Collapse of the Soviet Union



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Collapse of the Soviet Union

The collapse of the Soviet Union started in the late 1980s and was complete when the country broke up into 15 independent states on December 25, 1991. This signaled the end of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States.


Mikhail Gorbachev Becomes General Secretary
Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Soviet Union in 1985. When he took over the Soviet Union economy was in bad shape and his idea was to reform the economy and modernize the political situation in the country.


  1. How did Mikhail Gorbachev plan to fix the Soviet Union’s economy?

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Glasnost and Perestroika
There were two main platforms of Gorbachev's reform. The first he called Glasnost. Glasnost allowed more freedom of speech and openness in government. Government officials would be held accountable to the people for their actions. Although Glasnost was a good thing for the people, it also allowed people to protest and the media to report on issues for the first time. Many of the outlying states used this new found freedom to express their desire for independence.


  1. Describe Gorbachev’s Glasnost policy.

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The other major reform was called Perestroika. Perestroika meant "restructuring". Gorbachev meant to restructure the Soviet economy to work more efficiently. He allowed some private ownership and released some of the tight control the government had on the economy. However, the people and economy of the Soviet Union were used to the government doing everything. Things got worse before they got better.


  1. How did Gorbachev plan to reform the economy?

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Baltic Region
With the new found freedom of Gorbachev's reforms, some outlying Soviet states began to rebel. The first states to demand their freedom were the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. Soon more states wanted their independence including Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia. The central government of the Soviet Union began to feel the pressure of so many states wanting independence.
4. What countries rebelled against the Soviet Union?

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The Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989)
As one of its bordering neighbors, the Soviet Union had a long history of supporting and providing aid to Afghanistan. On April 27, 1978 a Soviet supported communist government took over the country. The new government was called the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA). Many of the Afghanistan people did not like the new communist government, primarily because many of the laws went against their Muslim religion. They began to rebel against the current government. The rebels called themselves the Mujahideen. In September of 1979, events in Afghanistan became more unstable when Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin had the current president killed and took control of the communist government.
5. Why did many Afghans dislike the new communist government?

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The War
The leaders of the Soviet Union became concerned that President Amin was having discussions with the United States. On December 24, 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. They had President Amin put to death and installed their own leader, President Babrak Karmal. Over the next several years the Soviet Army would battle with the Mujahideen. It was a very difficult battle. Many of the Soviet soldiers were untested in battle and their gear was not designed for the harsh environment of Afghanistan. Also, the Mujahideen soldiers were fighting for their homeland and their religion. They were fierce fighters and had many good places to hide in the mountains.
6. Why did the Soviet Union decide to invade Afghanistan?

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7. Why were Soviet troops struggling against the Mujahadeen?

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As the war continued with little success, it became a source of embarrassment for the Soviet Union. Their army no longer seemed invincible to the rest of the world. The Soviets also came under increasing international pressure. The war was condemned by the United Nations, the US pulled out of the SALT treaty talks, and the US boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.
8. How did the world pressure the Soviet Union into ending the war?

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The War Ends
When Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union he wanted the war to end. He first tried to increase Soviet troops to end the war quickly. However, this didn't work. By 1988 Gorbachev realized the war was costing Soviet troops and hurting their economy. He signed a peace treaty to end the war. The last Soviet troops departed Afghanistan on February 15, 1989.
9. Why is this war similar to the U.S. experience in the Vietnam War?

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Unofficial Collapse of the Soviet Union
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Berlin where he asked the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to "Tear down this Wall!"
Around that time the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse. They were losing their hold on East Germany. A few years later on November 9, 1989 the announcement was made. The borders were open and people could freely move between Eastern and Western Germany. Much of the wall was torn down by people chipping away as they celebrated the end to a divided Germany. On October 3, 1990 Germany was officially reunified into a single country.
10. What event marked the unofficial collapse of the Soviet Union?

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Attempted Takeover of the Government

With the communist government on the verge of collapse, Soviet hardliners decided to take action. In August of 1991 they kidnapped Gorbachev and announced to the world that he was too sick to govern. They would be taking over. When the Soviet citizens began to protest, the hardliners called in the military to shut them down. However, the soldiers refused to shoot and arrest their own people. Without the military to back them up, the takeover had failed.

11. How did Soviet hardliners take action in 1991? Were they successful?

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The Soviet Union Breaks Up
On December 24, 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved. At the same time Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation. The Soviet Union divided up into 15 separate independent countries including:



  • Armenia

  • Azerbaijan

  • Belarus

  • Estonia

  • Georgia

  • Kazakhstan

  • Kyrgyzstan

  • Latvia

  • Lithuania

  • Moldova

  • Russia

  • Tajikistan

  • Turkmenistan

  • Ukraine

  • Uzbekistan



12. How many countries did the Soviet Union break in to in 1991? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Facts about the Collapse of the Soviet Union


  • By international law, Russia was considered the successor state of the Soviet Union. This meant that it kept the nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union's seat on the Security Council of the United Nations.

  • Many of the old Soviet Union states still have strong economic ties with each other.

  • Some of the new countries have democratic governments while others are still under authoritarian rule.

  • One of Gorbachev's reforms was to limit the consumption of alcohol in an effort to reduce alcoholism in the Soviet Union.

  • Boris Yeltsin was the first President of Russia after the break up.

13. Which country kept the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons?

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14. Who became the first President of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

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