Between August 20 and August 31, eight union republics (Estonia and Latvia in the Baltic region; Ukraine, Belorussia, and Moldavia in the European USSR; Kirgizia and Uzbekistan in Central Asia; and Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus) joined Lithuania and Georgia in declaring their independence. The Tajik, Armenian, and Turkmen republics followed in September and October, leaving only the RSFSR and Kazakhstan, legally speaking, as members of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin unilaterally asserted Russian control over many of the remaining organizational and financial assets of the USSR. On December 7, 1991, six days after a referendum in Ukraine overwhelmingly backed Ukrainian independence, Yeltsin met with the Ukrainian and Belorussian heads of state in Belorussia. The three leaders signed an agreement proclaiming the Soviet Union to be defunct and announcing the formation of a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose grouping of the three Slavic republics without any central state structure. Eight other republics joined the CIS two weeks later. On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev announced his resignation as president in a solemn television address. The rump Soviet parliament passed its final resolution, acknowledging the dissolution of the Soviet Union, on December 26. On December 31 all residual functions of the first Communist state ceased: The USSR no longer existed.
The collapse of the Soviet Union paved the way for remarkable turmoil in the area. The CIS, to which all the post-Soviet countries except Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are signatories, has been a feeble presence. The newly independent states have for the most part gone their own way, choosing markedly different trajectories in the process.
The Baltic States have by general agreement made the most rapid advances in the direction of a functioning market economy and democratic institutions. In most of Central Asia and in Belarus (formerly Belorussia), reforms have been much thinner and patterns of government have a pronounced neo-Soviet air. The Russian Federation (formerly the RSFSR) and Ukraine occupy a middling position, with some progress in both the economic and the political domains counterbalanced by signs of the same lack of vision for which Gorbachev was faulted before 1991. Civil wars and extreme instability have grievously impeded development in Moldova (formerly Moldavia), Tajikistan, and the countries of the South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan). Despite their legal divorce from the Soviet center, the successor states share many common and overlapping problems.
Trade patterns have been disrupted by economic reform, tariff and currency barriers, and the preference of many exporters (such as the Russian oil and gas industry) to sell their products in markets outside the confines of the former USSR. Environmental degradation continues in many parts of the former Soviet Union, and the resulting pollutants do not respect international borders. Territorial disputes have set many of the former republics off against others. One conflict—between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh area—has already resulted in deadly violence and ethnic cleansing. The potentially most dangerous dispute is between Russia and Ukraine over possession of the Crimean Peninsula in southeastern Ukraine, which is populated largely by ethnic Russians.
A fortified CIS could possibly deal with some of these problems. Bilateral and multilateral agreements of a more specialized nature may also have their place. The expectations and ambitions of the Russian Federation are pivotal to future developments. While many Russians have a sentimental attachment to the Soviet past, and regret that the USSR’s collapse diminished their country’s standing in the world, the Russian Federation for the foreseeable future is likely to be too weak and divided to systematically reassert Russian interests in the former union republics. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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