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These changes came at the end of a decade where ordinary people had challenged socialist governments. These pressures undermined and eroded political authority in Soviet bloc nations. With Moscow no longer enforcing adherence to socialist policies, Soviet-bloc governments relented, allowing political reforms or relaxing restrictions such as border controls.

In the years that followed, Germany would dispel concerns about its wartime past by becoming one of the most prosperous and progressive states in Europe.

The Soviet Union remained the last bastion of socialism in Europe – but it too was rapidly changing. Gorbachev’s reforms of the mid-1980s failed to arrest fundamental problems in the Soviet economy. Soviet industries faced critical shortages of resources, leading to a decline in productivity.

Meanwhile, Soviet citizens endured severe shortages of state-provided food items and consumer goods, giving rise to a thriving black market. Moscow’s big-ticket spending on the military, space exploration and propping up satellite states further drained the stagnating Soviet economy. More reforms in 1988 allowed private ownership in many sectors, though this came too late to achieve any reversal.

It became clear that the Soviet economy could not recover on its own. In order to revive and prosper, Soviet producers and consumers needed access to Western markets and emerging technologies.

Outside Russia, the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) agitated for independence while separatist-driven violence was reported in Azerbaijan and Armenia.

In early 1990, the Communist Party accepted Gorbachev’s recommendation that Soviet bloc nations be permitted to hold free elections and referendums on independence. By the end of 1990, the citizens in six states – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova – had voted to leave the Soviet Union. Ukraine, a region of considerable economic value, also declared its independence in July 1990.

The Soviet republics that remained were given greater political and economic autonomy.

In 1991, Gorbachev attempted to restructure and decentralise the Soviet Union by granting its member-states greater autonomy.

Under Gorbachev’s proposed model, the USSR would become the “Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics”, a confederation of independent nations sharing a military force, foreign policy and economic ties. These proposed changes angered some Communist Party leaders, who feared they would erode Soviet power and bringing about the collapse of the USSR.

The coup leaders misread the mood of the public, however, which came out in support of Gorbachev. The coup collapsed after three days and Gorbachev was returned to office, though with his authority reduced. By Christmas 1991, the Soviet Union had passed into history. It was formally dissolved and replaced by a looser confederation called the Commonwealth of Independent States.


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What Marked The End Of The Cold War

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