Among the most audacious departures from past policy was the refusal of the USSR to intervene in Eastern Europe when popular pressure for political transformations there gained steam in 1989. Largely for this reason, reform movements were able to oust Communist governments all across the Soviet bloc. In the most dramatic change, the Berlin Wall was torn down and Communist East Germany merged with West Germany, forming a united Federal Republic of Germany. Unwilling to expend resources on sustaining old structures in the area, and increasingly distracted by domestic developments, the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its troops from Eastern Europe and to dissolve COMECON and the Warsaw Pact, two cornerstones of its postwar foreign policy.
These revolutionary changes were soon echoed inside the USSR. Events might conceivably have taken a different turn in the short term had Gorbachev been willing either to use military force to contain the swelling discontent or, alternatively, to resign from the CPSU and attempt to take charge of the democratic movement. Doing neither, he was caught in a pincer between conservative and liberal factions and points of view.
The beneficiaries of the growing disarray in Gorbachev’s administration were the union republics, hollow shells for much of their existence but now suddenly able to challenge Moscow. Their governments newly elected in 1990, the republics profited from long-suppressed nationalism, from hopes they would be more adept than the center in reforming the economy, and from a belief that only they stood in the way of complete chaos.
One by one, the republic parliaments adopted resolutions affirming their sovereignty and the primacy of their laws over Soviet legislation. In several cases, notably in Lithuania and Georgia, the republic went so far as to assert its complete independence from the Soviet Union. The RSFSR, whose legislature passed a sovereignty resolution on June 12, 1990, became more and more of a thorn in Gorbachev’s side as Boris Yeltsin bid for popular support in what became an acrimonious duel with the Soviet president. Gorbachev, having vacillated for a year between oppressive and conciliatory policies, gambled in the spring of 1991 on an effort to renegotiate with the republics the 1922 treaty that had formed the USSR. A draft Union Treaty was worked out that the RSFSR and six or seven other republics were prepared to initial on August 20, 1991.
The signing ceremony never took place, for on August 19 a group of Communist hard-liners in the highest councils of the regime—spearheaded by Gorbachev’s prime minister, vice-president, defense minister, and KGB chief—attempted to impose a national state of emergency and to force him to go along with the decision. The coup failed abjectly. Yeltsin, having rallied pro-democracy forces in front of the Russian parliamentary building, emerged as the hero of the hour. On August 22 the army withdrew its tanks from Moscow and the leaders of the plot surrendered. Gorbachev, discredited by his inept handling of the crisis, never recovered from it. On August 24 he resigned as general secretary of the CPSU. Within several days the Communist Party’s activities had been suspended; in November 1991 Yeltsin dissolved it, making it defunct within the borders of the RSFSR. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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