The Fall of the Soviet Union: A Momentous Episode in History

The Fall of the Soviet Union: A Momentous Episode in History


The fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991 marked the end of a remarkable political experiment in modern times and a turning point for global politics. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in the formation of a Commonwealth of Independent States, and the dissolution of the hegemony of the Communist Party within Russia. Though the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was considered the true moment of euphoria in the West about the fall of communism, the Soviet Union’s fall had a tremendous impact on global politics that is still felt today.

Table of Contents

  • The beginning of movements towards autonomy
  • Attempted suppression of independence movements
  • Rising factions and opposition to Gorbachev
  • Economic collapse and opposition to reform
  • Coup by conservative enemies and its failure
  • Yeltsin’s rise to power
  • Dissolution of the Soviet Union
  • The aftermath of its collapse
  • The impact on global politics


Q: What led to the fall of the Soviet Union?
A: The fall of the Soviet Union was a result of a combination of factors. There were movements towards autonomy in many parts, and nationalist-dominated parliaments in Estonia and Latvia followed Lithuania’s example in voting for independence. The Communist Party’s reign was halted, and multi-party politics was recognized. The Soviet Union was facing an imminent economic collapse, and over half of Soviet citizens felt their lives had worsened. The rise of Boris Yeltsin and opposition from conservative enemies led to Gorbachev’s ultimate downfall.

Q: Who was Boris Yeltsin?
A: Boris Yeltsin was a Russian politician who served as President of the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1999. He gained popular support from Russian nationalists and successfully built an unassailable base of support in Russia. He sought sweeping economic reforms built upon market principles, and eventually banned the Communist Party altogether. After Gorbachev’s downfall, he became the dominant political figure in Russia.

Q: How did Gorbachev lose support of both reformers and reactionaries?
A: Gorbachev lost support of both reformers and reactionaries because he was attempting to both reform the Soviet Union and uphold its political straitjacket system. His mission was to abolish the political monopoly of the Communist Party and recognize multi-party politics. However, he faced opposition from conservative enemies and the ominous rise of Boris Yeltsin, who had left the Communist Party.

Q: How did the public react to moves towards independence in the Soviet Union?
A: The public’s support for independence in Lithuania and Estonia could not be stopped, and even amidst bloodshed and attempted suppression in Lithuania and Latvia in January 1991, the movements towards autonomy persisted. Over half of Soviet citizens said their lives had become worse under Gorbachev. The overwhelming support for independence in Lithuania and Estonia showed that the people had had enough of the Communist Party’s reign.

Q: How did the coup in August 1991 fail?
A: The coup eventually failed due to bungling and miscalculations. Citizens, mostly young Muscovites, gathered in anti-coup demonstrations, defying military force. Due to the power of the people, Yeltsin was able to rally support for Gorbachev, resulting in the failed coup. Yeltsin was hailed as a hero while Gorbachev returned to Moscow weakened by the coup.

Q: What happened after the dissolution of the Soviet Union?
A: The Soviet Union dissolved on December 31, 1991, resulting in the formation of a Commonwealth of Independent States. Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and on December 25, he stepped down as President, transferring all his powers to Yeltsin. The collapse of Yugoslavia and ethnic conflicts exacerbated the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Europe was divided into four distinguishable groupings: the Commonwealth of Independent States, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Balkan states.


The fall of the Soviet Union marked the end of a momentous episode in history. Though it was a turning point for global politics, the aftermath of its dissolution had a profound impact on Europe and changed the course of world history. The collapse of the Communist Party in Russia and the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States had a ripple effect on ethnic conflicts and nationalist movements, as well as reshaping global politics. Today, we still see the impact of the Soviet Union’s fall and its aftermath on global politics and cultural identity.

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