“What caused the Soviet Union to collapse in 1991?” with detailed evidence, support, and thorough explanation
The Soviet Union was a Federal Sovereign country that existed between 1922 and 1991 in northern Eurasia. The highly centralized union brought together individual countries or national soviet republics like the current Russian Federation and Ukraine among others. Accordingly, the eventual collapse of the once very powerful Soviet Empire was stunning to the world. Various factors such as the rise of capitalism and democracy are attributable to this dramatic collapse. The governments of Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher played a significant role in the deterioration of the powerful empire. Essentially, the socio-economic stagnation of Soviet Union, Western influences, Gorbachev’s reforms, and the loss of Eastern Europe territories all contributed to its decline.
In the 1970s, the economy of the Soviet Union was struggling to compete with other global leaders such as the United States. Faced with threats of nuclear confrontations, the Soviet Union had invested too much on arms race especially with the country’s increased desires for anti-ballistic missiles. Subsequently, the union entered into a period of serious economic stagnation (Castellano, 2011). Subsequently, the country’s leadership turned to western countries such as West Germany and the United States for additional help. For instance, Western Germany directed financial assistance through loans to the Soviet Union while the U.S. supplied grain and other food products to its hungry population. The cash-strapped union relied on such trade relations to maintain public support (Strayer, 2016). However, such increases in foreign aid and related trade relations were insufficient to solve the union’s multiple socio-economic challenges. Some of these common problems including technological lag and a closed economic system limited the country’s ability to sustain the increase in western modernization (Castellano, 2011). Therefore, countries begin to disintegrate from the union to pursue capitalistic and democratic practices to achieve similar opulence as their European counterparts. Notably, such western influences in the internal affairs of the Soviet were catastrophic. Hostile policies against the USSR by the United States and its allies such as the decision to boycott the 1979 Moscow Olympics and the military support to the Afghan guerillas to resist Soviet invasions further reduced its global impacts.
Correspondingly, the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev into a leadership position ushered in a new period of socio-economic and political reforms in the USSR. Inheriting a stagnant economy and a disoriented political structure, Mikhail Gorbachev’s primary desire was to make the Soviet Union prosperous and productive again (Strayer, 2016). For instance, the perestroika reforms intended to introduce mixed economic system in the USSR integrating both capitalist and communist ideological viewpoints. The reforms permitted free-market forces of supply and demand with the central government still dictating most of the socio-economic and political issues. Other primary intentions of the perestroika reforms were to introduce free and fair democratic processes to elect the subsequent Soviet governments. However, the continued dominance of the Communist Party in the USSR made it hard to eliminate the corrupt political structure. The Brezhnev era old guards such as Yuri Andropov opposed most of these meaningful reforms (Kalashnikov, 2011). Subsequently, the Glasnost reforms aimed to eliminate most of these decades-old socio-political limitations facing the USSR. The reform agenda proposed freedom of speech for the Soviet people, restoration of religion, and the release of political dissidents. However, Gorbachev failed to predict the subsequent impacts of both the perestroika and glasnost reform agendas towards the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union. The citizens gained more powers and confidence to speak against the government’s ills (Strayer, 2016). The government had become more vulnerable to the Soviet people eventually yielding to the pressure to end the repressive rule.
The people demanded more accountability from the government especially after the Chernobyl power station tragedy. However, Gorbachev’s Glasnost reforms failed to live eliminate the propaganda networks of the powerful Communist Party (Castellano, 2011). The decision to suppress the information about the Chernobyl disaster created more discomfort among the Soviet people who enhanced their demand for the immediate end to the Soviet Union and autocratic rule. The people in the fallout zone of the Chernobyl power station were at the forefront in influencing public opinions about the autocracy of the USSR leadership.
Lastly, the rise of nationalistic movements in some of the Soviet satellite countries such as Poland and Yugoslavia further increased calls for separatist independence. Strong Soviet republics such as Ukraine through its insurgent army demanded for more political and cultural rights from the leadership of the USSR. Notably, the subsequent loss of such Eastern Europe territories contributed to the ultimate decline of the Soviet Union (Kalashnikov, 2011). Through increased anti-communist campaigns by Reagan and Thatcher, the political and physical barrier (the Berlin Wall) between Eastern and Western Germany collapsed. The collapse in 1989 was a strong indication of the elimination of communist ideologies in Eastern Europe. Overall, most political analysis attributes the eventual collapse of the powerful USSR to the changes in policy and governance frameworks proposed by Gorbachev under the famous perestroika and glasnost reform agendas.
Castellano, D. J. (2011). Causes of the Soviet Collapse (1979-1991). Causes of the Soviet Collapse (1979-1991).
Kalashnikov, A. (2011). Differing Interpretations: Causes of the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Constellations, 3(1).
Strayer, R. (2016). Why Did the Soviet Union Collapse?: Understanding Historical Change: Understanding Historical Change. Routledge.