HIS 242
The End of the Soviet Union
Remarks by Professor Evans

In the late 1980s, with the crashing down of the Iron Curtain and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, some of the Soviet republics, i.e., Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, began to declare their independence from the USSR. The main challenge to the continued existence of the Soviet Union was waged by Boris Eltsin and the Russian Federation. After the failed August Coup in 1991, it all came quickly unglued. In December 1991, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed an agreement that created the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) with originally eleven of the former soviet republics as members. In the last two or three years, however, events have indicated that the CIS probably does not have much longer to go, for example, Ukraine never formally ratified the agreement (neither did Turkmenistan), and Georgia has opted out.

Georgian Military Highway

The Georgian Military Highway, late 1950s,
photo by Thomas T. Hammond

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It has been fifteen years since the August Coup attempt, almost fifteen years since the end of the Soviet Union, but most of recent Russian history is a story dealing with decline, discomfiture and disintegration. Things have not been good in Russia for some time now.

Evidence about the sorry state of affairs--not to even mention the pilfering of the economic resources of the country, the flight of Russian money abroad to safe havens, the destruction of some of the country's cultural treasures in the name of making a quick ruble, the increasingly authoritarian nature of domestic politics and the emergence of organized crime families that put the mafia to shame--can clearly be seen in the health crisis that has engulfed the CIS. Just look at some of these headlines.

Although I don't monitor current events in Russia as much as I should--it is too depressing to read it all--one thing that I have been aware of is the catastrophe that is the Russian experience in Chechnya. From my point-of-view, it symbolizes all that has gone wrong with Russia since the end of the communist regime.

All of these websites dealing with Chechnya deserve a short look. (I've listed them according to my order of preference, i.e., please start at the top.)

There is no doubt in my mind that Russia has its hands full dealing with the situation in Chechnya; it does not matter that Chechnya is a flea in comparison to Russia as an elephant (Hope you get my comparison.), and I am also quite sure that things will end badly for everyone involved. They already have for the inhabitants of the Russian town of Beslan (population about 30,000) in North Ossetia in the Northern Caucasus. On 1-4 September 2004 terrorists took over a thousand children, teachers and adults hostage on the first day of school. Over three hundred died, including 186 school children according to official figures. Please read the excellent, exhaustive Wikipedia article on the Beslan School Hostage Crisis. There is also an excellent article in Esquire (June 2006), "The School" by C. J. Chivers--I think that you can log on to read this article. I really can't add much more to this; it is emotional enough reading about it. What an absolute disaster, but you know, the questions about what really happened at Beslan and the role of the Russian security forces in perhaps causing the disaster remain unanswered to this day, although the report of the parliamentary commission, recently released is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the complete truth will be revealed one day.

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Some recommended books

Some recommended websites