The Collapse of the USSR 1991 (Cold War)


Problems that led to collapse of USSR

Strategic Defense Initiative 

  • This would have made all offensive nuclear weapons redundant
  • The USSR feared it would soon have no nuclear deterrent
  • Could upset the USA allies (self-interest)
  • Eliminates M.A.D! (Mutual Assured Destruction)
  • Makes USSR military strategy redundant
  • USSR might retaliate
  • Arms limitation treaties redundant
  • Force the USSR to negotiate

On the one hand it may have ended the cold war  "Reagan's missile defence programme paved the way for the success of later arms reduction", however some would argue that it didn't end the cold war "real dangers of his escalation of the arms race into space"

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Problems that led to collapse of USSR

Communism in Eastern Europe


  • Slovenians vote to become independent in a free election in 1990.
  • Yugoslavia breaks up into Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro,Bosnia- Herezgovina, Kosovo and Macedonia.


  • The Communist leader resigned on national TV in 1989
  • Democratic elections were held the next year in 1990 and were won by the re-named communist party


  • In 1988 there were strikes throughout poland as people demanded better conditions and more political freedom.
  • In elections in 1989, a free trade union called solidarity wins. Mazowiecki becomes the first non- Communist prime minister in Eastern Europe
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Problems that led to collapse of USSR

Communism in Eastern Europe


  • Gorbachev accepts that Hungary can become a multi-party state in 1988. This means that instead of being run by the Communists, they are allowed elections.
  • The first election in 1990 was won by Democratic Forum, an alliance of anti-communist groups. This was known as the 'Velvet Revolution' 


  • In 1989, huge demonstrations against communism begin. They force the communist government to resign and in 1989, Czechoslovakia gains its first non-communist president since 1948
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Problems that led to collapse of USSR

Communism of Eastern Europe


  • The Romanian Communist government was one of the most brutal. When there were demonstrations in 1989 against communism, secret police opened fire on the crowd. Later the president is booed in public and decided to flee
  • The army joined the rebellion and fought the secret police. The president and his wife were killed by firing squad  and democratic elections were finally announced in 1990. They were won by the National Salvation Front, containing many ex- Communists.  

East Germany:

  • As other Eastern bloc countries fell, thousands of people were crossing the borders into other Eastern European countries which were no longer Communist and from there fleeing to the West
  • October 1989, Gorbachev announced that Soviet troops would not put down East German demonstrations against communism. 300,000 people protest in Leipzig and these build and build until 1 million people were protesting in Berlin. On a TV interview, the government admitted that the wall would come down… and then when pressed as to when, he said immediately! Crowds gathered at the wall and on 9th November 1989, it came down. In 1990, Germany was reunified into one country. 
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Problems that led to collapse of USSR

USSR Problems:

  • Gerontocracy
    • Ruled by old conservative men (hardlines)
  • Economy
    • Spending way too much money on Military (Afghanistan/Arms race)
  • Lack of freedom
  • Communist party
    • Conservative, male dominated, bureaucratic
  • Poor image abroad
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Problems that led to collapse of USSR

Gorbachev's New Thinking:

Three Policies:

  • Glasnost- This was the policy of  'openness'. He wanted past mistakes and current problems in the USSR to be voiced in public, including the criticism of the leadership of the Communist party and its policies in the media
  • Perestroika- This was the policy of 'restructuring'. Though it soon came to be used to describe his general intention to modernise the USSR, it was initially aimed at the soviet economy. His main aim was to make the economic system more modern and to improve productivity
  • Demokratizatsiya- this refers to Gorbachev's attempts to make the Soviet political system more democratic. Under him, elections were reformed to give greater choice to the voters, and political organizations and clubs were allowed to operate outside of the communist party. Gorbachev also tried to make the government and the soviet system more independent of party control. 
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