The Breakup of the Soviet Union

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

The Breakup of the Soviet Union

The USSR had created the conditions that led to the Cold War; fittingly, it was the last European nation to let go of Communist rule. In 1991, Communist Party leaders attempted a coup against Gorbachev, who had been losing popularity as a result of a severe economic crisis and the Communist Party’s dismay at its loss of influence in Europe. In addition, the Baltic republics had been agitating for self-determination.

The actual coup attempt was an inept failure that only embarrassed the plotters; however, it gave the western Soviet republics the opportunity to seize their independence. Gorbachev realized that he could no longer hold the Soviet Union together. In late 1991, the Soviet republics became independent nation-states; all except Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia formed an association known as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). This association was intended as a successor to the USSR, which was officially dissolved on December 31. Members of the CIS are independent, self-governing nations united for purposes of security, economics, internal and external trade, and justice.

The breakup brought an end to the long-standing enmity between the Soviet Union and the United States. President Bush hailed the moment in history as the beginning of a new world order “in which freedom and respect for human rights find a home among all nations.” The end of the Cold War left the United States as the world’s only remaining superpower.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The Cold War Ends Practice Test

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