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Fall of the Soviet Union

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John Vosarogo

on 23 March 2011

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Transcript of Fall of the Soviet Union

The Fall of the Soviet Union: First, what was the structure of the former Soviet Union? The Soviet Union, as the name suggests, was a union of 15 Soviet "republics" ruled from Moscow by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The 15 "republics" were basically administrative regions organized on an ethnic basis. They all had their own Communist parties (except the Russian SFSR) which were part of the greater
CPSU. 1. Armenian SSR
2. Azerbaijan SSR
3. Byelorussian SSR
4. Estonian SSR
5. Georgian SSR
6. Kazakh SSR
7. Kirghiz SSR The 15 Soviet Socialist Republics were: 8. Latvian SSR
9. Lituhanian SSR
10. Moldovian SSR
11. Russian SFSR
12. Tajik SSR
13. Turkmen SSR
14. Ukranian SSR
15. Uzbek SSR Who? What? Where? When? How? and Why? The Soviet Political System The Soviet political system was structured like a three-faced pyramid: Communist Party Legislative Councils Council of Ministers Communist Party The Politburo - a committee of around 15 political heavyweights. The Politburo set policy, its meetings were chaired by the General Secretary who was chosen by the other members and served for life or until ousted (Nikita Kruschev in 1964). The General Secretary was in effect the leader of the Communist Party and, thus, the Soviet Union The Secreatariat - 10 or 12 party secretaries who headed administrative departments that implemented the Politburo's decisions and managed Party membership and property. The Central Committee - Met at plenary sessions a few times per year to ratify the decisions of the Politburo, basically as a rubber stamp. The members of the Politburo and Secretariat were elected by and from the Central Committee. The Congress of the Communist Party - Several thousand members strong, the Congress met every five years to "elect" the Central Committee. Party Committees - Every region, town, village, enterprise, collective farm, school, army unit, police station, etc. had its own party committee. Existed at all levels from the rural town to the individual republics to the Union. Soviets passed laws and ordinances. They were elected from party approved lists with no alternatives. Legislative Councils (Soviets) The Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union - The highest level Soviet was the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. It was the only legislative body with power to pass constitutional amendments. The Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was the head of state of the U.S.S.R. although the de facto ruler was the General Secretary of the Communist Party. Council of Ministers - The de jure executive branch of the Soviet government, the Council issued declarations and instructions, administered public services and branches of the planned economy. They coordinated the activity of the country's 46,000 industrial companies, 50,000 state and collective farms, and several hundred thousand smaller enterprises. Council of Ministers A political career generally meant rising through the ranks of the party,
perhaps holding executive or legislative posts and/or heading an industrial enterprise along the way. Who? The two main actors in this story are Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. We'll meet some important supporting actors as well but for now lets focus on the two co-stars: Mikhail Gorbachev President of the Soviet Union 15 March 1990 – 25 December 1991; General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union 11 March 1985 – 24 August 1991; Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union 1 October 1988 – 25 May 1989; Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union 25 May 1989 – 15 March 1990; Member of the Politburo 1980 – 1991. In the late 80’s Gorbachev initiated the reforms that would lead to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Boris Yeltsin 1st President of Russia 10 July 1991 – 31 December 1999. Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR 29 May 1990 - 10 July 1991. Mayor of Moscow 24 December 1985 to 1987. Born March 2nd 1931 in Stavropol in Russia's agricultural South to a Ukrainian-Russian peasant family. His father repaired tractors on a collective farm and as a teenager after WWII he drove combine harvesters for 20 hours a day, earning him a Red Banner of Labor medal. Graduated with a law degree from Moscow State University and returned home to Savropol where he worked his way up the party ranks first in the Communist Youth League (Komsomol) and then the party itself. In 1970 at the age of 39 he became the First Party Secretary of Stavropol. In 1974 he was appointed First Party Secretary to the Supreme Soviet. In 1979 he was promoted to Party Secretary in charge of agriculture and became a member of the Politburo. Six years later in 1985 he was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Born 1 Feburary 1931 in Sverdlovsk Oblast. In 1934, Yeltsin's father, Nikolay, was arrested for "anit-soviet agitation" and sent to a gulag for three years. Upon his father's return, the family moved to the town of Berezniki, on the Ural's western foothills. As a child Yeltsin was known as a mischevious prankster. His escapades include placing sharp objects on his teachers' seats, gang rumbles, and, most famously, attempting to disect a hand grenade he stole from a Soviet Army arms depot and blowing off his left thumb and index finger. Yeltsin graduated from Ural State Technical Univeristy in 1955 with a degree in civil engineering. From 1957 - 1963 he followed in his father's footsteps working as a construction foreman. In 1961, at the age of 30, Yeltsin joined the Communist Party, a prerequisite for promotion. Working his way up to the top of the regional construction department, in 1976, he was promoted by the Politburo to regional party boss and remaind in that position until 1985. He earned the respect of Gorbachev who brought him into the top circles of the Party making him the Moscow city party chief in December 1985, which made him a candidate member of the Politburo. Nikolay Ryzhkov - Chairman of the Council of Ministers/Prime Minister 27 September 1985 - 14 January 1991 Valentin Pavlov - Prime Minister 14 January 1991 - 22 August 1991. He was elected to the new position of Prime Minister as a compromise to placate hardliners opposed to perestroika. He was a leader of the August Coup, arrested, imprisioned and granted amnesty in 1994. Dmitry Yazov - Defense Minister 1987 - 1991. Responsible for the deployment of OMON commando units to Latvia and Lithuania in 1991. Member of the August Coup and the State Emergency Committee. He was prosecuted and acquitted in 1994 Vladimir Kryuchkov - Hardliner, he was KGB chairman from 1988 - 1991. Member of the Politburo from 1989 - 1990. Member of the August Coup and part of the Gang of Eight that led the State Emergency Committee. He was imprisioned for his participation but freed by the State Duma in 1994. Boris Pugo - Hardliner, Interior Minister from 1990 - 1991, member of the August Coup. Pugo shot himself to avoid arrest. Aleksandr Yakovlev - Close liberal aide to Gorbachev. Member of the Politburo and Secretariat, chief of party ideology, godfather of glasnost. He was removed from the Politburo and expelled from the party two days before the August Coup, during which he joined the democratic opposition. He blamed Gorbachev for the coup, for being naive in bringing the plotters into his inner circle. 1987 March 1989 - As part of Gorbachev's reforms, the first competitve elections are held in 2,250-person Congress of People's Deputies. The Congress gathered to elect a two-house parliament known as the Supreme Soviet, from among its members. Gorbachev was chosen by the Congress to serve as the new parliament's chairman. He retianed his title of General Secretary of the Communist Party. Prior to the March '89 election, "candidates" were "elected" to seats on the former Supreme Soviet from a party approved list that was only one candidate long with no alternates. The Communist Party still controlled the Supreme Soviet after ther election, with an 88% majority, although Congress did include some radical reformers, including Boris Yeltsin, the former Moscow city party boss. The new Supreme Soviet was mandated to decide all but the most important issues, such as constitutional amendments, which were voted on by the full Congress. October 1987 - Gorbachev and Yeltsin have a falling out when Yeltsin voices criticisms at a Central Committee plenary session, breaking party protocol. Yeltsin was eviscerated by Gorbachev and his cronies. Yeltisn tried to commit suicide a few weeks later and was dragged from his hospital bed to be chewed out once more by Gorbachev in front of the Moscow City Party Committee for four hours before being appointed a deputy minister for construction. Gorbachev declared at that meeting that he would not let Yeltsin back into politics. The election of Yeltsin to the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet in 1989 was at least partly the result of a surge in popularity following his being flayed by the old guard. Once elected, he forged an alliance with the democratic intelligentsia. March 1990 - Gorbachev has the Supreme Soviet elect him into a new position, President of the Soviet Union. May, 1990 - Yeltsin is elected to the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR and chosen as its Chairman, making him the de jure head of state of the Russian SFSR. This is a different body from the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. From this position Yeltsin championed radical opposition to Gorbachev accusing him of wavering in his reforms and permitting hardliners to obstruct them. This put Gorbachev in a position of being attacked from both the right and the left. Summer 1990 - With Gorbachev and Yeltsin's support, a team of economists unger Grigory Yavlinsky and Stanislav Shatalin draw up a plan to create a market economy in "500 days." Yeltsin and the parliament embrace the plan and at first Gorbachev is enthusiastic, telling Yeltsin he will support the plan "to the end" but he changes his mind instead endorsing a plan designed by his prime minister, Nikolay Ryzhkov, to rescue the collapsing planned economy. 12 June 1990 - Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian SFSR by the first Congress of People's Deputies of the Russian SFSR which proclaimed the sovereignty of the Russian SFSR, equality before the law, separation of powers, and federalism. This is the beginning of the split that would lead to the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. Gorbachev turns to the hardliners, who were horrified at the party's weakening position, for support. He appoints Boris Pugo, a former secret police chief from Latvia, as his interior minister. He flirts with using force against Yeltsin and the parliament but never directly orders any action. He does order the preparation of options.

July 1990 - Yeltsin quits the Communist Party and joins the radical democrats. January 1991 - Soviet military attempts to overthrow the republic governments of Lithuania and Latvia, who had followed Russia's lead in seeking greater autonomy, and replace them with KGB puppets. Gorbachev denies having ordered the crackdown. Yeltsin flies to Estonia to express solidarity with the Balts. Gorbachev also orders the Soviet Army into cities in Russia and other republics to "combat crime" with pistols and bayonets.

By this time Gorbachev had begun to show signs of paranoia. At one time he called Aleksandr Yakovlev, chief of party ideology and godfather of glasnost, on his carphone to ask him what he was doing outside of Moscow conspiring with the interior minister; he was in the woods picking mushrooms with his grandchildren. March 1991 - Yeltsin leads supporters of radical reform on a march through central Moscow defying thousands of troops sent to intimidate them. Gorbachev phones Yakovlev in a panic saying the democrats had ropes and grappling hooks to scale the walls and storm the Kremlin. The Russian Presidential Referendum, establishes the post of President of the RSFSR which will be filled by an all-national election.

Meanwhile, Gorbachev waves off repeated warning that his hardline allies were planning to overthrow him. Spring 1991 - Gorbachev persuades leaders of nine Soviet republics to negotiate a new Union treaty that would redefine the U.S.S.R. as a confederation of sovereign states. He tells Yeltsin that he planned to fire KGB chief Kryuchkov and Defense Minister Yazov and call elections for president of the new Union. June 1991 - Advocates of military rule try to stage a constitutional coup. Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov asked the Supreme Soviet to transfer powers to him while Kryuchkov and defense minister Dimitry Yazov demand a state of emergency. The parliament, which was controlled by anti-Gorbachev communists, came close to acquiescence but stopped short. Meanwhile, on 12 June, Yeltsin won 57% of the popular vote in the first election for President of Russia. By July 1991, signs of a coup were appearing daily. Yakovlev was getting reports of top generals meeting suspiciously. He resigned that month warning that a coup was imminent. Reports of odd movements of military divisions outside of Moscow came in. Mayor of Moscow, Gavriil Popov relays a message from the American ambassador Jack Matlock that a takeover was planned. To these warnings Gorbachev replied with anything from suppressed synicism to open derision. Howeve, he did discuss the removal of hardliners like Pavlov, Yazov, and Kryuchkov with Yeltsin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazabayev as late as 29 July 1991. This conversation is easedropped on by the KGB and relayed to Kryuchkov. August 1991 - On the 4th, Gorbachev left for a two-week vacation to his dacha in Foros on the Black Sea, he planned to sign the new Union treaty on the day of his return.

On the 17th the conspirators decide they must act as they believe the new Union treaty will lead to the Soivet Union's breakup.

The next day, the 18th, a group of the conspirators flew to Gorbachev's dacha to demand that either he declare a state of emergency or resign. He refuses and, the conspirators order Gorbachev confined to the dacha and the KGB cuts all communications in and out. They return to the Kremlin where the entire Gang of Eight signs the Declaration of Soviet Leadership which declared the state of emergency and announced the State Committee of the State of Emergency (GKChP).

At 7 a.m. on the 19th, the Declaration and other GKChP documents were broadcast by state media while tanks and other military vehicles are deployed in Moscow, paratroopers take part as well. By this time the KGB already has troops in the woods around Yeltsin's dacha outside Moscow as well as undercover in the White House, Russia's parliament building.

At 9 a.m. Yeltisn arrives at the White House and announces that a coup has taken place. A general strike is called for, with the demand that Gorbachev be allowed to address the people.

In the afternoon, the citizens of Moscow begin to gather around the White House and erect barricades to protect it. Yanayev calls a press conference where he says that Gorbachev was "resting" for health reasons. Yanayev claims that the GKChP will continue reforms but he appears very nervous and unconvincing.

Meanwhile, the commander of a tank battatalion deployed to the White House switches sides and declares loyalty to the leaders of the Russian SFSR. Yeltsin climbs one of the tanks and addresses the crowd, which is broadcast on the evening news. Gennady Yanayev - Acting President of the Soviet Union 19 August - 21 August 1991. Yanayev was leader of the Gang of Eight also known as the Committe on the State of Emergency and was Acing President of the U.S.S.R. during the August coup. He was pardoned in 1994. By noon the next day, the coup leaders were losing the initiative and arresting Yeltsin was the only way to convince the public they were in control. The defenders of the White House, some armed and some not, prepared themselves for an attack believed to be imminent.

That afternoon Yazov and Pugo decided to attack the White House, and the decision was supported by the other GKChP memebers. Operation Grom" (Thunder) was planned to be carried out by KGB special forces, paratroopers, tanks, and a helicopter squadron.

However, by this time the coup had run into resistance and delaying tactics from some in the second and third echelons of the military. Victor Karpukhin, commander of KGB special forces, having assessed the situation informed his superiors that the operation's likely result would be bloodshed and failure, he was relieved of his command. General Pavel Grachev, commander of Airborne Troops and his deputy Alexander Lebed, decided they would not obery orders to attack the White House and secretly informed those in charge of its defense that the attack would begin at 2:00 am that night.

At 1:00 am a group of armoured vehicles became blocked in a tunnel by ad hoc barricades. A confrontation with civilians resulted in the deaths of three young men. An armoured vehicle was set ablaze but no soldiers were killed.

When Yazov learned that the KGB special forces did not move to the White House as had been planned, he aborted Operation Grom and ordered the troops out of Moscow; the putschists had flinched. The troops began withdrawing at 8:00 am that day (the 21st) and by the 24th all of the coup leaders had been arrested except for Boris Pugo who committed suicide instead.

The end of the Soviet Union came quickly following the failure of the coup. By the 25th of August, Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned from the office of CPSU General Secretary while retaining the office of President of the Soviet Union, and the Russian SFSR by Yeltsin's decree had taken posession of all of the property of the CPSU.

Over the next few months, the 15 Soviet Republics fell over themselves trying to secede. By November the only SSR's that hadn't declared independence were Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Uzbekistan. On the 6th of November Yeltsin decreed that the CPSU in Russia was henceforth terminated.

A month later, on December 8th, Boris Yeltsin, Lenoid Kravchuk, and Stanislav Shushkevich, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus respectively met in Minsk to sign the Belovezha Agreement dissolving the U.S.S.R. and establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.). On the 24th, the Russian Federation informed the U.N. that it would succeed the Soviet Union in UN membership and its seat on the Security Council. The next day, Gorbachev announced his resignation as President of the Soviet Union. The day after that, the 26th of December 1991, the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist. Two other important components of the Soviet System were: The Soviet Military - By 1985 the Soviet military was the largest in the world, including the KGB and Interior Ministry forces as well as the army, navy, and air force. It boasted more than seven thousand generals and admirals. The KGB - Was the national security agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, it undertook internal security, intelligence, and secret police functions. Civilian Control A little bit of background information before we begin the timeline: Gorbachev came into office determined to break from the Cold War dynamic of international relations. He introduced the "new thinking," his approach to international relations, which included mutual respect of all nations and peaceful negotiations to work out differences. His new thinking came off as either naive or deceptive but he was willing to make large concessions to prove his committment to peace. To start, he announced a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. He also ended expansionist policy which led to the crumbling of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany in 1989. That same year, Gorbachev began to cut defense procurement by 30% per year. On the home front, Gorbachev introduced reforms which became known as Perestroika (reconstruction) and Glasnost (openess). These were economic and political reforms which were meant to modernize the Soviet model and bring about "Socialism with a human face." The reforms were n0t meant to eliminate communism but to make it more efficient and better able to meet the needs of Soviet citizens.

Gorbachev's reforms, both political and economic, infuriated conservative elements in the CPSU and the military. So, what happened? Why did Gorbachev's reforms, which were intended to save communism, end up with its ruin? The circumstances which set the stage for the emergence of Gorbachev and his reforms included increasing economic stagnation exacerbated by increased competition from the West in the context of the computer revolution, increased military competition from the Regan administration, and the maturity of the post-Stalin generation of Soviet leaders.

However, it is Gorbachev's personal characteristics that are the primary factor in the course he chose. He was enourmously confident in his own abilities which he combined with an ingnorance of the details of the challenges he faced. Ultimately, said Chernyaev, it came down to "just hope, which the people had long entertained, irrational and confused. Hope that, suddenly, something would change for the better." At the most basic level, the Soviet model finally failed in 1991 because the majority of Soviet citizens lost faith in it, and because the commanders of the armed forces were not prepared to order a bloody crackdown and return, at least temporarily, to Stalinst repression.

Support for communism disintegrated during 1990 mainly because of an extreme crisis in the consumer market that sparked fears of mass hunger. According to surveys, up to late 1989 Gorbachev and the CPSU still enjoyed majority support. However in 1990 that support all but disappeared. In 1990, for the first time since the begining of Perestroika, Russians' living standards fell sharply. By December 1990, ninety-three percent of survey respondants said food supplies had worsened in the previous year, and 92% said the same about manufactured goods. By April 1991, only 12% of Russians said they had seen meat in the stores, 6% had seen flour or vegetable oil, and 3% had seen adults' clothes. Even before that, during the summer of 1990, consumer riots were breaking out all over the country. Frightened by the empty shelves, Russians bolted past Perestroika, Glasnost and Gorbachev to the radical reforms being advocated by the populist Yeltsin.

The consumer crisis itself was caused by a combination factors. Shifts in world commodity prices hit the U.S.S.R. very hard. Falling oil and rising grain prices forced Gorbachev to borrow heavily from Western banks, ruining the Soviet Union's credit rating. The crumbling of the Eastern Bloc eliminated a guaranteed trading partner. Within the Soviet Union, perestroika detroyed the structure of a centrally planned economy before markets could fill the gap. Finally, gross mismanagment of fiscal policy caused an explosion in the amount of cash in circulation exacerbating the consumer shortages. With prices fixed and so many rubles chasing so few goods, store shelves were picked clean. Possibly. Gorbachev was warned many times about the looming macroeconomic explosion. His aides repeatedly urged him to introduce price and monetary reforms - Ryzhkov in April 1987, Medvedev in August 1987, Ligachev in January 1990. Ryzhkov considered it his greatest mistake not to have insisted.

By 1988 - 89 it was too late to stabalize without a major disruption. Had Gorbachev joined forces with Yeltsin behind the "500 Day" plan in late 1990, the shock of liberalization might have been slightly less painful.

But Gorbachev, with that losing combination of confidence and ignorance, never really considered such a move. Chernyaev says that he used to surreptitiously erase the phrase "the socialist choice" from Gorbachev's speeches but he would just sneak it back in. He remained loyal to the ideas and the party even though it was clear by late 1989 that the communist elite could not stand him. Even to this day Gorbachev places most of the blame for the failure of Perestroika on the "excessive revoluntionism" of Yeltsin and the radical democrats. Twenty years later, Gorbachev was still bitter enough to say that his greatest mistake was not to have sent Yeltsin off "to gather citrus fruits in some banana republic." He apparently meant as an ambassador. Why did the reforms fail? Could the consumer crisis have been avoided? First of all, why reform in the first place? The End
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