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How Did The Soviet Union Fall? | Boris Yeltsin and The Collapse of The Soviet Union

one of the last times the soviet flag flew over red square

The Soviet Union went toe to toe with the United States throughout the 20th century, spreading Communist ideals throughout the world, but collapsed before the century was over. And it barely had anything to do with the United States. So how did the mighty Soviet Union, who America had worked so hard to defeat, finally collapse?

This story is part of the series "Why is Russia Invading Ukraine?" 


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The Soviet Empire

The Soviet Union: the great nation that stood up to the United States. The country that bested America in almost every space achievement. The country that prevented America from total control. The Soviet Union, portrayed by the West as authoritarian, oppressive, and evil, was nonetheless a great power.

Peter the Great was the man who made Russia into a great power that could become the great Soviet Empire. Here's how he turned Russia from a backwater to an empire

soviet union cold war space propaganda

In 1989, the total population of the Soviet Union was almost 286 million. The people who made up the Soviet Union’s population were also a diverse group. In fact, during the Space Race, the Soviet Union even made it a point to be racially diverse. In an article by The New York Times,

“the Soviet Union often emphasized the sexism and racism of its capitalist opponents — particularly the segregated United States… After putting the first man in space in 1961, the Soviets went on to send the first woman, the first Asian man, and the first black man into orbit.”

Mikhail Gorbachev and the Fall of the Soviet Union

mikhail gorbachev

However, after a failed 10-year-long invasion of Afghanistan to back the pro-Soviet government, the Soviet Union’s power began to slip. Under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union began a process of becoming more open and transparent (Glasnost and Perestroika). Gorbachev believed that in order for the Soviet Union to continue, it needed to undergo major changes.

painting of communist soviet union vladimir lenin speaking to the masses

When Lenin established the Soviet Union around 60 years before Gorbachev, he intended for it to be a "true democracy". Gorbachev wanted to bring the Soviet Union back to that ideal. However, the loosening restrictions led to protests and independence movements all over the Soviet Union. They could feel the power of the Soviet Union, and by extension, Russia was draining.

The Rise of Boris Yeltsin

When the Communist Party realized that Gorbachev was draining the Soviet Union’s power, they kidnapped him, declared a state of emergency, and began ordering the military to move into Moscow to suppress the protests. When they were met by human chains and protesters protecting the Russian Parliament, the military refused to fire on them, and the attempted coup crumbled.

In the middle of all the chaos, the Chair of the Russian Parliament, Boris Yeltsin, stood on top of a tank and rallied the crowds. He soon controlled the Parliament and the KGB (Soviet Secret Police). His rising popularity, and Gorbachev’s falling popularity, led to Yeltsin breaking Russia away from the Soviet Union and being elected the first President of Russia.

Most people in the West think that the fall of the Soviet Union was a good thing, and believe that most Russians see it the same way. After all, the Soviet Union was oppressive, and now people are more free in Russia, right? But in a poll in February 2020, around 75% of Russians regretted the dissolution of the Soviet Union, according to the Levada Center.

This statistic is going to be very important to remember while reading the next story posts in our series "Why is Russia Invading Ukraine?"

What was Russia Like Under Yeltsin?

Yeltsin’s Drunken Reign

The Soviet Union had fallen. Boris Yeltsin became president of the new, independent Russian Republic. However, it only to