In the memory of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the dissolution of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) is an event that he wants to reverse. And Putin says this very clearly and confidently. In the year 2018, a journalist asked Putin,
‘Which event in the history of your country would you like to reverse?’
Putin was ready for this question. Said, ‘The collapse of the Soviet Union.’
This was not the first and not the last time that Putin had called the collapse of the Soviet Union a tragedy. Behind the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, Putin’s sorrow over the disintegration of the Soviet Union is also responsible.
The year 1917. The Bolshevik Revolution took place in Russia, and Tsar Nicholas II was ousted. The Russian Empire had ended, and the Soviet Union emerged. In 1922, the USSR was officially established by joining 15 states under the leadership of Lenin. After the end of the Tsar’s dictatorship, the attempt of the Soviet Union was to be selected as a democracy. But it didn’t happen. Stalin’s dictatorship was still pending. Time passed, the parliament of the Soviet Union was formed. The name was Supreme Soviet. But the task was only to give the decisions of the Communist Party; the party had a small committee called the Politburo. That was what this bureau wanted.
The party’s forced control over the politics, economy, and ordinary people gradually established. Anyone who protested would be sent to the Gulag. The Gulag was a system of labor camps in the Soviet Union. Detention camps were also held along with the Gulag. Political prisoners, and anyone who stood up against the government, would be sent to the Gulag. Tortures were given. Millions of people have died in this Gulag. This was the era of Stalin.
The bureaucracy and Stalin’s policies had made life difficult for the ordinary people of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, created by beating the slogan of the socialist revolution, was flourishing in the eyes of the rest of the world. After the Second World War, the dominance of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe was also established. The whole world saw it as a superpower. But on many fronts, the Soviet Union had become weak inside. These fronts were the economy, administration, and the government’s attitude towards the ordinary people. The atomic bomb race against America, the dictatorship, and the weak economy had fueled a sense of protest among the people of the Soviet Union, especially in the eastern regions.
A few years after Stalin’s death, a book was published in November 1962. The name was ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.’ As soon as the book was published, there was a stir in the Soviet Union because this book did two things. Bringing the brutal exploits of Joseph Stalin to the world. And second, to encourage the voices of rebellion to get louder. By the 1980s, the economy of the Soviet Union had collapsed. Intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 and on similar occasions standing with other countries in their interests had become a problem for the Soviet Union itself. There was a food crisis. The socialist system had now become authoritarian. The rebellion had escalated.
Gorbachev’s reform policy-
The year 1985. The Politburo elected Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the Communist Party. Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to repair the crumbling economy. Wanted to hear the voices of the rebellion as suggestions for improvement. But his attempt to change the Soviet system was going to prove to be a loss-making deal for him. He became the eighth president of the Soviet Union in 1990, but it was the end of both the Soviet Union and his term.
Mikhail Gorbachev initiated three reform policies. Uskorene, Perestroika and Glasnost. Uskoreni broadly meant to accelerate the pace of development, perestroika meant reducing the control of the government, and under Glasnost, an attempt was made to bring transparency and give people the opportunity to express themselves. After the implementation of these policies, many political prisoners were released. Unlike Stalin’s era, people were now given many types of freedom.
Gorbachev felt that the economy would be better, there would be innovation, foreign investment would also come, and at least the general public’s attitude would be slightly positive. But it didn’t happen. In the Soviet Union’s Eastern Republics, opposition to Moscow’s control became vocal. Here the leaders of the Communist Party also started opposing the policies of Mikhail Gorbachev.
On March 15, 1990, Mikhail became the union’s President and was deposed on August 19, 1991. The chief of the Soviet Union’s spy agency KGB and several communist leaders formed a committee, and Gorbachev was ousted from power. And after that, tanks started appearing on the streets of Moscow. Gorbachev was taken into custody and placed under house arrest in his Crimean home, where he used to go for holidays with family.
The tanks thronging the streets of Moscow were an attempt to overthrow Gorbachev. Although it failed, Gorbachoff’s political stature ended with this incident. And in Russia, Boris Yeltsin emerged as the new leader.
New Union Treaty-
The real reason behind this incident was something else. Gorbachev was supposed to sign a treaty on August 20. Name- New Union Treaty. Gorbachev believed that the existence of the Soviet Union could be maintained by forming a new kind of union with some independent countries. Gorbachev had a better relationship with the then US President Ronald Reagan, due to which the Cold War also ended. But the communist leaders felt that this was an exercise for the destruction of the Soviet Union.
What was in the New Union Treaty? Understand how many countries were involved in this and what was about to change. According to a report in August 1991 of the Chicago Tribune, in August 1991,
a session of leaders of 9 out of 15 republic states of the Soviet Union was called. Who had earlier agreed to sign this treaty? Three of these nine countries were Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. And the rest 6 were the Islamic States. The six countries that did not agree to the concept of this new federation from the beginning were Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and the three Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. They wanted complete freedom.
However, according to the treaty, all nine republics that agreed to sign the treaty were given full authority over their internal affairs and economic interests, while foreign affairs, defense, and monetary policies were under the Soviet government. But the hunger of these countries was much more than this. These countries wanted to re-negotiate all the 18 articles of the treaty. In the forefront of which was Ukraine. According to Yeltsin’s colleagues at the time, this new union was like a European community, including countries such as Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, along with some sovereign nations such as Britain, Germany, and France. And Gorbachev would have been confined to Brussels as the President of the European Commission.
Communist leaders did not like this new model of the Soviet Union, against which a coup was attempted. Although this did not happen, there was a possibility of something terrible happening to Gorbachoff, but everything was settled peacefully. Yeltsin had a role in this. Yeltsin himself got on the tanks and appealed to the soldiers not to listen to the communist leaders bent on getting the coup. Whatever was accepted. But now, the foundation for the disintegration of the Soviet Union had been laid. Dissolution was inevitable, for which Yeltsin was also ready. What was Yeltsin’s role? Understand it.
Yeltsin was appointed leader of the Soviet Parliament in 1990 and became the President of Russia on July 10, 1991. Don’t get confused here. The President of Russia means only Russia, not the Soviet Union. Yeltsin recognized Estonia and Latvia as independent republics and demanded that the Soviet Union, Gorbachev, recognize these three Baltic republics, including Lithuania.
Here Ukraine was the second-largest republic of the Soviet Union after Russia. And the Ukrainian parliament also declared independence. At the same time, a decree was given to withdraw its currency and take command of all Soviet soldiers stationed on Ukrainian soil in their own hands. Until this time, most people in the Ukrainian Parliament did not even think that Soviet soldiers and weapons would be ours in such abundance if we got independence. And these decrees could be implemented only when the first presidential elections were held in Ukraine on December 1, that is, on December 1, 1991.
Neither Yeltsin nor Gorbachev had said anything on these decrees. But now, the map of the Soviet Union was about to change. Lithuania, the third Baltic country, also declared its independence in March 1990 and treaties with Yeltsin and Russia. These three countries were merged into the Soviet Union under a secret pact between Stalin and Hitler during the Second World War.
Besides Russia, Ukraine was the only republic that could lead to Soviet disintegration by not signing the New Union Treaty. The Ukrainian people also wanted Ukraine not to join the new union until its status as a sovereign nation was accepted. And to please this nationalist public, Ukraine did not sign the treaty and saved one vote till the end. The then President of the Ukrainian parliament, Leonid Kravchuk, neither supported nor opposed the coup. After this, the independence of Ukraine was also declared on August 24, 1991.
The last nail in the coffin of the Soviets
Date December 8, 1991. Russian President Boris Yeltsin meets with Stanislav Shushkevich, leader of Belarus, and Leonid Kravchuk, the first President of independent Ukraine. An agreement was reached, which is also called Belavezha’s agreement and the last nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union. According to the Belavezha Agreement, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of a Commonwealth of Independent States in its place, the Commonwealth of Independent States.
After this, on December 21, 8 of the remaining 12 countries signed the Alma-Mata Protocol and joined this Commonwealth. Gorbachev realized that the Soviet Union and mine were over. On December 25, 85-year-old Gorbachev announced his resignation from the Kremlin, saying,
‘I am ending my job as President of the Soviet Union.’
On the same day, at around 7:30 pm, the Russian Federation flag was hoisted under the leadership of the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, in place of the red flag of the Soviet Union. The world’s largest communist country had disintegrated, and along with it, 15 independent republics emerged. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, Latvia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Ukraine.
Speaking to the BBC, Gorbachev said,
‘I was deceived behind my back; those people were burning the whole house to light cigarettes. They just wanted power. He could not do this democratically, so he revolted. People were divided, there was a conflict situation, and an influx of weapons. Nuclear weapons were also among them. We were heading towards a civil war. There would have been a lot of waste, I could not have seen all this happening to stay in power, so my resignation was my victory.’
Today Russian President Putin describes the disintegration of the Soviet Union as the most significant geopolitical tragedy. But it was a declaration of the end of dictatorship, the failure of Gorbachev’s peace efforts, and the autonomy of the Republic States, which today are being tried again to stifle the same depravity and dictatorial noises every day in the Soviet era. The voice of the people was suppressed.