Eras and Their Highlights

The Cold War

How did the Soviet Union fall apart?

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s (1931-) liberal reforms met with the opposition of conservative communist officials who were angered by the hardships produced by the transition to a free market economy and dissatisfied with the Soviet Union’s loss of influence over neighboring countries, where communism had fallen by 1990. On August 19, 1991, communists attempted to overthrow Gorbachev as president of the Soviet Union. Though the effort failed in the face of widespread public opposition, it nevertheless weakened Gorbachev’s leadership. Soon the 15 Soviet republics declared independence but indicated their willingness to become part of a loose confederation of former Soviet republics. Though Gorbachev tried to prevent the complete dissolution of the Soviet Union, on December 8, 1991, the republics of Russia, Ukraine, and Belorussia (Belarus) broke away completely from the Soviet Union and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States. All the remaining republics, except Georgia, followed suit. On December 25, Gorbachev resigned as president, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

With continuing reforms in Eastern Europe and the end of the Soviet Union, by 1992 the only communist-dominated countries that remained were, with the exception of Cuba, Asian nations: China, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam.


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