Manual Russias Path from Gorbachev to Putin: The Demise of the Soviet System and the New Russia

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And Gorbachev saw the technological lag first-hand while visiting a mechanized farm in Canada in To prevent that denouement, Gorbachev launched an ambitious program of domestic and foreign policy reform to modernize and revitalize the Soviet Union, opening up politics to genuine competition and moving a planned economy toward a market-based system. He believed that ending the Cold War, which placed a tremendous strain on the economy, was a perquisite for thorough reform, and he pursued rapprochement with the West. Greater political freedom led to critical examinations of the past that focused on Stalinist and Leninist crimes and nourished national movements that challenged the myth that the Soviet Union had emerged as a voluntary association of free peoples.

Political and economic reform undermined the institutions of Soviet power and produced an economic crisis. The breakup of the Soviet Union left its successor state, the Russian Federation, in a weak position. It was shorn of large swathes of territory, millions of people, and valuable natural resources. It lost its superpower status virtually overnight. That unsettled its leaders, but also many Russian citizens, even those who welcomed the demise of the oppressive, inefficient Soviet system. For Yeltsin, Russia's first president, the question was how to regenerate Russian power.

Like Gorbachev before him, he launched a reform effort—one that was focused on breaking with the strictures of Soviet economics, fostering a market economy and private property, and eradicating the influence of the Communist Party. At the same time, he moved beyond rapprochement toward partnership with the United States.

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Yeltsin repeatedly turned to the West for ideas, technical assistance, and financing. Hundreds of Western advisers were welcomed to offer advice on transitioning to a market economy and an open political system and to teach Russians the skills needed to succeed in the new environment.

Billions of dollars poured in from the International Monetary Fund and Western governments, and the United States and Europe openly used the assistance to bolster Yeltsin and other leaders they considered to be pro-Western. By building a close relationship with the United States, Yeltsin presented Russia as a great power despite the magnitude of its problems. Shortly after the Soviet collapse, he traveled to Washington, D.

Acting on the will of the people of Russia, I am inviting you, and through you the people of the United States, to join us in partnership, in the quest for freedom and justice in the twenty-first century.

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Yeltsin then worked to forge a tight personal bond with Bill Clinton, and the two countries cooperated when interests aligned, for instance in convincing Ukraine to return to Russia elements of the Soviet nuclear arsenal that remained on its territory. After the U. Russia vehemently opposed NATO expansion from the outset, but realized that it was powerless to stop it. Russia will rise again! I repeat: Russia will rise again.

How and Why Did The Soviet Union Collapse

He must have forgotten what Russia is. We have an arsenal full of nuclear weapons.

We have very good relations with America. But it was Yeltsin who oversaw tens of billions of dollars in Russian arms sales to China. Likewise Putin has been criticized in the West for clinging to a retrograde sphere-of-influence thinking. But it was Yeltsin who was determined to secure Russian predominance in the other ex-Soviet states. His policies toward Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Ukraine—against which he admitted using the pricing and supply of natural gas to gain leverage—are evidence. After a long depression that had culminated in the financial collapse of August , the economy had barely stabilized.

The central government had little power over oligarchs and regional barons, centrifugal forces were cresting, and Russia mattered little in global affairs.

The Putin Problem

Many Russians feared that their country was on the verge of collapse just eight short years after the Soviet Union had vanished. That was the clear message of his programmatic document, Russia at the Turn of the Millennium , released just as he assumed power. For the first time in the past — years, it is facing a real threat of sliding to the second, and possibly even third, echelon of states in the world.

We are running out of time for removing this threat. Those that did not—notably Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky—were harassed by federal authorities, stripped of their major assets, and eventually driven into exile or imprisoned. But he is now at a crossroads. Abroad, Putin wanted to improve relations with the United States, the preeminent global power by any measure, and to use the reflected power of the United States to validate Russia as a major global player.

To that end, he was the first foreign leader to reach out to the United States after the catastrophic terrorist attacks of September 11, , offering counterterrorist assistance. Russia provided valuable support in the initial phases of the U. Under the influence of counterterrorism cooperation, relations drew even closer in May At the U. Petersburg, Putin and Bush issued a Joint Declaration proposing a strategic partnership in which the two countries would work together as equals on common interests.

But the optimism proved short-lived. In Beslan, terrorists seized a local school, resulting in nearly deaths, many of them children. Beslan, Putin believed, would not have occurred if the United States had been a true counterterrorist ally. Others help them to do it. They help because they think that Russia, as one of the greatest nuclear powers of the world, is still a threat, and this threat has to be eliminated. And terrorism is only an instrument to achieve these goals.

Russia under Boris Eltsin: A select bibliography | Indiana University Libraries

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine exacerbated the situation. Putin soon came to view the revolution in Ukraine as a dress rehearsal for regime change in Russia itself. The Kremlin sponsored nationalist youth movements—notably Nashi Our Guys —partly to provide street muscle in case a color revolution was to emerge. And it clamped down on civil society, especially Western-funded non-governmental organizations, which, as Putin saw it, were promoting a Western agenda in Russia with the guise of fostering democracy.

It has practically always used the privilege to carry out an independent foreign policy. We are not going to change this tradition today. Russia sponsored the first diplomatic meetings of Brazil, Russia, India and China BRIC so that major emerging economies could increase their influence. And it used its energy exports to put pressure on former Soviet states that sought closer ties with the West, most notably raising prices and cutting off gas supplies to Ukraine in and At the extreme it used military forces against Georgia in after NATO announced that Georgia and Ukraine would eventually become members.

He was outraged by the NATO operation in Libya, ostensibly a humanitarian action that morphed into a war against the regime of Muammar Qaddafi and ended in his brutal murder by the rebels. Once he had safely won the presidential election in March , Putin launched an ever-widening crackdown on dissent, arresting opposition leaders, pressuring Western-funded non-governmental organizations, and pushing legislation to narrow the scope for public debate. The United States will continue to face the challenge of managing relations with Russia, regardless of who is in power. So how should it do so?

Abroad, Putin ardently pursued closer ties with China, expanding commercial relations especially energy and arms sales and conducting joint naval exercises in the South China Sea and the Baltic Sea Now, in the wake of his failed attempt at rapprochement with Trump, Putin has stepped up his anti-U. As presidential elections in Russia loom in March , U. At home, Putin faces a problem not dissimilar to the one Gorbachev did.

The economic model based on rising commodity prices and exploitation of idle capacity created by the economic crash of the s fueled rapid economic growth in the s, but it has exhausted itself.


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The Russian economy stagnated after the —9 global financial crisis and slipped into a recession in Though there has been a slow, albeit uneven, recovery since , reputable forecasters anticipate low growth rates for years to come. Consequently, as was true under Gorbachev, sustaining Russia as a great power will require sustained economic reform, and that in turn will require opening up the political system to encourage the creativity and flexibility that lie at the foundations of successful modern economies. Yet Putin must do that without destabilizing the system, as Gorbachev unintentionally did.

Modernizing the economy will also require rapprochement with the West, as Gorbachev realized, since the technology and managerial know-how Russia needs is still only available in the West, particularly the United States. So Putin now finds himself at a crossroads. He has advanced the goals he set for himself seventeen years ago: Russia is stronger militarily, has a higher international profile, and is a power to be reckoned with.

But the path forward for sustaining Russia as a great power remains unclear and numerous economic and social problems lie ahead. They will reject U. They will not be persuaded by Western claims that universally accepted legal and ethical norms have changed the nature of world politics. And amidst the controversy created by Russian efforts to shape the U. In other words, Putin or not, the United States will continue to face the vexing challenge of managing relations with Russia.

When these superficial changes failed to yield tangible results, Gorbachev in —88 proceeded to initiate deeper reforms of the Soviet economic and political system. In foreign affairs, Gorbachev from the beginning cultivated warmer relations and trade with the developed nations of both West and East.

In December he signed an agreement with U. President Ronald Reagan for their two countries to destroy all existing stocks of intermediate-range nuclear-tipped missiles. In —89 he oversaw the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan after their nine-year occupation of that country.

In October Gorbachev was able to consolidate his power by his election to the chairmanship of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet the national legislature. Accordingly, under changes made to the constitution in December , a new bicameral parliament called the U. Supreme Soviet that, in contrast to its predecessor of that name, was a real standing parliament with substantial legislative powers. In May Gorbachev was elected chairman of this Supreme Soviet and thereby retained the national presidency.

Gorbachev was the single most important initiator of a series of events in late and that transformed the political fabric of Europe and marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Throughout he had seized every opportunity to voice his support for reformist communists in the Soviet-bloc countries of eastern Europe, and, when communist regimes in those countries collapsed like dominoes late that year, Gorbachev tacitly acquiesced in their fall.

As democratically elected, noncommunist governments came to power in East Germany , Poland , Hungary , and Czechoslovakia in late —90, Gorbachev agreed to the phased withdrawal of Soviet troops from those countries. In Gorbachev received the Nobel Prize for Peace for his striking achievements in international relations.

In response, Gorbachev used military force to suppress bloody interethnic strife in several of the Central Asian republics in —90, while constitutional mechanisms were devised that could provide for the lawful secession of a republic from the U. With the CPSU waning in power and steadily losing prestige in the face of the mounting impetus for democratic political procedures, Gorbachev in further accelerated the transfer of power from the party to elected governmental institutions.

Gorbachev was conspicuously successful in dismantling the totalitarian aspects of the Soviet state and in moving his country along the path toward true representative democracy. He proved less willing to release the Soviet economy from the grip of centralized state direction, however. Gorbachev eschewed the totalitarian use of power that had traditionally worked to keep the Soviet economy functioning, but at the same time he resisted any decisive shift to private ownership and the use of free-market mechanisms.

Gorbachev sought a compromise between these two diametrically opposed alternatives in vain, and so the centrally planned economy continued to crumble with no private enterprise to replace it.

A New Foreign Policy

In the face of a collapsing economy, rising public frustration, and the continued shift of power to the constituent republics, Gorbachev wavered in direction, allying himself with party conservatives and the security organs in late But the Communist hard-liners who had replaced reformers in the government proved undependable allies, and Gorbachev and his family were briefly held under house arrest from August 19 to 21, , during a short-lived coup by the hard-liners.

After the coup foundered in the face of staunch resistance by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other reformers who had risen to power under the democratic reforms, Gorbachev resumed his duties as Soviet president, but his position had by now been irretrievably weakened. Entering into an unavoidable alliance with Yeltsin, Gorbachev quit the Communist Party, disbanded its Central Committee, and supported measures to strip the party of its control over the KGB and the armed forces.

On December 25, , Gorbachev resigned the presidency of the Soviet Union, which ceased to exist that same day. Mikhail Gorbachev. Article Media. Info Print Print. Table Of Contents. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. See Article History. Alternative Title: Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. Top Questions. Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Collapse of the Soviet Union.