Collapse of the USSR

  • Leonid Brezhnev led the USSR from 1962-1982
  • More of a Stalinist, than Khruschev - refused to adjust Russia to modern times
  • Yuri Andropov 1982-1984, could not get along with Regan, in power when KAL flight 007 was accidentally shot down, was convinced of an impending American Nuclear attack
  • Konstantin Cherenko 1984-85 - old, ill, dies!!

The Accomplishments of the USSR to 1985

  • Soviet system transformed Russia in 1917 from a backwards country into a superpower, with massive human costs
  • Shared superpower status with the USA for 45 years
  • Did make drastic improvements in the daily lives of citizens, famine and food shortages
  • Became a developed nation - had education, medical services, life expectancy, etc..


Economic Stagnation: by the 1980s, there was zero economic growth, development of the black market for consumer goods, could not produce enough grain, rationing of food, consumer goods were inferior, poor use of resources (Pipeline)

Military Spending: 15-25% of GNP, Americans spent only 5-7%, too much on guns, not enough on butter.

Political Stagnation and Corruption: Party officials lived a privileged life, they did not want reform when it was most needed.

Ideology: Command economy, complete centralized planning, individual initiative is replaced by quotas and threats.

Nationalism: 50% of the population was not Russian, the non-Russian ethnic groups would fuel the break-up in combination with economic problems and the unwillingness of the new Russian gov’t to turn guns on its own people, like they had before.

Mikhail Gorbachev

  • Became the leader of the USSR in 1985
  • Intentions were to reform Communism, he believed it could be reformed
  • Different kind of Soviet leader, had a personality, charisma, was popular
  • He got rid of many corrupt party officials, but at the local levels his reforms were either ignored, or not done. So not too much was accomplished.
  • Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster 1986 - meltdown and radioactive leaks of the main reactor was a total embarrassment - Soviet technological incompetence
  • Glasnost 1986 - meaning openness - encouraged open debate about issues - Newspapers were less censored - open review of Soviet History, Sakharov was freed from exile (built the H-bomb), Gorbachev denounced Stalin.
  • He believed in democratizing communism, which would be better than capitalism
  • Perestroika 1987: - Means restructuring - one ideology, one party, but needed flexibility in economy, not the Command Economy - Hungary’s and Czech’s mistakes, - wanted renewed détente, ignored the ethnic problems, but was now fully committed to reform
  • Elected officials, the party was an obstacle.

6 Reasons for Soviet Collapse

  1. Socialism failed economically - stagnation, no-reform efforts for years
  2. Popular opposition and Nationalism killed the USSR
  3. Competition with the West killed it - guns not butter, equality with the USA, but no $$$$- SDI
  4. Conspiracy theory - Gorbachev knew he would bring down the system ????
  5. Party officials killed for personal gain
  6. Boris Yeltsin - for personal power


  • Anti-Alcohol campaign lost gov’t revenue from sales of Vodka
  • Heavy investment in machinery did not produce results
  • Glasnost = hoarding of consumer goods by people
  • growing deficit
  • chose officials from loyalty, not like-mindedness = not always agree
  • stayed in Afghanistan too long
  • local officials would not cooperate
  • Net production actually went down 9%

Towards Collapse:

  • By introducing Perestroika and Glasnost, Gorbachev raised expectation very high, but would soon loose control.
  • No clear directional ideological goals
  • Strikes resulted in wage increases, increasing expectations, no way to pay.
  • Problems between the reformers, and the hard-line Communists
  • The public now was allowed to openly despise politicians, and listen to western music
  • 1989 all the former Soviet Eastern Bloc countries broke away from the USSR
  • More and more local gov’ts within the USSR were heading towards independence
  • Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all broke away, and Gorbachev would not send in the Red Army
  • The more Gorbachev was willing to push reform, the less he accomplished
  • He could not reform the fundamentals of the former Soviet State (Lenin, Stalin)
  • By 1990, all major aspects of the USSR were gone - one party, one monopoly, etc…
  • Gorbachev had become a social democrat - Marxism within a constitutional democracy

Boris Yeltsin

  • His power was in the Russian Republic only
  • Seen as popular, while Gorbachev was too linked in the old ways
  • Yeltsin destroyed Gorbachev

The Collapse:

  • The USSR did not explode, it imploded (from within)
  • People did not care about politics, they wanted food
  • Gorbachev was a hero internationally and a villain at home
  • 1991, production declined 18%, energy was down 10%, deficit grew
  • Gorbachev could not secure large foreign loans

Coup D’Etat:

  • Gorbachev went south for a holiday (The Crimea)
  • Conspirators tried to take over the gov’t, poorly organized, did not arrest key figures, did not cut communication links
  • With Gorbachev away, Boris Yeltsin became the focus
  • Yeltsin stood on a tank and rallied the people against the conspirators, covered by the media
  • The conspirators backed down
  • Gorbachev returns as the "lame duck" leader, Yeltsin has saved the day
  • The army lost much of its influence
  • Yeltsin then outlawed the Communist Party in the Russian Republic

The End of the USSR:

  • Dec 1, 1991, a vote for independence in the Ukraine ( the most powerful republic)
  • This led to the creation of the CIS - Commonwealth of Independent States
  • Yeltsin created this to get rid of the USSR and Gorbachev
  • Christmas day 1991, Gorbachev signed the documents to create CIS.