What is the primary reason for the Soviet Union Collapse?
The collapse of the Soviet Union.
As the Iron Curtain fell, over a dozen nations were finally freed from the heavy-handed grasp of the once-powerful U.S.S.R.
From its foundation in 1922 until its final demise in 1991, the Soviet Union and its allies made up an incredibly significant portion of Europe — essentially filling out the entire Eastern side of the continent.
A global superpower at its peak, the U.S.S.R. somehow only lasted a short 70 years.
How is this possible?
And why, exactly, did the Soviet Union collapse?.
If you asked Mikhail Gorbachev, the final President of the Soviet Union, why his nation and its collection of alliances crumbled before him, he would have one likely response — “Chernobyl”.
The former president made it clear in 2006, 20 years after the nuclear meltdown occurred, that he truly believed this, above all else, was the final turning point into a steep decline for his Soviet Union.
Whether this was the final straw or not for the Soviet people, it’s no doubt that the Chernobyl tragedy was severely disastrous for the U.S.S.R.
When the explosion occurred on April 26, 1986, at Chernobyl, the Soviet leadership immediately hoped to hide the startling problem from the people.
It was evident from the start to the first responders and government officials that this explosion posed an enormous threat to the surrounding citizens, and the radioactive fallout it caused was roughly 400 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Yet still, the Communist Party was desperate to cover it all up, even if that meant risking the lives of their own people.
They gave no warning, and so May Day parades and other events continued to be held, everyone went about their lives as normal, and no word was given until a sudden influx of radiation poisoning finally started to affect the Soviet citizens.
It was then on May 14th that President Gorbachev made his first public statement on the matter — during which, he was very willing to downplay the reality of the failure and instead focus on bashing the West for what he called “malicious lies” and an exaggerated report of what had happened.
It wasn’t long before the truth came out though, and the Soviet people became furiously aware of the corruption that they were under, and particularly, the failure of glasnost.
Glasnost was a policy enacted by Mikhail Gorbachev that was supposed to restore certain freedoms for the Soviet people, such as freedom of speech, press, and religion.
It was intended to create a better way of life and more transparency from the government, and in some ways it did work.
But, the newfound freedoms allowed the Soviet people to discover the government coverup efforts of Chernobyl and exposed their leaderships’ deep corruption, which led to a drastic decrease in public trust.
This wasn’t the only policy that would contribute to the union’s collapse though.
Another well-intended change was known as perestroika.
The goal was to adopt a new economic system, similar to modern-day China.
The mixed communist-capitalist structure would allow for more market freedom, and the policy also opened the door for new, democratic elections.
The Communist Party would remain in control, even with these elections, but the freedom of choice was nevertheless believed to be a significant benefit for the Soviet people.
Ironically, though, this policy began to contribute to the crumbling of the union, as citizens started to see the shifts as weaknesses.
The reason why perestroika was enacted may have also been a relevant factor to the Soviet collapse.
Around World War Two, the U.S.S.R.’s economy had already been facing notable challenges.
Though it had previously been remarkably successful, the Soviet economy was now falling apart.
There was a brief stint of recovery around 1970, but that was short-lived as the Afghanistan War became a new source of spending for the Soviet government.
This greatly restrained the recovery path, and the citizens of the union began to grow tired of living under a communist regime that valued the production of capital over consumer goods.
With poverty plaguing the people and communism seeming to be the cause, there was a severe need for change — which is what would lead to Mikhail Gorbachev’s later reforms.
But, as we know, this produced yet one more failed attempt to save the shaky foundations the government was trying to stand on.
The nail that sealed the coffin for the end of the Soviet Union was the events of 1989.
After years of living under a Soviet shadow, the Warsaw Pact satellite states of the union, including Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, began to face their own challenges and the downfall of Soviet-friendly regimes.
Other nearby communist allies, such as Romania, also faced revolts that would sever their ties to the communist union, and the Berlin Wall over in Germany would once and for all be torn down.
Ethnic conflict, anti-communist sentiments, and overall disapproval was building even from within the U.S.S.R. itself, and instead of putting an end to it, the government, yet again, failed.
Why did the Soviet Union Collapse?
The reason why there was even an opportunity for the opposition that rippled throughout the East in 1989 was due to a poor strategy utilized by President Gorbachev in his bid to resurrect the Soviet economy.
After spending years as a frequent critic and enemy to the U.S., Gorbachev decided that the best way to create his successful economic reforms would be to build a better relationship with the West, even though the United States particularly was still far from a potential friend for the Soviets.
Hoping to calm these tensions as the first step toward friendship with the West, Gorbachev promised that the Soviet Union would withdraw from the nuclear arms race against the United States, and even reduce their own military presence throughout the globe.
Gorbachev decided to subsequently pull out of the Afghanistan War and reduce Soviet military presence throughout their satellite states.
This sudden deterioration of an overbearing military throughout the Warsaw Pact nations, and what appeared to be a weakening of international Soviet influence, is what would trigger the following events of 1989.
Still, it wasn’t just the withdrawal of military troops that hurt the U.S.S.R. — it was also the mere state of their military at the time.
The Stalin-era policy that prioritized the production of military equipment over consumer goods and necessities for the Soviet people was no more — and with the economy tanking, Gorbachev’s military was crumbling too.
The consequences of his perestroika drastically reduced military spending and in turn, the military might of the union.
Reason for Soviet Union Collapse?
There were also external factors, including an arm s reduction treaty that the Soviets had tried to push off for as long as possible until 1988.
This required the union to cut its military numbers by 500,000, while roughly 15,000 of the troops over in Afghanistan had been killed.
Pushback against the draft only worsened the problem, and once standing at over 5.3 million strong in 1985, the Soviet military was now reduced to a startling total below Iron Curtain fell
With its people fighting back, and an attempted coup by Communist Party opposition, Gorbachev’s Soviet Union was in its final hours.
On December 25, 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev announced to the world that the U.S.S.R. was no more.
This was the end of the Soviet Union altogether, as it could no longer withstand the weight of its mistakes.
At 7:32 PM, the flag of the Russian Federation rose in place of the Soviet flag atop the Kremlin.
The new president, Boris Yeltsin, would take the helm — now the leader of one nation, with 15 new neighbours who had once been joined together.
“We are now living in a new world”, rang the words of the last president of the Soviet Union.
The answer to why the Soviet Union collapsed may differ depending on who you ask.
Gorbachev believes it was a result of Chernobyl, while others point to his own policies; perestroika and glasnost.
Still, others blame the broken economy or decaying military.
The reality is likely a sum of each of these theories.
Without the economic chaos, perestroika would not have been necessary.
If not for glasnost, the Chernobyl scandal may not have been so easy to uncover.
Furthermore, without glasnost, drafted soldiers would not have been able to speak so openly
about the despicable conditions they were forced into, and the military may not have shrunk so much.
It also may not have been so dangerously reduced if Gorbachev had not been extensively determined to begin appeasing the West.
Or maybe the Afghanistan War took too much of a toll on the military — and the economy.
More military spending and strength could have kept the satellite states in line, and prevented the Berlin Wall from falling.
Every potential reason for the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. is intertwined with yet another reason.
Even Gorbachev’s theory of how his union fell apart is only a potential turning point, not the sole cause.
The reality is that it took a series of mistakes and miscalculations to bring down the Soviet Union, and while it may be easy to blame the last president for destroying his own nation, it’s important to note that a majority of his own mistakes were simply attempting to correct the flaws of his predecessors.
In all actuality, the reason why the Soviet Union collapsed comes down to a long string of repeated failures on behalf of its leadership.