The Soviet Union de facto ceased to exist on 25 December 1991, when Mikhail Gorbachev announced that he was stepping down as the country’s president. Earlier that year, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus agreed on the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
European Council President Donald Tusk has claimed that the breakup of the Soviet Union was “not the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the last century.
“Today in Georgia I want to say loud and clear: the USSR collapse was a blessing to Georgians, Poles, Ukrainians and the whole of Central and Eastern Europe. And also to Russians”, he tweeted on Wednesday.
The tweet apparently came in a nod to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation address in 2005 when he specifically described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”.
“And for the Russian people, it became a real drama. Tens of millions of our citizens found themselves outside the Russian Federation […]”, he said.
Putin reiterated his stand during a 2017 interview with US film director Oliver Stone, citing at least 25 million Russian people who he said found themselves abroad overnight.
According to Putin, this was followed by a full-fledged civil war as well as complete destruction of the country’s social protection and health care systems.
The army, Putin recalled, was in a deplorable condition at the time as millions of people found themselves below the poverty line.
The Russian president was referring to the developments of 25 December 1991 when then-President Mikhail Gorbachev announced that he had decided to step down, in what heralded the de facto end of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev’s resignation was preceded by the so-called Belovezha Accords which were signed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus on 8 December 1991. The document declared the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) as effectively ceasing to exist and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
After all Soviet republics adopted declarations on state sovereignty in 1990, the countries’ authorities held a referendum on 17 March 1991 in a bid to stop the looming collapse of the Soviet Union. During the referendum, 76.4 percent of voters voted to preserve the USSR.
Shortly afterward, a draft treaty “On the Union of Sovereign Republics” was adopted, the signing of which was scheduled for 20 August. The inking, however, never saw the light of day because of the attempted coup that took place in Moscow on 19-21 August.