Assess the main factors of the break-up of the Soviet Union
The break up and dissolution of the Soviet Union on the 25th December 1991 heralded the end of the Cold War. It ushered in what had been termed 'the new world order', furthermore, it was suggested by Francis Fukuyama to have signalled the end of history and the battle of ideas which had dominated much of the twentieth century (Huntington, 1996; 31). The 'clash of civilizations' had already seen the demise of fascism as a credible force in 1945, the close of 1991 would see the end of communism in Europe. The relatively sudden collapse of the USSR has compelled thinkers and analysts to seek answers as to why the world’s second superpower could collapse so quickly and so utterly. Can it be attributed to one single catastrophic event, or is it far more appropriate to place blame on a number of contributing factors? The controversy surrounding the collapse of the USSR has been compared to the collapse of the Roman Empire among others and will also continue to be interpreted and reinterpreted for many years to come (Laqueur 1993; 387). This essay will look at some of the factors which lead to dissolution and assess the importance of each. The key issues that this essay will assess include the problem of the nationalities, the Gorbachev factor, economic problems, and the social and political upheavals caused by Perestroika and Glasnost. The Gorbachev factor must be viewed in the context of state of the country he inherited from his predecessors coupled with the effects of Glasnost and Perestroika. It has been suggested that Glasnost and Perestroika played key roles in hastening the collapse of the world’s second superpower. Glasnost (meaning openness) allowed people to see the flaws in the system and questions were raised as to whether or not communism had been good for Russia. Perestroika (meaning restructuring) also highlighted flaws in the political and bureaucratic system that could not be given a quick fix. The economic problems of the USSR have also been cited as a considerable factor in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The command economy had stifled innovation and its existence outside of the world economy had caused major problems. Further to this the USSR could not keep up with the military spending of the USA during the 1980s. Competing against the military spending of the Reagan Administration as well as fighting a protracted war against the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan had all but exhausted the economy of the USSR. The nationalities provided a great problem for any ideas of national unity. It has been argued by Lord William Wallace that it would be very difficult for the European Union evolve into a unified state because there is a lack of identity and little sense of shared history across the continent (Smith, 2005). This is the same problem facing attempts by Soviet leaders to foster a single Soviet nationality. The very same issue had been faced by the Tsarist system before it. One of the few things the nationalities had in common was the centuries of Russian domination. Sitting on what 75 years before had been the Tsarist Russian Empire, the Soviet Union faced same problem as had the Tsarist regime, namely the incredibly diverse ethnic makeup of the territory. The Russian SFSR, itself one of 15 constituent republics of the USSR, was made up of many smaller semi-autonomous republics. Russians formed the biggest ethnic group at just over 50%, followed by the Ukrainians with 15% of the total population. Other nationalities included Uzbek; Byelorussians; Kazakh and Volga Tatar among many others. The downfall of the Soviet Union gave an opportunity for peoples across the vast territory from Kamchatka to the Kola Peninsula to clamour for recognition (Dukes, 1998; 332). This suggests that the problem of the nationalities would continue to
be a headache for the newly formed Russian Federation. The rise of nationalism added to the troubles...
References: Acton, E (1995) Russia: The Tsarist and Soviet Legacy (2e) Pearson Education Ltd: Harlow; 320-321, 323 Chubarov, A (2001) Russia’s Bitter Path to Modernity: A History of the Soviet and PostSoviet Eras Continuum: London; 190-195 Dukes, P (1998) A History of Russia: c. 882-1996 Palgrave: Basingstoke; 332 Hobsbawm, E (1994) The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991 Abacus: London; 480, 483 Huntington, S P (1996) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order Simon and Schuster: London; 31 Lacqueur, W (1993) Gorbachev and Epimetheus: The Origins of the Russian Crisis in Journal of Contemporary History Vol. 28 No. 3 July 1993 pp 387- 419 Sage: London Smith K, (2005) European Union Foreign Policy in a Changing World. Polity Press: Cambridge Strayer, R (1998) Why did the Soviet Union Collapse: Understanding Historical Change ME Sharpe: New York; 150-153
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