The events of 1991 brought about the dissolution of the USSR. Why did it happen and who was to blame? A new documentary, USSR Collapse: A Crash Course, looks at the historic moments and central figures that are key to understanding the perfect storm that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the 1980s, the USSR’s first and last president, Mikhail Gorbachev, launched Perestroika (restructuring), an economic policy intended to pull the superpower out of stagnation. But Gorbachev’s attempt to jump start the Soviet economy only worsened product deficits. Alongside Perestroika, another Gorbachev reform, Glasnost (openness), eased restrictions on freedom of speech, consequently unleashing a wave of criticism. While Mikhail Gorbachev was a hit with his Western counterparts, he was viewed differently at home.
In 1991, a group of Communist hardliners, including the Soviet Union's Vice President, Defence Minister, and KGB head, decided to derail Gorbachev’s reforms. The dramatic events that unfolded from August 18 to 21 of that year became known as a coup and marked the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union.
The conspirators isolated Gorbachev in his summer house in Crimea, formed the State Committee for the State of Emergency (GKChP) and announced a new Soviet leader. Tanks rolled into the capital, as anti-coup protesters gathered on Moscow streets. Russian President Boris Yeltsin denounced the coup, ending the drama and securing his own position as Gorbachev’s main rival.
In the meantime, nationalist movements gained steam in the Soviet republics. The three Baltic States declared independence, while ethnic conflicts flared up in Transdniester, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
On December 8, 1991, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus signed the Belovezha Accords.
On December 25, 1991, the Russian tricolour replaced the hammer and sickle flying above the Kremlin.
Was it possible to stop the Soviet Union’s dissolution? Might the USSR still exist if it were not for Gorbachev’s reforms? Do you regret the collapse of the Soviet Union? Participants of the events, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Leonid Kravchuk, and Stanislav Shushkevich, recollect the final years of the USSR, while ordinary witnesses describe how the collapse affected their lives.