The collapse of the Soviet Union

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The collapse of the Soviet Union





The collapse of the Soviet Union’s historic moment gained the attention of different groups of people in society. Many have perceived it to stem from the lack of the Soviet Union to embrace technology and keep up with its pace, the cold war, and the arms race. However, the manipulation of the Russian presidency by Boris Yeltsin and the rise of the Soviet national republics contributed massively to its collapse. The disintegration of the Soviet Union can be attributed to various factors as well. This research aims to examine the factors that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Marples (2016) suggests a multitude of events that caused the collapse of the Soviet Union but first discussed the different perspectives of other analysts. Marple explains how the end of the U.S.S.R. signaled the end of the Cold War and resulted in a victory for the United States. However, this did not signify that the United States was responsible for the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Marple highlights how the pressures of the arms race with the U.S. were not the cause of the economic collapse of the U.S.S.R(Marples, 2016). The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the consequent end of the U.S.S.R. resulted in a drastic improvement of the relationship between Western countries and the former northern Eurasian empire.

One of the factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union was the economic instability brought about by the fluctuation of global fuel prices. According to Marple theory, the communist party politician Mikhael Gorbachev took over the U.S.S.R. when its economy stagnated. Kramer (2003) differs from Marples’ school of thought by focusing on the market condition during the reign of the Soviet Union. He claims that the economy of the Soviet comprised of hoarding and consequent shortage of consumer goods, which acted as setbacks to the progressiveness of the economy. Kramer further argues that ten percent of the country’s G.D.P. originated from the black-market economy of the Soviets. For this reason, the country experienced an economic stagnation that worsened by the day. Mikhael Gorbachev developed two policies hoping that they would revive the economy. The two policies adopted are the perestroika and the glasnost policies. Under the perestroika policy, the Soviet Union shifted to the communalist-capitalist hybrid economic system under the command of Gorbachev. Kramer (2003) further states that Politburo, the policy-making committee of the capitalist movement, was in charge of the economy. Marple (2016) states that despite the economy’s underperformance, the government still allowed the market to influence the development decisions and production processes. Both Marples (2016) and Kramer (2003) agree that the establishment and implementation of the perestroika reforms to combat the effects of economic stagnation worsened the market condition. The government printed money to support wage hikes, an action that led to the inflationary spiral. A sharp drop in global oil prices threatened the Soviet Union (Kramer, 2003). In addition, the failure by the key players to develop and manage fiscal policies that would otherwise enhance the economy made the country vulnerable to external factors.

Marples notes that in the 80s and 90s, the Soviets ranked as one of the largest energy resources producers, producing natural gas and oil, which played a crucial role in its market dominance and being the world’s largest economy command (Marples, 2016). However, Zlotic disagrees with Marples’ argument and states that in March 1986, the oil prices experienced a drastic drop from 120 dollars per barrel in 1980 to 24 dollars a barrel. Therefore, the external capital fueling the Soviet Union economy was limited. Consequently, oil prices skyrocketed in 1990, when Kuwait was invaded by Iraqi. The Soviet Union’s economic constraints contributed to its collapse as it had already shown cracks in the economy and signs of instability and at the verge of collapsing.

Marples’ theory surrounding the collapse of the U.S.S.R. revolves around what he calls a coup from within. Marples states the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was partly due to the rise of national republics versus the central Moscow Soviets. He suggests this ideology was initiated by introducing the Glasnost policy. Gorbachev aimed to achieve political openness with the Soviet people through the Glasnost policy. The policy addressed personal restrictions on the people of the Soviet by eliminating the Stalinist repression remaining traces. He banned books like the Nobel-winning prize book, Dr. Zhivago, written by Boris Pasternak (Marples, 2016). The much-loathed secret police, the fall of many communist regimes in eastern Europe, and the refusal from Gorbachev to counter the fall of these with considerable force created an undermining of Gorbachev’s authority. Marples also explains how the economic collapse of 1990-1992 also played a crucial role but states the most critical event was the rise of a new Russia under the elected president Yeltsin. Yeltsin had the backing of his party members that became spiteful of previous encounters with Gorbachev and the policies introduced into Russia. He explains how it was a revolt from within instead of a civil conflict, with evidence from the composition of post-soviet leadership where all of the newly independent states had former communist leaders. With Marples giving the example of Belarus and their elected leader, Alyaksander Lukashenka, in which he openly stated that the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was an act of ‘treachery.’ Marples describes how many of these party leaders transformed from communist to nationalist to maintain their power. The only leader to not do this was the Georgian leader, later termed power-hungry and consequently lost his leadership. He explains how the main factor attributing to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was the rise of nationalist republics and the coup from Yeltsin that caused a severe undermining of Gorbachev’s power. Ultimately it was the rise of a new Russia, separate from the Soviets.

The main aim is to provide an argument on the collapse of the U.S.S.R. The collapse was mainly a result of two interconnected factors: the rise of the Soviet national republics and the manipulation of the new Russian presidency by Boris Yeltsin in what became a direct power struggle between Yeltsin and the Soviet leader, Gorbachev. Marples follows a clear outlay in which he explains how the national question became a dominant topic in Soviet politics. He provides an analysis of the economic crisis in the late 1980s, explanations of the referendum to reform the Soviet Union, and how it led to the termination of the U.S.S.R. In addition, he addresses the final discussion of the two conflicting powers, Yeltsin and Gorbachev.

Marples’ chapter on the economy supports his main argument. Through his detailed explanation of Gorbachev reforms and Mining strikes, Marples explains how the economic crisis created growing discontent among the republics of the Soviet with Marples. He highlights Gorbachev’s leadership limitations, which revolved around his lack of delegation to experts and consequently a period of great economic regression.

Barnes (2014) produces a piece of work titled ‘Unpacking the “Collapse” of the Soviet Union.’ In his work, Barnes’ argument explains how the fall of the U.S.S.R. can be explained as a combination of regime change, state decline, and territorial disintegration. Barnes states how this allows scholars to make a formal judgment on other potential explanations. In his work Barnes (2014) explains how many people see the collapse of the U.S.S.R. as a single phenomenon and states that his article disaggregates the event into three separate though interconnected processes. Barne’s attribution of the collapse of the Soviet Union to a combination of events is similar to the work of Marples (2016). However, there is a difference in their approaches on the contributing factors to the collapse. While Marples (2016) and Barnes (2014) have differing arguments, they both have similarities in the argument. Marples’ rise of national question can be seen as similar to the territorial disintegration that Barnes talks about. With the rise of national republics, many Soviet republics sought independence, and therefore, once independent, they were no longer a part of the territory belonging to the U.S.S.R.

The work from Barnes (2014) allows for an understanding of the events from 1985-1991. It provides explanations in which we can reject arguments from other scholars, such as an economic decline or major faults with the Soviet system. It also highlights how the three factors mentioned could not single-handedly cause the collapse of the Soviet Union but only in conjunction with one another have the power to destroy the U.S.S.R. However, Barnes’ work seeks to explain the collapse of the Soviet Union to apply a framework for future political campaigns and predict political movements. This argument places a different perspective on his work, focusing on political reasoning. It fails to provide adequate information about the contribution of the people to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Some of the contributions include but are not limited to the pressures to improve working conditions and the increase in goods prices, which created growing discontent among the general public.

Gorbachev believed that the explosion of the nuclear bomb over a year after he had taken over power contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Seliktar (2015) claims that the nuclear bomb explosion at the Chernobyl power station caused massive distraction and cost people’s lives. Seliktar explains that Gorbachev’s official response to the disaster was a test of his glasnost policy of openness. The communist party committees did their best to cover the severity of the bombing to reduce tension among the people and renounce any doubts on the leadership and integrity of Gorbachev. According to Seliktar (2015), one of the mechanisms adopted by the officials to suppress the disaster information was the proception of celebrations and Mayday parades in the affected areas despite the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals. He confirms in the article that the western reports regarding the severity of the explosions and the chemical exposure were downplayed and termed as gossip. The people’s trust in the Soviet system gradually reduced and shattered as more people dealing with the radioactive poisoning increased. Yet, the communalist party officials were spreading propaganda about the issue. The people’s lost faith in the Soviet system contributed to its collapse. (Soliktar 2015) coverage of the Chernobyl explosion gives adequate information regarding the events and its influence on the people’s perception of the Soviet Union. It outdoes other scholarly sources and makes scholars question their credibility.

In Suny’s article ‘The revenge of the Past: Nationalism, revolution, and the collapse of the Soviet Union,’ he states that the referendum to reform the Soviet Union in 1991 is the first in the history of Russia. It aimed to maintain the U.S.S.R. as a renewed federation. It was one of its kind because it came in place of the renewed federation prevented by a coup in August. It resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. 80% of voters approved the referendum in question. Matlock (1995), on the other hand, believes that the referendum intended to give Gorchabev the popular mandate to pressure the newly elected Baltic state legislatures and the soviet republics who sought greater sovereignty. Gorbachev attempted to undermine the outcome of democracy using democratic methods. According to Matlock (1995), the Helsinki Commission sent its staff to monitor the Soviet republics and Baltic states’ parliamentary elections, in line with the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. They aimed to gather substantial reports about Baltic states and perestroika as a way of representing the soviet politics democratization. In December 1990, a compendium report of the Baltic States and Soviet republics elections was documented and published.

Matlock (1995) claims that the observations made by the staff members of the Helsinki Commission in the soviet and the elections of the Baltic state reports showed that the international media and the soviet republics paid little attention to the historic referendum. Marpels (2016) supports Matlock’s point of view by affirming that the lack of attention from this partis reflected the referendum’s minimal impact on the people. The jurisdictional battles in U.S.S.R. between the republics and the center indicated that the statement was flawed and irrelevant as a policy. Matlock (1995) further explains that the referendum helped generate the ‘April Pact’ between the leaders of the nine republics and Gorchabev. He claims that these consequences displayed a referendum’s failure in causing the impact initially thought about the establishers, which was a historic contribution to soviet politics. According to Suny (1993), pushing the referendum and advocating for it, Gorchabev demonstrated his interest in using it as a weapon against his political enemies and the lower government bodies in the federal structure. The referendum application by Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev impacted the usage of the device after communism in the post-soviet states. The collision between Yeltsin, the president of Russia, and Gorbachev contributed massively to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The two statemen had a strained relationship, and none took the other seriously. The passionate dislike of the two political leaders accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union.

According to Zlotnic (2003), The failure of the coup in 1991 December was a clear indication that Yeltsin had more control and an upper hand in the whole situation. Their different personalities were perhaps the main cause of their rivalry. Kramer (2003) concurs with Zlotic’s (2003) argument and points out that their relationship was more of an intense rivalry than a competition. According to Yeltsin, Gorbachev was born for compromise and diplomacy. On the other hand, Yeltsin was perceived as reckless, impatient for negotiations, and preferred brinkmanship risks. Despite Gorbachev being the first to alter the Soviet political rules, Yeltsin was quick to play by the rules and consequently defeated Gorchabev. Yeltsin was able to convert his political career to and extend his rule that would have otherwise ended in 1987, thanks to the alterations introduced by Gorchabev into the political system.

Unlike Marple and Barnes, Seliktar (2015) focuses on how the involvement of the Soviet Union in the Afghanistan war and its financial budget for the military troops resulted in the collapse of the Union. The Soviet army settled in the Graveyard of Empires as they took over their role in World War II and repressed the Prague spring and the Hungarian revolution. Seliktar (2015) further adds that millions of Soviet troops took part in occupations for ten years. In the line of duty, over fifteen thousand troops lost their lives. More than a million Afghanistan civilians were also killed in the battle. Since the government controlled the press, the information about the war remained muted until the glasnost created an opportunity to vocalize the Afghanistan war-weariness. With this move, Gorbachev reform efforts opponents lost their leverage against him. The Afghan conflict veterans in Soviet republics were agitated against the Moscow war.

According to Suny (1993), protests broke in Asian republics in support of Afghanistan because many soldiers felt more closely attached to Afghanistan regarding their religion and ethnic background. The cleavage with Moscow by the European republics was more dramatic. The Baltic republic’s opposition forces resulted in the Anti-war demonstrations held in Ukraine. In 1990, the secessionist movements fueled by the Baltic Republics saw the independence declaration of three Baltic states. Sunny (1993) claims that the west was not responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite the rigors and pressures of the arms race, it didn’t suffer economic collapse due to the competition. Barnes (2014), however, argues that the regionalism, nationalism, and ethnic tension experienced during this period originated from the economic decline witnessed in the Soviet nation. Contrary to Barne’s argument, Suny believes the war in Afghanistan contributed massively to the collapse of the U.S.S.R compared to other factors.


The disengagement of the Soviet Union had a huge impact on the post-soviet states and the communist afterward. It is undeniable that the coup’s failure led to the demise of Soviet communism. The collapse of the Soviet Union did not necessarily commerce when the coup failed. Other factors shook the Union’s stability gradually and facilitated its collapse. This collapse brought about political stability and continuity for its people. It allowed for a well-functioning, industrialized, well-planned economy for the Soviet Republics. Therefore, it is right to conclude that the collapse of the Soviet Union benefited the Soviet Republics and the Baltic states.


Barnes, A. (2014). Three in One: Unpacking the “Collapse” of the Soviet Union. Problems of Post-Communism, 61(5), 3-13.

Kramer, M. (2003). The Collapse of the Soviet Union (Part 2): Introduction. Journal of Cold War Studies, 5(4), 3-42.

Marples, D. R. (2016). The collapse of the Soviet Union, 1985-1991. Routledge.

Matlock, J. (1995). Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassadors Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union (1st ed.). Random House.

Seliktar, O. (2015). Politics, Paradigms, and Intelligence Failures: Why So Few Predicted the Collapse of the Soviet Union: Why So Few Predicted the Collapse of the Soviet Union. (1st ed.). Routledge.

Suny, R. (1993). The revenge of the past (1st ed.). Stanford Univ. Press.

Zlotnik, M. (2003). Yeltsin and Gorbachev: The Politics of Confrontation. Journal of Cold War Studies, 5(1), 128–164.

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