The Collapse of the Soviet Union

Democracy brings important changes to the Soviet Union

Gorbachev Moves Toward Democracy

  • Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev and the Politburo crushed all political disagreement, Censors decided what writers could publish.
  • The Communist Party restricted freedom of speech and worship.
  • After Brezhnev's death in 1982, the aging leadership of the Soviet Union tried to hold on to power.

  1. A Younger Leader

  • Gorbachev s supporters praised his youth, energy, and political skills.
  • With their backing, Gorbachev became the party's new general secretary.
  • In choosing him, Politburo member did not realize they were unleashing another Russian Revolution. At 54, he was the youngest soviet leader since Stalin.
  • Gorbachev was only a child during Stalin's ruthless purge of independence minded party members.
  • Unlike other Soviet leaders, Gorbachev decided to pursue new ideas.

2. Glasnost Promotes Openness

  • Past Soviet leaders had created a totalitarian state.
  • As a result, Soviet society rarely changes, and the soviet economy stagnated.
  • Gorbachev realized the economic and social reforms could not occur without a free flow of ideas and information.
  • In 1985, he announced a policy known as glasnost, or openness.
  • The government allowed churches to open.
  • It released dissidents from prison and allowed the publication of books by previously banned authors.
  • Reporters investigated problems and certified officials.

Reforming the Economy and Politics

  • The new openness allowed Soviet citizens to complain about economic problems.
  • Consumers protested that they had to stand in lines to buy food and other basics.

  1. Economic Restructuring

  • Gorbachev blamed these problems on the Soviet Union`s inefficient system of central planning.
  • Under central planning. party officials told farm and factory managers how much to produce.
  • They also told them what wages to pay and what prices to charge.
  • Because individuals could not increase their pay by producing more, they had little motive to improve efficiency.
  • In 1985, Gorbachev introduced the idea of perestroika or economic restructuring. Local managers gained greater authority over their farms and factories, and people were allowed to open small private businesses.
  • Gorbachev goal was not to throw out communism, but to make the economic system more efficient and productive.

2. Democratization Opens the Political System

  • Gorbachev knew that for the economy to improve, the communist Party would have to loosen its grip on Soviet society and politics,unveiled a third new policy, called democratization.
  • This would be gradual opening of the political system.
  • The call for the election of new legislative body.
  • Voters could choose from a list of candidates for each office.
  • The election produced many surprises.
  • Voters now chose lesser-known candidates and reformers over powerful party bosses.

3. Foreign Policy

To compete militarily with the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan had begun the most expensive military buildup in peacetime history, costing more than $2 trillion.

Under pressure from U.S. military spending, Gorbachev realized that the soviet economy could not afford the costly arm race.

In December 1987, he and Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

This treaty banned nuclear missiles with ranges of 300 to 3400 miles.

The Soviet Union Faces Turmoil

  • With powerful forces of Democracy growing in the country, Gorbachev decided not to oppose them and rather embrace the reform.
  • Glasnost, perestroika and democratization were all different means of reform in the system and ultimately the move to reform in the Soviet Union led to it’s breakup.
  • Various Soviet Union nationalists started to call for their freedoms and this lead to great problems.
  • Seeing as there were more than 100 different ethnic groups living in the Soviet Union, ethnic tensions started to grow and unrest started to spread across the country.
  • Nationalists in Georgia, Ukraine and what is now Moldova started to demand self-rule and the Muslims of Soviet Central Asia were calling for their religious freedoms.

  1. Lithuania Defies Gorbachev

  • The Baltic Nations of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia were the first to challenge Gorbachev.
  • These republics had been independent for two world wars and did not want to give up their independence that easily.
  • They had been free until the Soviets had annexed them in the 40’s, though 50 years later Lithuania declared its independence and this caused Gorbachev to order an economic blockade.
  • At first Gorbachev was a little hesitant o fuse stronger force, but after fearing that Lithuania would convince other republics to secede, he decided the use of more harsher force was okay.
  • January 1991, Gorbachev ordered Soviet troops to attack civilians gather in the capital of Lithuania, killing 14 and wounding hundreds.

2. Yeltsin Denounces Gorbachev

  • Due to the attack in Lithuania and the lack of economic progress, Gorbachev’s popularity amoungst the people started to decline.
  • People were starting to look towards the member of parliament former mayor of Moscow, Boris Yeltsin, for leadership.
  • Later in the same year of the Lithuanian attack, during June, the people chose Yeltsin to become the first Russian Federation’s directly elected president.
  • Despite the rivalry, Yeltsin and Gorbachev were able to come together and face a common enemy that they had in the old guard Communist officials.
  • Hard-liners- these were people that were furious that Gorbachev had given up the Soviet Union’s role as a dominate force in Eastern Europe, feared they would lose their privileges as well as their power and all had vowed to overthrow Gorbachev and undo all the reforms that he had made.

3. The August Coup

  • August 18, 1991 Gorbachev was detained in his vacation home by a group of hardliners who were demanding for his resignation as the Soviet’s president.
  • The next day, hundreds or military tanks as well as armored vehicles rolled into Moscow, though the people had lost their fear in the party because they were willing to fight for their freedoms.
  • At about midday-Yeltsin came out of his office and climbed on top one of the tanks, which gather a great applause from the protesters that had Gether outside of his office.
  • Which standing on top of the tank, Yeltsin stated, “We proclaim all decisions and decrees of this committee to be illegal… We appeal to the citizens of Russia to demand a return of the country to normal constitutional developments.”
  • Two days later, hardliners ordered the troops to attack the parliament building.

  • The attempt that had been made by the coup created anger towards the Communist Party.

4. End of The Soviet Union
  • Gorbachev eventually resigned as general secretary of the party and the Soviet parliament voted to stop all the parties activities.

  • Due to that fact power had been seized in a coup that succeeded, the Communist Party started to collapse.

  • The coup also lead to the acceleration of the splitting of the Soviet Union.

  • Estonia, Latvia and 15 other republics had declared their independence by early December, despite Gorbachev’s pleads for unity.

  • Yeltsin met with the leaders of various other republics to chart a new course and they agreed that for the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) a loose federation of former Soviet territories would be best.

  • The formation of the CIS lead to the death of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union, a country that he said ceased to exist.

  • They refused and this lead to the turning on the tide.

  • The next day, on August 21, military forces were pulled from Moscow and then late during the night , Gorbachev was returned to Moscow.

CNN: Flashback to 1991: Soviet Union collapses

(38 seconds)

Russia Under Boris Yeltsin

  • Boris Yeltsin was the most powerful figure in the CIS.
  • He would face many problems including and ailing economy, tough political opposition, an unpopular war.

  1. Yeltsin Faces Problems
  • One of Yeltsin’s goals was to reform the Russian economy.
  • He developed a plan known as the “shock therapy” an abrupt shift to free market economics.
  • Yeltsin lowered trade barriers, removed price controls, and ended subsidies to state-owned industries.
  • Prices soared from 1992 to 1994, the inflation rate averaged 800 percent.
  • Many factories depending on the government money had to t production or shut down entirely.
  • Most people went out of work. In October 1993, legislators opposed to Yeltsin's policies shut themselves inside the parliament building.
  • Yeltsin ordered the troops to bombard the building, forcing hundred of people to surrender.
  • Many people were killed and they later accused of Yeltsin to be a dictator.
2. Chechnya Rebels

  • Yeltsin's troubles included war in Chechnya a largely Muslim area in southwestern Russia.
  • In 1991 Chechnya declared its independence but Yeltsin denied the regions rights to secede.
  • In 1994 he ordered 40,000 troops into the breakaway the republic.
  • With an election coming Yeltsin sought to end the war.
  • In august 1996, both sides signed a cease-fire.
  • That year Yeltsin won reelection.
  • War soon broke out aganist Russia and Chechnya.
  • In 1999 the fighting raged Yeltsin resigned and named Vladimir Putin as acting president.

Russia Vladimir Putin

  • Putin forcefully dealt with the rebellion in Chechnya, a popular move that helped him win the presidential election in 2000.
  • even though the fighting region dragged on for years.
  1. Trouble Continue in Chechnya
  • 2002-Russia said that the war in Chechnya was nearing an end.
  • July 2002- the Kremlin said it would begin pulling some of its 80,000 troops out of Chechnya.
  • October 2002- Chechen rebels seized a theater in Moscow, and more than 150 people died in the rescue attempt by Russian forces.
2. Economic, Political, and Social Problems

  • The nation's economic problems continued, and some observers wondered whether Russian democracy could survive.
  • A decade of change and reform between 1992 and 2002 caused enormous social upheaval in Russia.
  • Their were estimated between 30,00-50,000 homeless children younger than 13.
  • there are some signs of improvement under Putin
  • Unrest in the Soviet Union had an enormous impact on Central and Eastern Europe.


The last days of the Soviet Empire. August , 1991 (4)


Morgan Smerdell, Sophie Holland, Carson Gilbert, Valery Dial