Twenty-five years ago today, the Soviet Union of Socialist Republics collapsed, effectively ending the Cold War that had defined the latter half of the twentieth century and had spanned the globe. The previous day, 25 December 1991, General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned, transferring the Soviet nuclear codes to Russian president Boris Yeltsin. The communist flag over the Kremlin was replaced by the Russian flag at 7:32 pm, and the communist hegemon officially split into 15 independent republics.
This event was the culmination of the democratic changes that swept Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. Gorbachev had loosened the Soviet Union’s grip on the Iron Curtain through his policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), but these political and economic reforms ultimately backfired. Ordinary people with the desire for freedom rose up throughout Europe after years of oppression, and the Soviet Union was unable to hold back the floodgates: the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and two years later, with the Soviet Union’s dissolution, “a new world order” had begun.
Was the end of the Cold War the End of History? Twenty-five years ago, many people across the globe thought so. The United States was the lone superpower, and lasting peace seemed to finally be at hand.
The last two and a half decades have shaken this theory. Now, twenty-five years later, the reemergence of Russia on the world stage through its role in the Syrian Civil War and a renewal of its rivalry with the United States have brought the fears of the Cold War back to the forefront of many people’s minds. Has history resumed?
Featured image credit: US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Red Square at the 1988 Moscow Summit. US National Archives and Records Administration. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.