The Collapse of the Soviet Union
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The collapse of the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union was a global superpower, possessing the largest armed forces on the planet with military bases. When Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1985, nobody expected than in less than seven years the USSR would disintergrate into fifteen separate states.
Gorbachevs attempt at democratising the totalitarian Soviet system backfired on him as the Soviet republics began to revolt against Moscows control. This was not a case of economic and political crisis producing liberalisation and democratisation. Rather, it was liberalisation and democratisation that brought the regime to crisis point.
Gorbachev implemented a domestic economic reforms that he hoped would improve living standards and worker productivity as part of his perestroika (reconstruction) program. The Law on Cooperatives, enacted in May 1987, was perhaps the most radical of the economic reforms during the early part of the Gorbachev era. For the first time since Vladimir Lenins New Economic Policy, the law permitted private ownership of businesses in the services, manufacturing, and foreign-trade sectors. The law initially imposed high taxes and employment restrictions, but it later revised these to avoid discouraging private-sector activity. Under this provision, cooperative restaurants, shops, and manufacturers became part of the Soviet scene.
Gorbachevs introduction of glasnost (openness) gave new freedoms to the people, such as a greater freedom of speech; a radical change as control of speech and suppression of government criticism had previously been a central part of the Soviet system. The press became far less controlled and thousands of political prisoners and many dissidents were released in the spirit of glasnost.
In January 1987, Gorbachev called for demokratizatsiya (democratization) Ð– the infusion of democratic elements such as multicandidate elections into the Soviet political process. In June 1988, at the CPSUs Nineteenth Party Conference, Gorbachev launched radical reforms meant to reduce party control of the government apparatus. In December 1988, the Supreme Soviet approved the formation of a Congress of Peoples Deputies, which constitutional amendments had established as the Soviet Unions new legislative body.
Abroad, Gorbachev sought to improve relations and trade with the West. On October 11 1986, Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan met in Reykjavik, Iceland, to discuss reducing intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. This led to the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in 1987. In February 1988, Gorbachev announced the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, which was completed the following year.
Also during 1988, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union would abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine, and allow the Warsaw Pact nations to determine their own internal affairs. He called his new doctrine the Sinatra Doctrine. This led to the string of revolutions in Eastern Europe throughout 1989 in which communism collapsed. With the exception of Romania, the democratic revolutions were all peaceful ones. The loosening of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe effectively ended the Cold War, and for this Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 15, 1990.
The changes in foreign and domestic policy were closely interlinked in the second half of the 1980s. The rapid democratization of Eastern Europe in the late 1990s had a destabilising effect within the Soviet Union itself. Gorbachevs relaxation of censorship and attempts to create more political openness had the unintended effect of re-awakening long suppressed nationalist and anti-Russian feelings in the Soviet republics. Calls for greater independence from Moscows rule grew louder, especially in the Baltic republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which had been annexed into the Soviet Union by Stalin in 1940. Nationalist feeling also took hold in other Soviet republics such as the Ukraine and Azerbaijan. Gorbachevs reforms had accidentally torn away the power of the CPSU and unleashed a force that would ultimately destroy the Soviet Union.
The Baltic republics were the first to secede but nationalism soon spread throughout the entire Soviet Union. In reality, a democratised Soviet Union was incompatible with denial of the Baltic states independence for, to the extent that those Soviet republics became democratic, their