Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1936), beginning a civil war between the revolutionary "Reds" and the counter-revolutionary "Whites." The Red Army entered several territories of the former Russian Empire and helped local Communists take power through soviets, which nominally acted on behalf of workers and peasants. In 1922, the Communists were victorious, forming the Soviet Union with the unification of the Russian, Transcaucasian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian republics. Following Lenin's death in 1924, a troika and a brief power struggle, Joseph Stalin came to power in the mid-1920s. Stalin suppressed all political opposition to his rule, committed the state ideology to Marxism–Leninism, and initiated a centrally planned economy. As a result, the country underwent a period of rapid industrialization and collectivization which laid the foundation for its victory in World War II and post-war dominance of Eastern Europe. Stalin also fomented political paranoia, and conducted the Great Purge to remove opponents of his from the Communist Party through the mass arbitrary arrest of many people (military leaders, Communist Party members, and ordinary citizens alike) who were then sent to correctional labor camps or sentenced to death.
On 23 August 1939, after unsuccessful efforts to form an anti-fascist alliance with Western powers, the Soviets signed the non-aggression agreement with Nazi Germany. After the start of World War II, the formally neutral Soviets invaded and annexed territories of several Eastern European states, including eastern Poland and the Baltic states. In June 1941 the Germans invaded, opening the largest and bloodiest theater of war in history. Soviet war casualties accounted for the highest proportion of the conflict in the cost of acquiring the upper hand over Axis forces at intense battles such as Stalingrad. Soviet forces eventually captured Berlin in 1945. The territory overtaken by the Red Army became satellite states of the Eastern Bloc. The Cold War emerged in 1947 as the Soviet bloc confronted the Western states that united in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949.
Following Stalin's death in 1953, a period, known as "de-Stalinization" and "Khrushchev's Thaw", occurred under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. The country developed rapidly, as millions of peasants were moved into industrialized cities. The USSR took an early lead in the Space Race with the first ever satellite and the first human spaceflight. In the 1970s, there was a brief détente of relations with the United States, but tensions resumed when the Soviet Union deployed troops in Afghanistan in 1979. The war drained economic resources and was matched by an escalation of American military aid to Mujahideen fighters.
In the mid-1980s, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, sought to further reform and liberalize the economy through his policies of glasnost and perestroika. The goal was to preserve the Communist Party while reversing economic stagnation. The Cold War ended during his tenure, and in 1989 Soviet satellite countries in Eastern Europe overthrew their respective communist regimes. This led to the rise of strong nationalist and separatist movements inside the USSR as well. Central authorities initiated a referendum—boycotted by the Baltic republics, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova—which resulted in the majority of participating citizens voting in favor of preserving the Union as a renewed federation. In August 1991, a coup d'état was attempted by Communist Party hardliners. It failed, with Russian President Boris Yeltsin playing a high-profile role in facing down the coup, resulting in the banning of the Communist Party. On 25 December 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the remaining twelve constituent republics emerged from the dissolution of the Soviet Union as independent post-Soviet states. The Russian Federation (formerly the Russian SFSR) assumed the Soviet Union's rights and obligations and is recognized as its continued legal personality.
The USSR produced many significant social and technological achievements and innovations of the 20th century, including the world's first ministry of health, first human-made satellite, the first humans in space and the first probe to land on another planet, Venus. The country had the world's second-largest economy and the largest standing military in the world. The USSR was recognized as one of the five nuclear weapons states. It was a founding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council as well as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the World Federation of Trade Unions and the leading member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact.
Soviet Union Intro articles: 85
Part of a series on the
|History of Russia|
The word soviet is derived from the Russian word sovet (Russian: совет), meaning "council", "assembly", "advice", "harmony", "concord",[note 1] ultimately deriving from the proto-Slavic verbal stem of vět-iti ("to inform"), related to Slavic věst ("news"), English "wise", the root in "ad-vis-or" (which came to English through French), or the Dutch weten ("to know"; cf. wetenschap meaning "science"). The word sovietnik means "councillor".
Some organizations in Russian history were called council (Russian: совет). In the Russian Empire, the State Council which functioned from 1810 to 1917 was referred to as a Council of Ministers after the revolt of 1905.
During the Georgian Affair, Vladimir Lenin envisioned an expression of Great Russian ethnic chauvinism by Joseph Stalin and his supporters, calling for these nation-states to join Russia as semi-independent parts of a greater union which he initially named as the Union of Soviet Republics of Europe and Asia (Russian: Союз Советских Республик Европы и Азии, tr. Soyuz Sovetskikh Respublik Evropy i Azii). Stalin initially resisted the proposal but ultimately accepted it, although with Lenin's agreement changed the name to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), albeit all the republics began as socialist soviet and did not change to the other order until 1936. In addition, in the national languages of several republics, the word council or conciliar in the respective language was only quite late changed to an adaptation of the Russian soviet and never in others, e.g. Ukraine.
СССР (in Latin alphabet: SSSR) is the abbreviation of USSR in Russian. It is written in Cyrillic alphabets. The Soviets used the Cyrillic abbreviation so frequently that audiences worldwide became familiar with its meaning. Notably, both Cyrillic letters used have orthographically-similar (but transliterally distinct) letters in Latin alphabets. Because of widespread familiarity with the Cyrillic abbreviation, Latin alphabet users in particular almost always use the orthographically-similar Latin letters C and P (as opposed to the transliteral Latin letters S and R) when rendering the USSR's native abbreviation.
After СССР, the most common short form names for the Soviet state in Russian were Советский Союз (transliteration: Sovetskiy Soyuz) which literally means Soviet Union, and also Союз ССР (transliteration: Soyuz SSR) which, after compensating for grammatical differences, essentially translates to Union of SSR's in English.
In the English language media, the state was referred to as the Soviet Union or the USSR. In other European languages, the locally translated short forms and abbreviations are usually used (for example, Union soviétique and URSS in French; Sowjetunion and UdSSR in German). In the English-speaking world, the Soviet Union was also informally called Russia and its citizens Russians, although that was technically incorrect since Russia was only one of the republics. Such misapplications of the linguistic equivalents to the term Russia and its derivatives were frequent in other languages as well.
Soviet Union Etymology articles: 10
With an area of 22,402,200 square kilometres (8,649,500 sq mi), the Soviet Union was the world's largest country, a status that is retained by the Russian Federation. Covering a sixth of Earth's land surface, its size was comparable to that of North America. Two other successor states, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, rank among the top 10 countries by land area, and the largest country entirely in Europe, respectively. The European portion accounted for a quarter of the country's area and was the cultural and economic center. The eastern part in Asia extended to the Pacific Ocean to the east and Afghanistan to the south, and, except some areas in Central Asia, was much less populous. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.
The USSR had the world's longest border, like Russia, measuring over 60,000 kilometres (37,000 mi), or 1 1⁄2 circumferences of Earth. Two-thirds of it was a coastline. Across the Bering Strait was the United States. The country bordered Afghanistan, China, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Iran, Mongolia, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Turkey from 1945 to 1991.
The country's highest mountain was Communism Peak (now Ismoil Somoni Peak) in Tajikistan, at 7,495 metres (24,590 ft). The USSR also included most of the world's largest lakes; the Caspian Sea (shared with Iran), and Lake Baikal, the world's largest (by volume) and deepest freshwater lake that is also an internal body of water in Russia.
Soviet Union Geography articles: 26
Revolution and foundation (1917–1927)
|Part of a series on the|
|History of the|
Modern revolutionary activity in the Russian Empire began with the 1825 Decembrist revolt. Although serfdom was abolished in 1861, it was done on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to encourage revolutionaries. A parliament—the State Duma—was established in 1906 after the Russian Revolution of 1905, but Tsar Nicholas II resisted attempts to move from absolute to a constitutional monarchy. Social unrest continued and was aggravated during World War I by military defeat and food shortages in major cities.
A spontaneous popular uprising in Petrograd, in response to the wartime decay of Russia's economy and morale, culminated in the February Revolution and the toppling of Nicholas II and the imperial government in March 1917. The tsarist autocracy was replaced by the Russian Provisional Government, which intended to conduct elections to the Russian Constituent Assembly and to continue fighting on the side of the Entente in World War I.
At the same time, workers' councils, known in Russian as "Soviets", sprang up across the country. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, pushed for socialist revolution in the Soviets and on the streets. On 7 November 1917, the Red Guards stormed the Winter Palace in Petrograd, ending the rule of the Provisional Government and leaving all political power to the Soviets. This event would later be officially known in Soviet bibliographies as the Great October Socialist Revolution. In December, the Bolsheviks signed an armistice with the Central Powers, though by February 1918, fighting had resumed. In March, the Soviets ended involvement in the war and signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
A long and bloody Civil War ensued between the Reds and the Whites, starting in 1917 and ending in 1923 with the Reds' victory. It included foreign intervention, the execution of the former tsar and his family, and the famine of 1921, which killed about five million people. In March 1921, during a related conflict with Poland, the Peace of Riga was signed, splitting disputed territories in Belarus and Ukraine between the Republic of Poland and Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia had to resolve similar conflicts with the newly established republics of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
On 28 December 1922, a conference of plenipotentiary delegations from the Russian SFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR approved the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. These two documents were confirmed by the first Congress of Soviets of the USSR and signed by the heads of the delegations, Mikhail Kalinin, Mikhail Tskhakaya, Mikhail Frunze, Grigory Petrovsky, and Alexander Chervyakov, on 30 December 1922. The formal proclamation was made from the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre.
An intensive restructuring of the economy, industry and politics of the country began in the early days of Soviet power in 1917. A large part of this was done according to the Bolshevik Initial Decrees, government documents signed by Vladimir Lenin. One of the most prominent breakthroughs was the GOELRO plan, which envisioned a major restructuring of the Soviet economy based on total electrification of the country. The plan became the prototype for subsequent Five-Year Plans and was fulfilled by 1931. After the economic policy of "War communism" during the Russian Civil War, as a prelude to fully developing socialism in the country, the Soviet government permitted some private enterprise to coexist alongside nationalized industry in the 1920s, and total food requisition in the countryside was replaced by a food tax.
From its creation, the government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks). The stated purpose was to prevent the return of capitalist exploitation, and that the principles of democratic centralism would be the most effective in representing the people's will in a practical manner. The debate over the future of the economy provided the background for a power struggle in the years after Lenin's death in 1924. Initially, Lenin was to be replaced by a "troika" consisting of Grigory Zinoviev of the Ukrainian SSR, Lev Kamenev of the Russian SFSR, and Joseph Stalin of the Transcaucasian SFSR.
On 1 February 1924, the USSR was recognized by the United Kingdom. The same year, a Soviet Constitution was approved, legitimizing the December 1922 union. Despite the foundation of the Soviet state as a federative entity of many constituent republics, each with its own political and administrative entities, the term "Soviet Russia" – strictly applicable only to the Russian Federative Socialist Republic – was often applied to the entire country by non-Soviet writers and politicians.
Stalin era (1927–1953)
On 3 April 1922, Stalin was named the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Lenin had appointed Stalin the head of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate, which gave Stalin considerable power. By gradually consolidating his influence and isolating and outmanoeuvring his rivals within the party, Stalin became the undisputed leader of the country and, by the end of the 1920s, established a totalitarian rule. In October 1927, Zinoviev and Leon Trotsky were expelled from the Central Committee and forced into exile.
In 1928, Stalin introduced the first five-year plan for building a socialist economy. In place of the internationalism expressed by Lenin throughout the Revolution, it aimed to build Socialism in One Country. In industry, the state assumed control over all existing enterprises and undertook an intensive program of industrialization. In agriculture, rather than adhering to the "lead by example" policy advocated by Lenin, forced collectivization of farms was implemented all over the country.
Famines ensued as a result, causing deaths estimated at three to seven million; surviving kulaks were persecuted, and many were sent to Gulags to do forced labor. Social upheaval continued in the mid-1930s. Despite the turmoil of the mid-to-late 1930s, the country developed a robust industrial economy in the years preceding World War II.
Closer cooperation between the USSR and the West developed in the early 1930s. From 1932 to 1934, the country participated in the World Disarmament Conference. In 1933, diplomatic relations between the United States and the USSR were established when in November, the newly elected President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, chose to recognize Stalin's Communist government formally and negotiated a new trade agreement between the two countries. In September 1934, the country joined the League of Nations. After the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the USSR actively supported the Republican forces against the Nationalists, who were supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
In December 1936, Stalin unveiled a new constitution that was praised by supporters around the world as the most democratic constitution imaginable, though there was some skepticism.[h] Stalin's Great Purge resulted in the detainment or execution of many "Old Bolsheviks" who had participated in the October Revolution with Lenin. According to declassified Soviet archives, the NKVD arrested more than one and a half million people in 1937 and 1938, of whom 681,692 were shot. Over those two years, there were an average of over one thousand executions a day.[i]
In 1939, the Soviet Union made a dramatic shift toward Nazi Germany. Almost a year after Britain and France had concluded the Munich Agreement with Germany, the Soviet Union made agreements with Germany as well, both militarily and economically during extensive talks. The two countries concluded the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the German–Soviet Commercial Agreement in August 1939. The former made possible the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and eastern Poland. In late November, unable to coerce the Republic of Finland by diplomatic means into moving its border 25 kilometres (16 mi) back from Leningrad, Stalin ordered the invasion of Finland. In the east, the Soviet military won several decisive victories during border clashes with the Empire of Japan in 1938 and 1939. However, in April 1941, the USSR signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact with Japan, recognizing the territorial integrity of Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet state.
World War II
Germany broke the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 starting what was known in the USSR as the Great Patriotic War. The Red Army stopped the seemingly invincible German Army at the Battle of Moscow, aided by an unusually harsh winter. The Battle of Stalingrad, which lasted from late 1942 to early 1943, dealt a severe blow to Germany from which they never fully recovered and became a turning point in the war. After Stalingrad, Soviet forces drove through Eastern Europe to Berlin before Germany surrendered in 1945. The German Army suffered 80% of its military deaths in the Eastern Front. Harry Hopkins, a close foreign policy advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt, spoke on 10 August 1943 of the USSR's decisive role in the war.[j]
In the same year, the USSR, in fulfilment of its agreement with the Allies at the Yalta Conference, denounced the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April 1945 and invaded Manchukuo and other Japan-controlled territories on 9 August 1945. This conflict ended with a decisive Soviet victory, contributing to the unconditional surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.
The USSR suffered greatly in the war, losing around 27 million people. Approximately 2.8 million Soviet POWs died of starvation, mistreatment, or executions in just eight months of 1941–42. During the war, the country together with the United States, the United Kingdom and China were considered the Big Four Allied powers, and later became the Four Policemen that formed the basis of the United Nations Security Council. It emerged as a superpower in the post-war period. Once denied diplomatic recognition by the Western world, the USSR had official relations with practically every country by the late 1940s. A member of the United Nations at its foundation in 1945, the country became one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, which gave it the right to veto any of its resolutions.
During the immediate post-war period, the Soviet Union rebuilt and expanded its economy, while maintaining its strictly centralized control. It took effective control over most of the countries of Eastern Europe (except Yugoslavia and later Albania), turning them into satellite states. The USSR bound its satellite states in a military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, in 1955, and an economic organization, Council for Mutual Economic Assistance or Comecon, a counterpart to the European Economic Community (EEC), from 1949 to 1991. The USSR concentrated on its own recovery, seizing and transferring most of Germany's industrial plants, and it exacted war reparations from East Germany, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria using Soviet-dominated joint enterprises. It also instituted trading arrangements deliberately designed to favor the country. Moscow controlled the Communist parties that ruled the satellite states, and they followed orders from the Kremlin.[l] Later, the Comecon supplied aid to the eventually victorious Communist Party of China, and its influence grew elsewhere in the world. Fearing its ambitions, the Soviet Union's wartime allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, became its enemies. In the ensuing Cold War, the two sides clashed indirectly in proxy wars.
De-Stalinization and Khrushchev Thaw (1953–1964)
Stalin died on 5 March 1953. Without a mutually agreeable successor, the highest Communist Party officials initially opted to rule the Soviet Union jointly through a troika headed by Georgy Malenkov. This did not last, however, and Nikita Khrushchev eventually won the ensuing power struggle by the mid-1950s. In 1956, he denounced Stalin's use of repression and proceeded to ease controls over the party and society. This was known as de-Stalinization.
Moscow considered Eastern Europe to be a critically vital buffer zone for the forward defence of its western borders, in case of another major invasion such as the German invasion of 1941. For this reason, the USSR sought to cement its control of the region by transforming the Eastern European countries into satellite states, dependent upon and subservient to its leadership. Soviet military force was used to suppress anti-Stalinist uprisings in Hungary and Poland in 1956.
In the late 1950s, a confrontation with China regarding the Soviet rapprochement with the West, and what Mao Zedong perceived as Khrushchev's revisionism, led to the Sino–Soviet split. This resulted in a break throughout the global Marxist–Leninist movement, with the governments in Albania, Cambodia and Somalia choosing to ally with China.
During this period of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the USSR continued to realize scientific and technological exploits in the Space Race, rivaling the United States: launching the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 in 1957; a living dog named Laika in 1957; the first human being, Yuri Gagarin in 1961; the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963; Alexei Leonov, the first person to walk in space in 1965; the first soft landing on the Moon by spacecraft Luna 9 in 1966; and the first Moon rovers, Lunokhod 1 and Lunokhod 2.
Khrushchev initiated "The Thaw", a complex shift in political, cultural and economic life in the country. This included some openness and contact with other nations and new social and economic policies with more emphasis on commodity goods, allowing a dramatic rise in living standards while maintaining high levels of economic growth. Censorship was relaxed as well. Khrushchev's reforms in agriculture and administration, however, were generally unproductive. In 1962, he precipitated a crisis with the United States over the Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba. An agreement was made with the United States to remove nuclear missiles from both Cuba and Turkey, concluding the crisis. This event caused Khrushchev much embarrassment and loss of prestige, resulting in his removal from power in 1964.
Era of Stagnation (1964–1985)
Following the ousting of Khrushchev, another period of collective leadership ensued, consisting of Leonid Brezhnev as General Secretary, Alexei Kosygin as Premier and Nikolai Podgorny as Chairman of the Presidium, lasting until Brezhnev established himself in the early 1970s as the preeminent Soviet leader.
In 1968, the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia to halt the Prague Spring reforms. In the aftermath, Brezhnev justified the invasion along with the earlier invasions of Eastern European states by introducing the Brezhnev Doctrine, which claimed the right of the Soviet Union to violate the sovereignty of any country that attempted to replace Marxism–Leninism with capitalism.
Brezhnev presided throughout détente with the West that resulted in treaties on armament control (SALT I, SALT II, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty) while at the same time building up Soviet military might.
In October 1977, the third Soviet Constitution was unanimously adopted. The prevailing mood of the Soviet leadership at the time of Brezhnev's death in 1982 was one of aversion to change. The long period of Brezhnev's rule had come to be dubbed one of "standstill", with an ageing and ossified top political leadership. This period is also known as the Era of Stagnation, a period of adverse economic, political, and social effects in the country, which began during the rule of Brezhnev and continued under his successors Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko.
In late 1979, the Soviet Union's military intervened in the ongoing civil war in neighboring Afghanistan, effectively ending a détente with the West.
Perestroika and Glasnost reforms (1985–1991)
Two developments dominated the decade that followed: the increasingly apparent crumbling of the Soviet Union's economic and political structures, and the patchwork attempts at reforms to reverse that process. Kenneth S. Deffeyes argued in Beyond Oil that the Reagan administration encouraged Saudi Arabia to lower the price of oil to the point where the Soviets could not make a profit selling their oil, and resulted in the depletion of the country's hard currency reserves.
Brezhnev's next two successors, transitional figures with deep roots in his tradition, did not last long. Yuri Andropov was 68 years old and Konstantin Chernenko 72 when they assumed power; both died in less than two years. In an attempt to avoid a third short-lived leader, in 1985, the Soviets turned to the next generation and selected Mikhail Gorbachev. He made significant changes in the economy and party leadership, called perestroika. His policy of glasnost freed public access to information after decades of heavy government censorship. Gorbachev also moved to end the Cold War. In 1988, the USSR abandoned its war in Afghanistan and began to withdraw its forces. In the following year, Gorbachev refused to interfere in the internal affairs of the Soviet satellite states, which paved the way for the Revolutions of 1989. With the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and with East and West Germany pursuing unification, the Iron Curtain between the West and Soviet-controlled regions came down.
At the same time, the Soviet republics started legal moves towards potentially declaring sovereignty over their territories, citing the freedom to secede in Article 72 of the USSR constitution. On 7 April 1990, a law was passed allowing a republic to secede if more than two-thirds of its residents voted for it in a referendum. Many held their first free elections in the Soviet era for their own national legislatures in 1990. Many of these legislatures proceeded to produce legislation contradicting the Union laws in what was known as the "War of Laws". In 1989, the Russian SFSR convened a newly elected Congress of People's Deputies. Boris Yeltsin was elected its chairman. On 12 June 1990, the Congress declared Russia's sovereignty over its territory and proceeded to pass laws that attempted to supersede some of the Soviet laws. After a landslide victory of Sąjūdis in Lithuania, that country declared its independence restored on 11 March 1990.
A referendum for the preservation of the USSR was held on 17 March 1991 in nine republics (the remainder having boycotted the vote), with the majority of the population in those republics voting for preservation of the Union. The referendum gave Gorbachev a minor boost. In the summer of 1991, the New Union Treaty, which would have turned the country into a much looser Union, was agreed upon by eight republics. The signing of the treaty, however, was interrupted by the August Coup—an attempted coup d'état by hardline members of the government and the KGB who sought to reverse Gorbachev's reforms and reassert the central government's control over the republics. After the coup collapsed, Yeltsin was seen as a hero for his decisive actions, while Gorbachev's power was effectively ended. The balance of power tipped significantly towards the republics. In August 1991, Latvia and Estonia immediately declared the restoration of their full independence (following Lithuania's 1990 example). Gorbachev resigned as general secretary in late August, and soon afterwards, the party's activities were indefinitely suspended—effectively ending its rule. By the fall, Gorbachev could no longer influence events outside Moscow, and he was being challenged even there by Yeltsin, who had been elected President of Russia in July 1991.
The remaining 12 republics continued discussing new, increasingly looser, models of the Union. However, by December all except Russia and Kazakhstan had formally declared independence. During this time, Yeltsin took over what remained of the Soviet government, including the Moscow Kremlin. The final blow was struck on 1 December when Ukraine, the second-most powerful republic, voted overwhelmingly for independence. Ukraine's secession ended any realistic chance of the country staying together even on a limited scale.
On 8 December 1991, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (formerly Byelorussia), signed the Belavezha Accords, which declared the Soviet Union dissolved and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place. While doubts remained over the authority of the accords to do this, on 21 December 1991, the representatives of all Soviet republics except Georgia signed the Alma-Ata Protocol, which confirmed the accords. On 25 December 1991, Gorbachev resigned as the President of the USSR, declaring the office extinct. He turned the powers that had been vested in the presidency over to Yeltsin. That night, the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time, and the Russian tricolor was raised in its place.
The following day, the Supreme Soviet, the highest governmental body, voted both itself and the country out of existence. This is generally recognized as marking the official, final dissolution of the Soviet Union as a functioning state, and the end of the Cold War. The Soviet Army initially remained under overall CIS command but was soon absorbed into the different military forces of the newly independent states. The few remaining Soviet institutions that had not been taken over by Russia ceased to function by the end of 1991.
Following the dissolution, Russia was internationally recognized as its legal successor on the international stage. To that end, Russia voluntarily accepted all Soviet foreign debt and claimed Soviet overseas properties as its own. Under the 1992 Lisbon Protocol, Russia also agreed to receive all nuclear weapons remaining in the territory of other former Soviet republics. Since then, the Russian Federation has assumed the Soviet Union's rights and obligations. Ukraine has refused to recognize exclusive Russian claims to succession of the USSR and claimed such status for Ukraine as well, which was codified in Articles 7 and 8 of its 1991 law On Legal Succession of Ukraine. Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has continued to pursue claims against Russia in foreign courts, seeking to recover its share of the foreign property that was owned by the USSR.
The dissolution was followed by a severe drop in economic and social conditions in post-Soviet states, including a rapid increase in poverty, crime, corruption, unemployment, homelessness, rates of disease, demographic losses, income inequality and the rise of an oligarchical class, along with decreases in calorie intake, life expectancy, adult literacy, and income. Between 1988/1989 and 1993/1995, the Gini ratio increased by an average of 9 points for all former socialist countries. The economic shocks that accompanied wholesale privatization were associated with sharp increases in mortality. Data shows Russia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia saw a tripling of unemployment and a 42% increase in male death rates between 1991 and 1994. In the following decades, only five or six of the post-communist states are on a path to joining the wealthy capitalist West while most are falling behind, some to such an extent that it will take over fifty years to catch up to where they were before the fall of the Soviet Bloc.
In summing up the international ramifications of these events, Vladislav Zubok stated: "The collapse of the Soviet empire was an event of epochal geopolitical, military, ideological, and economic significance." Before the dissolution, the country had maintained its status as one of the world's two superpowers for four decades after World War II through its hegemony in Eastern Europe, military strength, economic strength, aid to developing countries, and scientific research, especially in space technology and weaponry.
The analysis of the succession of states for the 15 post-Soviet states is complex. The Russian Federation is seen as the legal continuator state and is for most purposes the heir to the Soviet Union. It retained ownership of all former Soviet embassy properties, as well as the old Soviet UN membership and permanent membership on the Security Council.
There are additionally four states that claim independence from the other internationally recognized post-Soviet states but possess limited international recognition: Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Transnistria. The Chechen separatist movement of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria lacks any international recognition.