The fall of Soviet Union
The fall of Soviet Union caught the world by surprise. In a spun of twelve months, a union that had defined world politics for over half a century, disintegrated into fifteen separate countries. Its protagonist, the west and its allies, hailed the collapse as a victory of the freedom, a major gain towards democratization process, and a triumph of capitalism over socialism. The United states and its allies celebrated as the formidable enemy sunk, thereby ending the cold war that had preoccupied these two superpowers since the end of world war II. The effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union were profound and deep. Its collapse marked a big transformation to world political, economical and military alliances. The collapse of the Soviet Union has puzzled many. Not even the political historian or the political analyst had foreseen this remarkable event of the 20th century. So the question now remains, what exactly caused the collapse of the Soviet Union?
The causes of the collapse of soviet are complex and wide, but can be traced from the formation of the Soviet Union. Soviet Union was the successor of the Russian empire.The fall of Soviet Union The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 created a monolithic state that aimed at overcoming several national differences. Bolshevik centralized economical and political system with socialism and later communism as the economic philosophy (Stoner and McFaul 6). The new state fast developed into a totalitarian state where the communist leaders wielded much of the power.
It is from this ethnic composition that fault lines began developing. Non-Russian ethnic groups ‘resisted the assimilation into a Russianized state” (The Cold War Museum, 2). The economic failure of the Soviet Union, partly owing to arms race with the United State, space race and support of the communist regime further put pressure on the Soviet Union. Since much of the resources were channeled toward armament, Soviet Union was unable to develop economically thus necessitating change. The economy was stagnant with virtually no growth. Various ethnic groups began piling pressure for the economic reforms.
By the time the last Soviet Union leader, Mikhail Gorbachev was coming into power in 1985, Soviet Union economy was battered and the pressure for reforms had intensified.The fall of Soviet Union Gorbachev responded to the situation with lofty goals of rejuvenating the long lagging economy and accelerating economic development (Hoyt, 2). Gorbachev again initiated a democratic approach with the United States with an aim of understanding the disagreement that had resulted to one of the world worst tension, cold war. In 1989, Gorbachev and United States of America president announced an end to cold war (Central Intelligence Agency 36). This is the same year when the iron curtain in Germany fell down signifying the end of communism. The communist government in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania had also ceased to exist.
Gorbachev introduced political and economic reforms. In political reforms, Gorbachev introduced glasnost, freedom of speech or openness (Stoner and McFaul 5). The economic reforms were known as perestroika, rebuilding.The fall of Soviet Union The freedom of speech was the last thing that would have been given to people who had, for a long time, been oppressed. With the coming of freedom of speech, non-Russian had seized the opportunity to express all the dissatisfaction they had with the communist regime. The people of the Soviet Union expressed emotions and political opinion that they had harbored for all those years. More badly, the economic reforms that Gorbachev introduced did not produce immediate results further increasing the impatience. The soviet people used the freedom of expression to criticize Gorbachev for not turning up the economy.
Soviet Union could not withstand all this pressure. The periphery, non-Russian areas, began falling apart. First to lead the pack was the Baltic region, where in 1987, Estonia demanded autonomy. The fallout had a domino effect. Lithuania and Latvia followed suit (Stoner and McFaul 5). Since Gorbachev was so much tied by his glasnost policy he could not be able to crack down the dissents voices. At this time it had become clear that by allowing self rule, Soviet Union could stand no more.
The Estonia move was followed by a similar move from the Armenian, in the south of the Soviet Union, region of Nagormo-Karabagh. The Armenian ethnic group in Soviet Union demanded to secede and join their brothers in the republic of Armenia. Massive demonstration “were held in Armenia in solidarity with the secessionist in Nagorno-Karabagh” (Kramer 4).The fall of Soviet Union The move by Gorbachev to resist the secession led to a break of violent war with the situation persisting up to today. Similar nationalist movement emerged in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and the central Asian Republics. The secessionist and breakaway movement considerably weakened the power of the Soviet Union and it could no longer rely on the leaders in seceding nations in its global agenda of communism.
Beneath these political pressures, the situation of the Soviet Union had degenerated to worst by 1991. In the kicks of a dying horse, communist hard liners came up with a plan to salvage the situation, but it was all in vain. The communist organize a coup d’état in which they kidnapped Gorbachev and announced to the union that he was seriously ill and could not govern. This only attracted a massive protest that had the blessing of the army (Stoner and McFaul 11). The coup backfired.
At this time it was crystal clear that the collapse of the Soviet Union was just a matter of time. It was clear that the political movement could stop at nothing short of democracy. The power of the population was too much for Gorbachev to bear. On December 25, 1991 Gorbachev announced his resignation. Popular demand forced the dissolution of Soviet Union in 1992.The fall of Soviet Union The independent countries of the former Soviet Union formed the “common wealth of independent Republics”, an entity that shared the economic and military ties (Kramer 6). With a speed that surpassed human prediction, the iron curtain was lifted and the ostensibly the cold war came to an end. The fifteen independent nations that emerged out of the ashes of the former soviet had a massive of problems to address. There was need to foster political and economic reforms and address the bitter territorial boundaries. Time and time again, a number of wars have emerged out of territorial differences but the region is fast in its way to democratization.
Although the above discussion of the fall of the Soviet Union has focused so much on the internal problems such as the ethnicity and the need to self determination, external pressure can not be ruled out. Both cold war powers had instigated a series of schemes to bring down the other. In addition, the economic problems that Soviet Union experienced in late 1980s was not endemic to the region alone but was a worldwide problem.
Strained U.S-Russia relationship
Although the collapse of the Soviet Union is celebrated as the end of cold war, the strained U.S –Russian relationship that has dominated most part of the post war period has left many asking whether the cold war really ended. The end of gold war had raised hopes that the principle actors in cold war, U.S and Russia (the inheritor of Soviet Union) would now come together to a peaceful cooperation. Russia took over the permanent seat which was previously held by the Soviet Union at the United Nation Security Council. The end of cold war was thought that it would end the conflicts at the UNSC that had been much occasioned by ideological differences. More cooperation was seen when Russia was invited to join G-7 to make G-8, a gathering of the world economic powers.
However, even with this new-found relationship, United States and Russia have found much to clash raising the bitter memories of the cold war era. In 2008, the conflict between Russia and Georgia over the South Ossetia and Abkhazia region sparked the epic battle of the cold war era between Russia and United States (Ferguson 17). The conflict was sparked by the Russian move to recognize and protect the two breakaway regions of Georgia. The Georgia army crashed with the Russian army killing over hundred. Russian was angered by the U.S move to support Georgia and it moved to exert its influence over the region. The U.S and Russia engaged in a shouting match over whom to blame rekindling the memories of cold war era. The move by United States to welcome Georgia and Ukraine to NATO raised speculation whether the U.S was preparing for a war with Russia. The five day war that claimed hundred of lives was seen as an effort by Russia to de facto annex neighboring territories and halt Georgia’s efforts to attach itself to the west.
Other incidences that have strained US-Russia relationship since the end of cold war are the arrest of Russian oil magnate Mikhail Khodorvosky (touted to be Russia’s richest man) and the Duma election. Khodorvosky has long been seen as the proponent of improved U.S-Russia relationship. He was first arrested in 2003 and charged with tax evasion. He was imprisoned for eight years but in 2009 he was added other charges of embezzlement and sentenced to 14 years to run concurrently with the eight years. Before his arrest, Khodorvosky had been a strong proponent of democratic ideals ad “openly questioned how far Russia had actually gone down the road of democracy” (Ferguson 11). Mikhail Khodorvosky had threatened to use his wealth to ensure that Russia adopts democratic principles.
His arrest sparked protest in western nations claiming that he was arrested of political reason. Western media went to as far as claiming that that Russia was slipping back to the dark days. The US questioned his arrest by claiming that the law was being used selectively. For a long time Khodorvosky was considered a darling of the west (Engdahl 8). He was seen as possible successor of Vladimir Putin. The US claimed that Russia was using authoritarian measures to silence dissident voices.
In a more strained relationship, the west criticized the December 7 elections in which it argued that they were unfair. In the election, the pro-Putin United Russia Party gained a majority victory. Two nationalist parties also recorded big gains, while the two most Western- sympathetic, reformist parties suffered a big loss and even failed to gain the minimum five percent level votes to assure proportional representation in the Duma. In other post war cases, Russia was concerned by the U.S policy towards Chechnya, Central Asia, Iran, and Iraq. Russia has been uneasy with U.S. military in central Asia. The Russian government has demanded the withdrawal of the U.S military from former soviet republics in central Asia once the war on terror in Afghanistan is over.
In an incidence that rubbed should with the U.S. government, Russia government unveiled it new military policy for 21st century. In the policy, Russia made it clear that it would use preemptive strikes against perceived enemies and “will continue to mobilize its nuclear arsenal to deter instability along its borders” (Ferguson 18). Russian defense secretary, Ivanov, further said that he felt “Russia and U.S could not be called allies, though they are certainly not enemies” (8).
Russia has been uncomfortable by what it calls U.S unilateral management of world affairs. The foreign policy of U.S where it has acted unilaterally in global affairs has come under heavy criticism. Russia has argued that the world is a multi-polar and thus requires consultation in issues that affect all international communities (Engdahl 7). More disturbing, according to Russia is the extent of U.S interference in internal politics of Russia and its former allies, especially the breakaway states. On the other hand, U.S has been concerned that Russia could be using the oil wealth to arm itself.
Nevertheless, with the conflict notwithstanding, Russia and U.S have cooperated on world major fronts, though when strategically expedient. Notable among this is in the war of terror, Energy and East Asia. Russia has continued to be a lead supply of oil to the U.S thus relieving U.S from the hostage of OPEC nations. Russia has also forged a good relationship with countries in East Asia and Moscow is committed to finding lasting solution in the region.The fall of Soviet Union Still more, Russia and U.S are still major trade partners (Ferguson 16).
The question of whether the cold war did end is actually open to debate. It is right to argue that cold war did not end, only that it disguised in a new form. With conflicting interest, U.S and Russia will definitely continue to have clashing moments, but there is doubt whether this moment will ever rich the crescendo of the cold war era. In addition, the global politics have changed a big deal. In the cold war era, U.S was more concerned with Russia, but with emergence of new powers such as Russia, it goes without saying that U.S must be shifting its focus, may be to China and emerging powers.
Central Intelligence Agency(US). At Cold War’s End: US Intelligence on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, 1989-1991. !999. Print.
Engdahl, William. Russia and the New Cold War: When Cowboys Don’t Shoot Straight. Web. March 1, 2007. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/IC01Ag01.html Web. November 4, 2011.
Ferguson, Joseph. U.S.-Russia Relations: A Chilly Fall for U.S.-Russia Relations. Sidney: National Bureau of Asian Research. 2005. Print.
Hoyt, Ali. How the Communism Works. Web. http://history.howstuffworks.com/cold-war/communism5.htm Web. November 4, 2011.
Stoner, Kathryn and McFaul Michael. Domestic and International Influences On the Collapse Of The Soviet Union (1991) And Russia’s Initial Translation To Democracy (1993). Stanford: Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. 2009. Print.
Kramer, Mark. Fall of the Soviet Union. Journal of Cold War Studies. Vol. 5 (1). Winter 2003.