Weakening of economy:
- The Soviet Union had grown to a size large enough to the point where it became cumbersome to continue state planning. But state planners were unwilling to give autonomy at mid-managerial level. This resulted in failed economic policies (failure to respond timely to continuous changes), while thwarting innovation. Managers commonly fudged numbers to show that quotas and goals were being met.
- The state-planned economic system did not provide sufficient incentives to encourage innovation and ambitious productivity.
- High expenditure in defense due to arms race and neglecting other sectors led to rise in food prices and decline in wages.
- The closed market economy and coercive policies further crippled the economy.
- The Soviet-friendly Afghan government was threatened by anti-communist insurgents, which grew to outnumber the Afghanistan army. The USSR supplied tens of thousands of troops and war machines. However, support transformed into an invasion followed by occupation of various cities and towns, bogging the Soviets down into a guerilla war with an increasingly growing and zealous Afghan resistance movement. By the time of the Soviet withdrawal from 1987-89, nothing concrete had been gained, and the USSR left damaged and humiliated.
The twin reforms: Prerestoika and Glasnost
- Gorbachev in 1980s initiated Prerestoika(restructuring) and Glasnost(openness) as reforms to revitalize USSR but ended up destroying it
- Perestroika: Refers to economic reforms enacted by Gorbachev in 1987, in an attempt to reverse the Soviet Union’s sliding economy. Some free market elements were added, but not enough to bring about reform. The free-market policies were enough to result in failed businesses, but shortages became common as price controls were kept in place. With price ceilings limiting profits, the incentive to produce sufficient quantities was removed.
- Decentralization: When the Soviet Union did allow individual republics more autonomy, tax revenues were withheld.
- Glasnost: With the Soviet public becoming more disenchanted with their secretive government, Gorbachev attempted to compensate by committing to openness and transparency with the media. Political prisoners were released. Newspapers could print criticisms of the government. For the first time, parties other than the Communist Party could participate in elections. However, this backfired as the public learned of long-standing political cover ups revealing past and recent atrocities, missteps by leadership, social and health failures of the USSR and the true extent of national economic problems. This further eroded support for the regime.
- However once initiated it was difficult to control the reforms paving the way for fall of communism in Europe.
- Cherynobyl Disaster: The nuclear power plant accident in the Ukraine town of Cherynobyl. It was initially covered up by the Soviet government, compounding the health crisis, while further sowing the seeds of distrust within the constituency, as the extent of the disaster and the cover-up came to light.
- Local Nationalism: With declining public perception of the Soviet government (due to political blunders), nationalism grew within each of the individual republics, creating independence ambitions in republics such as Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
- Excessive Military Focus: The USSR was overly-focused on military build-up, neglecting domestic troubles that would play a major role in bringing down the USSR. This was largely due to the perceived need to keep pace with the massive U.S. military build up.
- Reduced Motivation of Fear: Friendlier relations with the U.S. in the 70s, 80s meant that the general public was no longer completely motivated to strengthen itself against the American threat.
- Ethnic Fragmentation: The USSR used “Slav Nation/Pride” propaganda as justification in creating a unified Slav state. However, Russia was clearly the favored and dominant state, while others (including Turkish/Central Asian constituents) were oppressed. Russians clearly viewed themselves as superior, despite asking client states to buy into Slav unity/patriotism/pride, which became a transparent effort to draw other Slav nations in under a false romantic ideal. As a result, non-Russians were quick to separate from the Soviet Union when it entered troubled waters.
- The many wars and violent repression by China evoked passions throughout the globe thus making restructuring imperative .
- The US doctrine of containment and hence their economic support to West Germany and other non-Communist states leading to flourishing econmies earlier derided as capitalist attracted the European Soviet nations.
- Moreover their political propaganda idiolising democracy as the will and political right of people played its role.
- Soviet Union abandoned the traditional Brezhnev Doctrine i.e military intervention in support of Communist regime of other countries, withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan, and reduced the Soviet military presence in the Warsaw Pact. These emboldened the opposition and reduced confidence in USSR.
- Movements for more reforms started in east European countries, demanding democratic governments.
- The first opposition began in Poland,1989 with the formation of non-communist party named ―solidarity(party formed by non-communist unions). It was against one-party rule and adopted civil resistance as method to attain its ends, Poland allowed it to run for elections and it won.
- The opposition was financially supported by the America. Hence, America too played indirect role in dissolving communism
- This, in turn, sparked peaceful revolutions across Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall fell in November; that same month, the “velvet revolution” in Czechoslovakia overthrew that country’s Communist government. A firing squad executed Romania’s Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaucescu, and his wife
- One by one, the Baltic states (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) declared their independence from Moscow.
- In 1991, Boris Yeltsin seized the power in Russia and the Belavezha Accords were signed, the decision to disband the Soviet Union had been made and supported by the governments of Ukraine and Belarus. Belavezha Accords is an agreement that declared the Soviet Union effectively dissolved and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place.
- On December 12, 1991 Russia’s secession from the Union was sealed, the Belavezha Accords were ratified and the 1922 treaty on the creation of the Soviet Union was denounced.
- Weeks later, they were followed by eight of the nine remaining republics. Georgia joined two years later.