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IAS Mains General Studies 1 Notes: Disintegration of the USSR (1991)

Last Updated - December 29, 2016

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was discovered after the socialist revolution in Russia in 1917. The USSR was a loose confederation of 15 republics and Russia was the leader. It was a strong segment with great control over politics of entire world from 1922 to 1991 when it was disintegrated into smaller units. This post describes the reasons and impact of the disintegration of USSR.

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History of USSR

Russian Revolution was a very important revolution of 1917 that ended the Russian empire. This was followed by Russian Civil War that finally resulted in the formation of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had a total of 15 republics/blocks before its disintegration in 1991. Russia was one of the republics. The members of USSR are as follows:

ArmeniaLithuania
AzerbaijanMoldova
BelarusRussia
EstoniaTajikistan
GeorgiaTurkmenistan
KazakhstanUkraine
KyrgyzstanUzbekistan
Latvia--

The Socialist Bloc or Second World

Some important points are as follows:

  • USSR is not equal to Socialist Bloc at all.
  • These are east Europeans countries, which showed allegiance to USSR and its socialist/communist principles.
  • Socialist bloc is the super set and USSR is the subset. USSR was the leader of the socialist bloc
  • Many of these countries were under Fascist rule during Second World War but when USSR liberated them, they came under USSR control.
  • There was a pact called Warsaw pact which was the military alliance and kept the socialist group together.

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Problems faced by USSR

There were many problems with the USSR. Some of them are as follows:

  • At that time, there was a bureaucratic and authoritarian system.
  • Democracy was just another word.
  • There was no freedom of speech.
  • There was one party system which was unaccountable to people.
  • Because of the dominance of Russia, there was neglect to the interests of other republics.
  • There was a very high expenditure on defense and the system was low on infrastructure and technology.

Major Events that led to disintegration of the USSR

The following were the main reasons for the disintegration of USSR: -

  • Socialist bloc crisis: The people from many east European countries started protesting against their own governments and USSR without the right intervention from USSR at the right time. Communist governments in the Second World War collapsed one after the other without the right intervention from USSR at the right time.
  • Fall of Berlin Wall: After the Second World War Germany was divided among the socialist USSR and the capitalist western regimes. Fall of Berlin led to a series of events including the disintegration of the USSR.
  • Political and Economic reforms in USSR: Gorbachev realized the economic and political problems of USSR, and started a series of reforms, with the intention to revive the economy and settle economic problems. This was more closely associated with the market economy and was a deviation from the communist policies. Many communist leaders in USSR opposed to reforms initiated by Gorbachev. They encouraged a coup in the year 1991.
  • Opposition against the coup: Boris Yeltsin, who won the popular election in the Russian Republic, also protested against the coup and central control of USSR. The freedom for republics became the slogan. Boris Yeltsin and the pluralist movement advocated democratization and rapid economic reforms. The hard-line Communist elite wanted to thwart Gorbachev’s reform agenda.
  • The power shift from Soviet center to republics: Republics like Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus emerged as a powerful country. They declared that the Soviet Union as being disbanded.

Factors that led to the disintegration of USSR

The factors that led to the disintegration of USSR are as follows:

  1. Economic Weakness

The weakness in the economy at that time was the major cause of dissatisfaction among the people in USSR. There was a huge shortage of consumer items. The reasons for economics weakness were as follows:

  • A Huge amount was spent on the military.
  • In the Easter Europe, there was a large maintenance of satellite states
  • Maintenance of the Central Asian Republics within the USSR states.
  1. Political Un-accountability

There was a single party rule for around 70 years that turned authoritarian. There were widespread corruption and lack of transparency in the system. Gorbachev made a decision to allow elections with a multi-party system and create a presidency for the Soviet Union. This began a slow process of democratization that eventually destabilized Communist control and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

  1. Gorbachev’s reforms

Once freedom was achieved by under Michael Gorbachev’s reforms, they demanded more for it. The demand grew into a big force which turned very difficult to control. The people wanted to catch up on the western side very quickly.

  1. Rise of nationalism

There was a rise of nationalism among countries like Russia, Baltic republics, Ukraine, Georgia etc. This is the most important and immediate cause of the disintegration of the USSR. The national feeling was strong among the most prosperous areas in USSR and not in Central Asian republics. Ordinary people among prosperous republics never liked to pay the big price to uplift the backward Central Asian republics.


Consequences of the disintegration of the USSR

The consequences of the disintegration were very important. They are as follows:

  • There was the fall of Second World War.
  • The above period marked the end of many communist regimes in response to mass protests.
  • There was the End of cold war, the arms race, and ideological confrontations.
  • There was a change in power equations as well.
  • The emergence of new countries and new alliances for e.g. Baltic countries aligned with NATO.

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