The Anniversary of Fall of the USSR

The Anniversary of Fall of the USSR

Milestone in the 20th century: December 26, 1991

For a good part of the 20th century, the countries that made up the Soviet Union were bound together, most of them unwillingly, as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Then, one by one they reasserted their independence, following Lithuania’s lead the year before.

The day after Christmas, December 26, 1991, they formally drifted apart, as quietly as a dandelion gone to seed.

Douglas Grimes, Annie Lucas and Katya Boyarskaya recently shared their stories as they witnessed the fall of the USSR, but the question remains: How could it have happened?

With the benefit of hindsight, historians have traced the USSR’s downward spiral. Here’s a brief synopsis:

Red Square lit up with the red star during Soviet times Photo: Douglas Grimes

Red Square lit up with the red star during Soviet times
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

  • At Poland’s Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Lech Walesa helps to organize general strikes in 1970 and 1976.
  • Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla is elected pope in 1978, and, as Pope John Paul II, is instrumental in ending communism in Poland.
  • The first independent trade union in Poland, Solidarity, is formed in 1980.
Things Heat Up, Literally
  • The Politburo elects Mikhail Gorbachev General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985.
  • In an attempt to reform the Soviet Union, Gorbachev instigates two unprecedented policies: glasnost (“openness”) brings news and images of the world to the news-deprived Soviet citizens, and perestroika (“restructuring”) introduces some market-like economic changes and promotes elected bodies.
  • April, 1986: nuclear reactor #4 at Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine melts down, spewing a plume of radioactivity into the atmosphere. The Kremlin attempts to cover it up, only admitting to the accident after Swedish instruments detect radioactive fallout two days later. Parades of schoolchildren are allowed to march under the radioactive rain on May Day.
Chernobyl Museum in Kiev, Ukraine

Photos of the men who lost their lives containing the nuclear meltdown at the Chernobyl Museum in Kiev, Ukraine
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Fall of the Wall, and the Revolutions of ‘89
  • November 9, 1989: massive crowds demand to be allowed to cross into West Berlin from communist East Berlin. East German officials refuse to be responsible for firing on the crowds, and they stream across. In the next weeks, the wall is dismantled piece by piece.
  • The Soviet empire in Eastern Europe falls as country after country overthrows or votes against its communist leaders.

Remnants of the Berlin Wall today Photo: Martin Klimenta

Remnants of the Berlin Wall today
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Tune In, Drop Out
  • The Soviets stop jamming all foreign radio stations in 1988, allowing foreign viewpoints, commentary and news to flow into the USSR.
  • Lithuania is the first Soviet Republic to reassert its independence on March 11, 1990.
  • February 1991: the Warsaw Pact – the mutual defense treaty among the USSR and seven eastern European countries – is disbanded.
  • Soviet Georgia votes for independence on April 9, 1991.
August Coup
  • August 19, 1991: a small group of communist hard-liners hold Gorbachev incommunicado at his Crimean dacha in a coup attempt meant to hold the union together by force.
  • By August 21, Gorbachev is back in Moscow and the coup is thwarted.
  • On August 24th, Mikhail Gorbachev steps down as Communist Party Secretary. 

  • In a response to the attempted coup, the component parts of the USSR hurried to declare their sovereignty.
    • Estonia: Aug 20
    • Latvia: Aug 21
    • Ukraine: Aug 24
    • Belarus: Aug 25
    • Azerbaijan: Aug 30
    • Kyrgyzstan: Aug 31
    • Uzbekistan: Aug 31
    • Armenia: Sep 21
    • Turkmenistan: Oct 27
    • Russian Federation: Dec 12
    • Kazakhstan: Dec 16
  • December 8: the Belavezha Accords, secretly signed by the presidents of the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus, dissolve the Soviet Union and create the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
  • December 21: the remaining Soviet states, with the exception of Georgia, sign the Alma-Ata Protocols, agreeing to dissolve the USSR and form the CIS.
Merry Christmas?
  • December 25, 1991: Gorbachev ceases his duties as President of the USSR, and proclaims the post extinct.
  • At midnight, the Soviet flag is lowered for the last time, and the Russian tricolor raised over Red Square.
  • December 26, 1991: the upper Chamber of Soviets votes itself, and the Soviet Union, out of existence.
  • The “new world order” begins, with its ups and downs, ins and outs.

Though our governments may at times be hostile and suspicious toward each other, the citizens of the U.S. and Russia continue to build bridges and meet each other halfway, across what seemed an impossibly wide divide.

Travel to Russia with MIR

MIR can take you anywhere in the former U.S.S.R. and has more than 30 years of travel experience to this part of the world, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia offering on-the-ground support and tour managers that clients rave about. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

If you’re looking for a ready-made tour of Russia, MIR offers a variety of scheduled departures to Western Russia, Siberia, and along the Trans-Siberian Railway

You can also create your own custom private journey through the countries of the former Soviet Bloc. MIR specializes in personalized, private journeys, and we’d love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip tailored especially for you. Travel wherever, however, and with whomever you like, relying on our expert assistance. Contact us to find out more about our custom and private travel expertise – each trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.

Contact MIR today at or 1-800-424-7289.

Top photo: St. Basil’s stately stance during the coup. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes.


PUBLISHED: May 28, 2019

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    do you have anything more exciting… loved our trip with you. I own property in Ru. so this is kids stuff. jim