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The Fall of the Soviet Union and the End of the Cold War Essay Skeleton Introduction

disillusionment in the communist system that stemmed from

economic stagnation

social transformation both at home and abroad

politics and behaviors of leaders

Ronald Reagan

Mikhail Gorbachev


deteriorating economic situation

Ronald Reagan exploits it with SDI


inherent defectiveness of Soviet Union

“They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work”

Soviet agriculture inefficient

hits export/import balance sheet, bargaining power



failure to implement price reforms and reduction of state subsidies

supplying military equipment (Cuba, Syria, Ethiopia)

Afghanistan War (a.k.a. Soviet Union's Vietnam War)

Contrast with spectacular upsurge of the United States

general discontent


economic difficulties, changing government policies

Jeremi Suri

de-Stalinization → dissident movement


background for shift in international behavior

Stalin culture editor, Khrushchev uneducated


Secret Speech

Novy Mir

Samizdat literature

Cultural Thaw

World Youth Festival

Sokolniki Park Exhibition

New Thinking

Radio, Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monrow: decrease in anti-Americanism

Gorbachev: “Catch up and overtake the West”

complex of inferiority → conclusion

Glasnost, refusal to use force

Solidarity with Lech Walesa wins free elections in Poland, 1989

Sinatra Doctrin

Naive, populism turns against him.

No real political support → looks abroad

Political/Leaders/International Relations

Soviet international relations with the US played a great role

SDI, Afghanistan war → can't keep up

withdrawal from Afghanistan 1988

START (Strategy Arms Reduction Talks)

Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)

Reagan's contribution

the evil empire to willingness to negotiate


peace priorities

liked Westerners → puts them ahead of USSR

Cold War End to compensate for declining prospects at home

failed to win a better deal.

Conclusion Soviet Union was the cause of a combination of economic, sociocultural, and political factors. Gorbachev really important.


1. Many scholars and politicians convincingly contend that there was no way to reform the USSR

without dismantling the old Soviet system. Still, it is possible to imagine a gradual transformation of the

post-Stalinist Communist model into a post-Communist authoritarian model as has been taking

place in China. The remarkable transformation of party secretaries and Communist ministers into

bankers and rich oligarchs under Yeltsin, prompted one observer to suggest that even under Gorbachev

"the higher echelons of the party" would have been ready to "sent to Hell at any moment the whole

edifice of Marxism-Leninism, if such an act would only help them preserve their hierarchical positions

and continue their careers. "

Reasons for the Fall of the Soviet Union and the End of the Cold War The fall and eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was brought about by a number of factors. One of these was the disillusionment in the communist system that stemmed from economic stagnation and social transformation both at home and abroad. Politics and the behaviors of leaders, particularly of Ronald Reagan (who came into office in 1980 and was elected for a second period in 1985) and of Mikhail Gorbachev (appointed in 1985) also contributed to the dismantling of the USSR and to the End of the Cold War.

Economic One of the most important reasons for the Fall of the Soviet Union was the deteriorating economic situation of the superpower throughout the last years of its existence. Ronald Reagan, taking advantage of

the USSR's economic crisis, employed a military buildup, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), or Star Wars, through which it would "spend the Soviet Union into bankruptcy". This left the Soviet Union at a very weak position, as we will discuss later.

1. One of the underlying causes of the economic stagnation was the inherent defectiveness of the communist/collectivist/socialist/soviet system itself. It led to inefficiency and failed to provide motivation to productivity. "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work" was a popular joke (which held a lot of truth) during the 1980s.

2. Soviet agriculture was always inefficient, which meant that the Soviets had to depend on import grain

front he US and Canada several times, hitting their export/import balance sheet and reducing their bargaining power. Under Gorbachev's leadership, Soviet domestic economic and financial systems deteriorated further and much faster. The grave economic, financial, and state crisis began only between 1986 and 1988, and it kept growing worse because of Gorbachev's choices and policies.

2. Through decentralization and the Soviet leader's refusal to take unpopular but necessary economic measures such as price reforms and reduction of state subsidies, Gorbachev led the Soviet Union to economic and political catastrophe. The Soviet Union even continued to pour billions of dollars into supplying military equipment to Cuba, Syria, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and other client countries during 1989, 1990, and even part of 1991, when Soviet coffers were already almost empty. The Soviet War in Afghanistan (a.k.a. the Soviet Union's Vietnam War) drained the USSR's resources further.

3. This situation contrasted dramatically with the spectacular upsurge of the United States and Western Europe in the 1980s. The cumulative economic problems that the Soviet Union faced is directly linked to the general discontent and disillusionment in Communism that arose in society in the 1960s and exacerbated until 1991, when the dismantlement of the Soviet Union finally took place.


Economic difficulties, together with changing government policies after Stalin's death, gradually contributed to discontent in the Soviet society. Jeremi Suri argues that de-Stalinization during the 1960s led to the dissident movement, which, in turn, together with the movements in Central Europe, began to challenge the fundamentals of the Soviet regime. Although, as Zuvok argues, they did not yield immediate effects, the collective efforts of the dissident movement would provide the essential background for the dramatic shift in Soviet international behavior that came later under Mikhail Gorbachev from 1985 to 1989 (which would reinforce discontent at home and result in better relations with the United States).

1. Stalin had acted as the supreme editor of Soviet culture. Nikita Khrushchev, on the other hand, was strikingly undereducated and erratic. He neither wanted to nor could direct Soviet culture.

Khrushchev's de-Stalinization, together with the leakage of his "Secret Speech", crushed Stalin's Cult of Personality. At the same time, it opened the way for dissidents to criticize the Soviet System. Under Khrushchev, for example, the journal Novy Mir published a number of unorthodox and dissident literary works, which thoroughly criticized the Soviet Union. This, together with the rise of Samizdat literature were the first steps towards increasing dissidence with and disillusionment of the communist system.

The Cultural Thaw also played a crucial role in changing people's thinking about communism. With the increase in higher education, many youngsters sought to distance themselves from the Soviet past and its propaganda. With events like the World Youth Festival, which for the first time attracted hundreds of foreigners into the Soviet Union, and the Sokolniki Park exhibition of 1959, it was hard to continue believing in Soviet propaganda and xenophobia. New Thinking arose. People started listening to American radio, reading Ernest Hemingway books, admiring American icons like Marilyn Monroe. This led to a decrease in anti-Americanism.

What is more, Khrushchev's speeches, in which he constantly compared the Soviet Union to America, (for example, with slogans like "To catch up and overtake the West" made people become accustomed to comparing their lives to American living standards and developed a complex of inferiority. Those who looked for explanation could easily come to the conclusion that the main obstacle that prevented them from achieving an American-style life was the existing economic and political system.

2. When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, he introduced his glasnost (lit. "openness") policy, which allowed greater freedom of information and less censorship - not only in the Soviet Union, but also abroad. This, together with Gorbachev's almost dogmatic refusal to use force, made the dissident movement go out of control. This was specially so in communist countries abroad, such as in Poland,

with the victory of the Solidarity movement (a non-communist trade union led by Lech Walesa) in the free elections of 1989. The Soviet Union did not interfere, neither in Poland nor when other Eastern

European countries revolted, a policy which became known as the "Sinatra Doctrine". The famous fall of the Berlin Wall epitomizes this policy.This revolt in Warsaw Pact countries encouraged revolt at home.

Gorbachev had been too naive. "Populism" turned vehemently against him, and left the Soviet leader hanging without real political support. Denied political recognition and support at home, he increasingly looked for it abroad, from the Western leaders.

Politcal/Leaders/International Arena Soviet international relations with the United States played a crucial role in ending the Cold War. Ronald Reagan's SDI and the war in Afghanistan made Gorbachev realize that the USSR could not afford to keep up the arms race and keep fighting proxy wars. He withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988 and opened the START (Strategy Arms Reduction Talks). In 1987, they signed the historic Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) - the superpowers' first agreement to reduce nuclear weapons. Indeed, Reagan's contribution to ending the Cold War was substantial. Military buildup when needed and negotiations constituted the core of his strategy for dealing with the Soviets. When Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader to engage him directly, Reagan cast aside his overheated rhetoric about "the evil empire" and engaged Gorbachev with respect. As to Gorbachev, he had other priorities besides power, prestige, stability, and state interests. His first priority was the construction of a global world order on the basis of cooperation and nonviolence. He, unlike Stalin, was not xenophobic and liked Westerners. However, critics have pointed out that he began to put his friendly relations with foreign leaders ahead of state interests. He was in a hurry to end the Cold War because he had a personal need to compensate for his declining prospects at home with breakthroughs in foreign policy. As a result, Gorbachev's diplomacy often failed to win a better deal with the United States and its allies.

Conclusion All in all, the fall of the Soviet Union was the cause of a combination of economic, sociocultural, and political factors. Most importantly, without Gorbachev (and Reagan and Bush as his partners), the end of the Cold War would not have come so quickly. Also without him, the rapid disintegration of the Soviet Union itself would not have occurred. A different person would have taken very different courses of actions.