Disintegration of USSR and changes in East Europe – UPSC GS1

How USSR collapsed?
  • The fall of the Soviet Union started in the late 1980s with protests in the Eastern Bloc and in Soviet republics along with the Soviet exit from Afghanistan.
  • The Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan in 1979. After 10 years of fighting the Mujahideen, who were backed by the U.S., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Soviets had to withdraw in 1989.
  • Later, the Soviet-backed communist regimes in Eastern Europe started collapsing, practically bringing the Cold War to an end.
  • Start from Poland:
    • It started in Poland, which hosted the headquarters of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact security alliance.
    • In June 1989, the anti-communist Solidarity movement, won elections in Poland, leading to the fall of communist rule.
    • Protests spread to Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania.
    • In November 1989, the Berlin Wall that had separated the capitalist West Berlin and the communist east, fell, leading to the German reunification.
  • Domestically, the Soviet Union was going through an economic crisis:
    • There was a fall in foreign trade.
    • Lower oil prices led to a fall in state revenues and an explosion in debt.
    • Although decentralisation and opening up of the economy for foreign trade were introduced that made the nationalists in the Soviet republics stronger, the reforms failed to revitalise the economy.

  • The fall of communist states in the Eastern Bloc and the economic crisis in the country had weakened Russia’s hold over the Union.
  • In 1988, Estonia became the first Soviet administrative unit to declare sovereignty inside the Union
  • In 1990, Lithuania became the first to declare independence from the USSR.
  • After the German reunification, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expanded to East Germany.
  • The crisis spread across the Soviet republics as Russia planned to decentralise the central government’s powers to the 15 republics through the New Union Treaty, which was also a bid to renegotiate the original treaty that established the USSR in 1922.
  • In 1991, a group of communist leaders, including top military and civilian leaders, tried to take power in their hands by coup. Even as the coup failed, this further weakened Russia’s power.
  • In December 1991, leaders of three Soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed the Belavezha Accords, announcing that the USSR ceased to exist.
Russia’s relations with the former Soviet States”
  • Russia retains huge influence on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
  • Russia has formed a security organisation named the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), with former Soviet republics.
    • Members of CSTO include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and Russia.
  • Russia maintains a military presence in Transnistria, a breakaway republic from Moldova
  • Russia has dispatched troops to the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, to end a conflict between the two countries over Nagorno Karabakh.
  • Out of the 15 countries that became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union,
    • The three Baltic countries Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, all sharing borders with Russia, became members of NATO in 2004.
    • Ukraine and Georgia were offered NATO membership in 2008.
  • In 2008 Russia sent troops to Georgia to protect two breakaway republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgian troops.
  • In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean republic, a Black Sea Peninsula, from Ukraine.
  • Russia also recently recognised Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region of Ukraine as independent and sent troops.
Russia’s tensions with Ukraine:
  • Post its independence in 1991, Ukraine adopted a neutral foreign policy.
  • Ukraine was one of the founding members of the CIS, but did not join the CSTO.
  • Though Ukraine stayed away from NATO, the offer of membership in 2008 started changing equations between Russia and Ukraine.
  • Post the regime of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, a pro-West government was established in Ukraine.
  • Russia acted swiftly by annexing Crimea and by supporting separatist rebels in Donbass.
  • Ukraine exited the CIS and added its desire to join NATO into its Constitution.
  • These developments further escalated the tensions and eventually led to the current crisis.