The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union



The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet UnionOn Christmas Day Mikhail Gorbachev Resigned As President Of The Soviet Union By The Next Day The USSR Was Officially No And The USA Had Emerged As The World S Sole Superpower Award Winning Historian Serhii Plokhy Presents A Page Turning Account Of The Preceding Five Months Of Drama, Filled With Failed Coups D Tat And Political IntrigueHoning In On This Previously Disregarded But Crucial Period And Using Recently Declassified Documents And Original Interviews With Key Participants, He Shatters The Established Myths Of And Presents A Bold New Interpretation Of The Soviet Union S Final Months Plokhy Argues That Contrary To The Triumphalist Western Narrative, George H W Bush Desperately Wanted To Preserve The Soviet Union And Keep Gorbachev In Power, And That It Was Ukraine And Not The US That Played The Key Role In The Collapse Of The Soviet Union The Consequences Of Those Five Months And The Myth Making That Has Since Surrounded Them Are Still Being Felt In Crimea, Russia, The US, And Europe TodayWith Its Spellbinding Narrative And Strikingly Fresh Perspective, The Last Empire Is The Essential Account Of One Of The Most Important Watershed Periods In World History, And Is Indispensable Reading For Anyone Seeking To Make Sense Of International Politics Today

Serhii Plokhy is a Ukrainian and American historian Plokhy is currently the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History and Director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University, where he was also named Walter Channing Cabot Fellow in 2013 A leading authority on Eastern Europe, he has lived and taught in Ukraine, Canada, and the United States He has published extensively in English, Ukrainian, and Russian For three successive years 2002 2005 his books won first prize of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies.For his Ukrainian language profile, please see

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  • 02 January 2019

10 thoughts on “The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union

  1. Patrick Blackburn says:

    Simply put, this is a stunning book It s not every day an author is able to rewrite history, and do so credibly When I read, on the inside cover, the following sentence the collapse of the Soviet Union was anything but the handiwork of the United States, I feared that it was going to attempt to diminish the role the U.S played On the contrary I have read about 20 books on the subject and this is one of the best accounts of US Russia relations from 1980 present Hoffman s The Dead Han Simply put, this is a stunning book It s not every day an author is able to rewrite history, and do so credibly When I read, on the inside cover, the following sentence the collapse of the Soviet Union was anything but the handiwork of the United States, I feared that it was going to attempt to diminish the role the U.S played On the contrary I have read about 20 books on the subject and this is one of the best accounts of US Russia relations from 1980 present Hoffman s The Dead Hand is another After reading The Last Empire, I have a greater appreciation of the actions George Bush HW took and accomplished during this time The significant impact of Secretary of State George Schultz was revealing as well.Plokhy takes you right into private meetings all over the world during a six month period in 1991 From the unbelievably tense meetings between Yeltsin and Gorbachev, to meetings by leaders of former Soviet states namely Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus about the nature of the role they will play in this new world, there is no shortage of intrigue in The Last Empire.This book is not only for those who are interested in the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union The timing, with what is currently happening in that part of the world this book, is perfect The author is an expert on Ukranian affairs he is director of the Ukranian Research Institute at Harvard University and spends a lot of time discussing Ukraine s significant role in the breakup of the Soviet Union He even spends time on Crimea, which makes this book as relevant today as it was 25 years ago, if notso After reading The Last Empire, I feel like I have a much better understanding of what Putin s Russia is trying to do which doesn t make it any less disturbing Whether you are interested in 1991 Russia, 2014 Russia, or both, The Last Empire absolutely must be added to your library You won t be sorry

  2. Mike says:

    It wasn t quite the fourth of July John Stepanchuk, acting US consul in Kiev Plokhy s stated goal here is to dispute the narrative, which according to him is generally accepted in the west, that the United States won the Cold War, arguing that the primary causes were internal to the Soviet Union the crumbling economy, Gorbachev s democratic reforms, the hatred that existed between Gorbachev and Yeltsin, etc Whether or not the triumphal narrative is particularly strong, or particularly It wasn t quite the fourth of July John Stepanchuk, acting US consul in Kiev Plokhy s stated goal here is to dispute the narrative, which according to him is generally accepted in the west, that the United States won the Cold War, arguing that the primary causes were internal to the Soviet Union the crumbling economy, Gorbachev s democratic reforms, the hatred that existed between Gorbachev and Yeltsin, etc Whether or not the triumphal narrative is particularly strong, or particularly widely believed, an attempt at clarification is generally a good thing.The irony of the aforementioned narrative, according to Plokhy, is that George H.W Bush and most of those in his administration with the exception, perhaps ominously, of Dick Cheney were not unreservedly enthusiastic about the prospect of the Union s collapse, one seemingly reasonable reason for this being the question of nuclear disarmament there was also a general sense of hesitancy and caution about what would follow that collapse Bush seems to have exercised this caution despite domestic pressure, for example from the Ukrainian diaspora in America apparently large enough to be electorally significant , to act, to push Gorbachev to recognize Ukrainian independence Plokhy, who is Ukrainian, refers in passing to H.W Bush s Chicken Kiev speech, in which he hedged on the issue of Ukrainian independence, as a gaffe I m not sure that it was, and I m not sure that Plokhy s book really supports the idea that it was, either The book is notable for its focus on Ukraine and the Ukrainian independence movement One thing that jumped out at me immediately is the way in which the current problems in Ukraine seem to have been foreshadowed Yeltsin, upon the Union s havingor less ceded central power to Russia, warned that if any republic breaks off Union relations with Russia, then Russia has the right to raise the question of territorial claims When Yeltsin s press secretary was asked to bespecific about which republics Yeltsin was addressing, the secretary mentioned parts of northern Kazakhstan, Abkhazia in Georgia, and the Crimea and Donbass in Ukraine Yeltsin continued to threaten Ukraine with partitioning until the Ukrainian referendum, the result of which, according to Plokhy, was 90.32% in favor of independence David Remnick wrote that it was a few votes shy of 90 percent In the Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts, now disputed territories, the results were 83% and 77%, in favor of independence Even in Crimea,than 54% voted in favor Of course, this is not evidence that the referendums that have been held in those areas during the past couple of years are illegitimate, even though they are The Russian ark , as Plokhy says, was leaving the harbor, economically speaking, and one gets the sense that many Ukrainians, even in the east, saw their neighbor as a dead weight but my anecdotal, second hand understanding is that life in the 90s for the average Ukrainian was not any easier than for the average Russian, financially speaking The US seemed to influence events inadvertently Bush, for example, threatened to withhold economic assistance from the Union, economic assistance that the Union needed, if Gorbachev sent Soviet troops to crush resistance movements in the Baltics When the central government displayed a disinclination to use force, the Baltics knew they could break away It seems that the Bush administration understood that things could happen that way But one of the points that Plokhy makes quite clear is that it wasn t necessarily an advantage for the United States to have to deal with a splintering superpower, a potential Yugoslavia with nukes Better, really, to deal with a relative moderate rendered somewhat complaisant, who could still maintain a level of control over the whole There are a number of passages about Gorbachev losing his struggle for power and relevancy with Yeltsin, and the indignities that Yeltsin later subjected Gorbachev to, that take on the tone of Greek tragedy At one point Plokhy writes that he changed the world and his country for the better by his actions but failed to change himself I m not really sure what that last part means, but Plokhy also summarizes Gorbachev s achievements the end of the Cold War, the dismantling of the totalitarian system, the democratization of Soviet politics, and the opening of the country to the world Not damn bad, I would say The writing in this book is kind of dry, and the dryness includes the occasional hooks that seem out of place in a history book One chapter, for example, begins with the sentence He knew he was being followed There are some grammar mistakes, and Plokhy repeatedly confuses the words former and latter Plokhy is Ukrainian, and I found myself wondering throughout the book whether or not it was translated there is no indication on the cover or the title page that it is Then, in the acknowledgments section, I noticed that he thanks an editor for Englishing his prose Grammar mistakes from a non native speaker are entirely understandable, but it makes it seem like the book hasn t been edited very thoroughly, and that perhaps it was rushed to publication in order to capitalize on the fact that Russia is back in the news There is also a kind of awkward coda where Plokhy circles back to discrediting the narrative of American triumphalism, forgotten for hundreds of pages, and criticizing H.W Bush for employing rhetoric to that effect as he began his re election campaign in 1992 I think it s kind of difficult to condemn Bush for simply taking rhetorical advantage of the situation Bush allegedly even told Gorbachev, in private, not to pay any attention to what he would say during the presidential campaign , never mind that he lost the election anyway Plokhy then links this triumphal narrative to a growing false sense that America needed to provide moral clarity in and police other parts of the world, and therefore, to Bush II s disastrous invasion of Iraq That seems like a bit of a stretch to me Of course, there is always this song by Kino, Changes , which according to a member of the Russian Duma was written by the CIA to encourage dissatisfaction among the people

  3. Shabbeer Hassan says:

    A rather well written account on the last days of the Soviet Union, its relationship with US during those waning days of Cold War with a rather special focus on the machinations of Bush Gorbachev Yeltsin triumvirate Much has been written about the collapse of Soviet Union SU and all too frequently, US ingenuity coupled with SU s ineptitude has been touted as one of the main reasons for the end of Cold War This suited both USbolstering its superpower status, Bush Sr s political careerand A rather well written account on the last days of the Soviet Union, its relationship with US during those waning days of Cold War with a rather special focus on the machinations of Bush Gorbachev Yeltsin triumvirate Much has been written about the collapse of Soviet Union SU and all too frequently, US ingenuity coupled with SU s ineptitude has been touted as one of the main reasons for the end of Cold War This suited both USbolstering its superpower status, Bush Sr s political careerand Russiaimproving relations with US leading to better financial deals andimportantly, rise of jingoistic nationalism and the political fortunes of those depended on it Serhii Plokhy brings a fresh perspective into this by doing away with the above erroneous assumption and rather puts the spotlight on Gorbachev s out of touch idealism, Yeltsin s hunger for power and enmity towards Gorbachev, political ambitions of Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk as the main causes Historically, as seen from Bush Sr s personal diaries, correspondences, and other recently declassified files, the role of US in the demise of SU was quite minimal As long as treaties were signed regarding diplomatic, arms control agreements and concessions, the US wasthan happy with the outcome Though the book also rightfully gives its due to Bush Sr and James Baker s diplomacy in the earlier stages of the dissolution talks with Gorbachev It s an interesting book for many reasons as stated above but also chiefly for bringing a fresh pair of eyes on an old, tired historical narrative transforming it into a rather an important primer for understanding Putin s current political manoeuvres My Rating 5 5

  4. Richard says:

    This details the undoing of the Soviet Union, basically between July and December, 1991, in very clear and readable prose I came to this book because, despite its being one of the great historic moments of the twentieth century at least , I knew next to nothing about it or its major players.Gorbachev who had ended the Cold War in 1989 had unloosed the democratic demon, leading to elected parliaments in the republics that formed the Soviet Union While he tried to maintain the central role of t This details the undoing of the Soviet Union, basically between July and December, 1991, in very clear and readable prose I came to this book because, despite its being one of the great historic moments of the twentieth century at least , I knew next to nothing about it or its major players.Gorbachev who had ended the Cold War in 1989 had unloosed the democratic demon, leading to elected parliaments in the republics that formed the Soviet Union While he tried to maintain the central role of the Union and his own presidency, Yeltsin in Russia, and the Ukrainian and Belarus leaders, chosen by those freely elected parliaments, moved toward independence for their republics In August, hard liners had attempted to turn back the democratic movements and to re establish Union control at the center, isolating Gorbachev, but, due in large part to Yeltsin, they failed.The US concerned itself with the nuclear issue as weaponry was placed in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in order to avoid upsetting the status quo, the Bush 41 administration attempted to keep Gorbachev and the USSR in existence and succeeded longer than they might have otherwise.The Union was undone on 8 Dec 1991 when Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus opted for independence, later signing with the Islamic republics all of them save the Baltics who had been given their independence from the USSR earlier and Georgia which sent a representative were signatories, and the Union was done Gorbachev would give his resignation speech on 25 December and was treated shabbily by Yeltsin in the aftermath The book offers muchin the way of specifics, interplay, and evolution of the stance of the republics.Plokhy rejects the US claim of victory as campaign rhetoric introduced by Bush in his comments after Gorbachev s resignation The pope is never mentioned as an influence.What was is very interesting is the role of Ukraine and its first president, Leonid Kravchuk There was fear that the various republics would see ethnic strife as the Union lost power, and Ukraine has a large ethnic Russian population, but they voted in a majority for independence Russia could not do without Ukraine, but Kravchuk was every bit Yeltsin s match, managing to get his way on a variety of issues Reading this, however, one can understand Putin s desire to regain Russia s dominance in Ukraine but also in the other republics, perhaps recreating a Russian union in the image of the Czarist and Communist empires A turn to the West, as Ukraine has done, can only be viewed from the Kremlin as intolerable.Besides Kravchuk, Secretary of State James Baker comes off very well

  5. Matthew says:

    The Last Empire, by Serhii Plokhy, is a comprehensive and detailed account of the last few months of the Soviet Union It starts with the August Coup and ends with Gorbachev s resignation in December The book focuses on the Bush, Kravchuk, Gorbachev, and Yeltsin perspectives.This is a must read for those studying Soviet Russian history and is an excellent start to studying both the fall of the USSR and Gorbachev s reign.

  6. Jerome says:

    A clear, well researched, and well written history of the fall of the Soviet Union While the idea that the US caused the Soviet Union s collapse has been discredited, this myth has suited both the Americans who have used it for political gain and the Russians who have used it to dodge blame and accusations of incompetence Despite these, Plokhy stresses the role played by pure chance.In a lively, readable narrative Plokhy covers all of the private negotiations within the Soviet government an A clear, well researched, and well written history of the fall of the Soviet Union While the idea that the US caused the Soviet Union s collapse has been discredited, this myth has suited both the Americans who have used it for political gain and the Russians who have used it to dodge blame and accusations of incompetence Despite these, Plokhy stresses the role played by pure chance.In a lively, readable narrative Plokhy covers all of the private negotiations within the Soviet government and between the leaders of the foreign states He also emphasizes the often forgotten desire of President Bush both a an ally and personal friend of Gorbachev and US policymakers to prevent a Soviet collapse, a prospect they compared to a Yugoslavia with nukes Plokhy covers Gorbachev s policies and how they led to the Soviet Union s ultimate breakup, all the while stressing the contingency of events and especially the interaction between Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and the opportunistic Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk Plokhy discusses how Kravchuk s decision to declare Ukraine s independence led Yeltsin to do the same, and how the the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union led to the collapse of Gorbachev s political career Plokhy s rendition of the August coup is particularly dramatic Gorbachev comes off as idealistic and out of touch, Yeltsin as boorish and erratic.Plokhy credits the efforts of these republics with the Soviet Union s collapse, and convincingly argues that the US was a bit player Again, although frequently overlooked, US policy was to preserve the USSR s integrity, since the US viewed Gorbachev as an ally and because of fears that a breakup could result in a regional war, and potentially a nuclear one There was concern that a breakup could damage the nuclear agreements between the US and the USSR, and the immediate goal of the US was to extract as many Soviet diplomatic and arms control concessions as possible before the Soviet Union collapsed The ultimate breakup of the Soviet Union was not the result of US foreign policy, and Plokhy covers the often overlooked effect that Soviet electoral politics, the Gorbachev Yeltsin rivalry, and Russian Ukrainian relations had on the USSR s fate The Russians valued their alliance with the US since it gave them legitimacy While not able to exercise much influence over events, Plokhy argues that the diplomacy of Bush and Baker was sensible and realistic In the final analysis, Plokhy concludes, George Bush s policies contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union, but they often did so irrespective of the desires of his administration, or even contrary to them A few parts are a bit plodding and tedious, but Plokhy succeeds in telling a nuanced, insightful and human story

  7. Sajith Kumar says:

    The forces of communism and western liberalism joined hands briefly for a while to take on the might of the Axis powers during World War II Burying the differences and bridging the yawning chasm that divided their own ideologies, this united force admirably eliminated the threat of a Nazi takeover of the world After the victory, however, it became evident that the natural instincts of the two camps could not be concealed any longer The Cold War began shortly, as the USA and USSR played with t The forces of communism and western liberalism joined hands briefly for a while to take on the might of the Axis powers during World War II Burying the differences and bridging the yawning chasm that divided their own ideologies, this united force admirably eliminated the threat of a Nazi takeover of the world After the victory, however, it became evident that the natural instincts of the two camps could not be concealed any longer The Cold War began shortly, as the USA and USSR played with their pawns and puppets at various theatres of war in the world They fought with each other killing, maiming and destroying resources but without firing a shot directly at each other The balance was so precarious that the world was scary at the thought of a sudden nuclear holocaust triggered as a result of a false move by any one of the opponents In 1985, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev took the reins of power in the Soviet Union through the regular route as the General Secretary of the Communist party Gorbachev thought and acted differently, as he recognised the ideological bankruptcy of communism which had given the Soviet people nothing but misery and turmoil He wanted to emulate the west to obtain its level of material prosperity This came as an interlinked package with democracy Gorbachev slowly opened up the political space for pluralism The Soviet people, who were eagerly awaiting liberation from the communist yoke, rushed out of the union in a stampede before anyone could figure out what was happening This book tells the story of the decimation of the Soviet Union in just five months from August to December of 1991 when the Communist party was dissolved and the nation crumbled to dust Serhii Plokhy is a Ukrainian American historian and author specialising in the history of Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Cold War studies.Plokhy terms the Soviet Union as the last empire This is not in the sense that there will be noempires in the future, but because it was the last state that carried on the legacy of the classical European and Eurasian empires of the modern era such as the Austro Hungarian, Ottoman, British or French Anti imperialism was a pet slogan of the communist rhetoric, but the irony of the very political state through which it was being manifested was itself an instrument of imperialism is sure to come as a realization for the naive among the communists The hallmarks of an imperial centre were visible in Russia, the largest constituent of the union that led all the other republics The member states were de jure free to secede at will, but this option always remained in the realm of imagination Russia controlled the political, economic, cultural and social webs that linked many nationalities and ethnic groups But there were differences as well The metropolis Russia commanded huge energy resources on which the other republics eagerly counted on This dependence had become a millstone around Russia s neck by the time of Gorbachev This has also contributed to the metropolis desire to dissolve the empire.Plokhy argues that the fate of the Soviet Union was decided in the last few months of its existence, between the coup that began on August 19 and the meeting of the leaders of the Soviet republics in Almaty on December 21, 1991 The reluctance of the political elite of Russia and Ukraine to find a modus vivendi within one state structure drove the final nail in the coffin of the union The road to disintegration was ready in the early Gorbachev years His attempts to reform Stalin s centralised system of economic management had accelerated the speed of its collapse Perestroika s economic reforms failed, with increasing shortages of goods and growing scope for criticism of party policies The Communist party lost its race with its opponents The author identifies onefactor for the unwillingness of the non Russian republics to prop up the Soviet structure The coup, though organised by the KGB, was unprofessional which simply fizzled out when it encountered the first signs of resistance among the crowds that surrounded Yeltsin and his Parliament building in Moscow Yeltsin s stature grew immensely overnight He could exert his control over the armed forces It looked as if he liberated Gorbachev from the coup leaders captivity in Crimea Yeltsin and his Russian cronies tried to exploit this bargaining chip to step into the shoes of Gorbachev and assume control of the central organisation that still held the union afloat The other republics immediately got wind of this operation which indirectly helped catalyse their decision to depart Most of these units were under the Tsarist regime before the Bolsheviks took over and they wanted no trek with a new Russian hegemony under Yeltsin Ukraine was steadfast in asserting independence as shown by the sweeping majority for secession in a referendum held on December 1.This book somewhat captures the plight of the common people during the last days of the communist state But this does not attract the required attention from the author who continues with a blinkered version of the political narrative Soviet Union desperately wanted food aid from the west to tide over the winter of 1991 in the form of eggs, powdered milk and mashed potato mix They appealed to the Americans to release the material stored by US army which would be thrown out after its expiry period of three years, implying that their shelf life of three years would be acceptable to the Russians Plokhy then dishes out an old comment made by Nikita Khruzhchev in which he threatened to bury the West The stark contrast between the times of Khruzhchev and Gorbachev is visible here.The author also tracks the crucial influence exerted by George H W Bush, the US President All the factions which strove for power in the Soviet republics obliged Bush with interviews and factual reports in return for economic and food assistances and diplomatic recognition The US was mainly concerned with the safety and unified control of the nuclear arms stored in four republics Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus Luckily for the US and the rest of the world, all states except Russia expressed their desire to let go of the nuclear capability Russia collected weapons from the other states and assumed control of them They also agreed to abide by the arms control treaties signed by the Soviet Union earlier This appropriation was timely, as radical Islam was beginning to tighten its hold on the central Asian and Caucasian regions Plokhy argues that Bush tried to save the union from collapse, but once it had become certain that it was unavoidable, entered into a pragmatic arrangement with the successor states.That leaves us with the image of Gorbachev, who is treated with respect by the author, but not unduly so He won the Peace Nobel and is glorified across the world as the man who brought in a crucial change for the better in world politics by destroying communism The west considers Gorbachev to have ended the Cold War and responsible for dismantling of the totalitarian system, democratization of Soviet politics and the opening of the country to the world Even with all these achievements, Plokhy assert that Gorbachev was not the blue eyed boy made out by the west as far as native Russians were concerned The reason for this is purely economic When Gorbachev allowed the fundamentals of political freedom to percolate in Russian society, it accelerated the demise of the old structures that ensured at least some amount of succour for the common man Even basic foodstuffs went off store shelves when the first whiff of political freedom touched the mercantile community The people arraigned Gorbachev responsible for this state of things The author claims that the Russian people were irritated even to hear Gorbachev s broadcasts over the radio.This book is written with a superior bias to American interests and politicians We read of Russian leaders, including Gorbachev and Yeltsin politely presenting status reports to the American president in person or through phone They are also portrayed as bending to American pressure While there may be some truth in this, the overall picture painted in the book is quite embarrassing to Soviet interests and sovereignty Another incident narrated is that of the Russian foreign minister Kozyrev inquiring about the differences in meaning of the terms federation , association and commonwealth with an American scholar on the eve of a crucial meeting of the Soviet republics convened to decide on the most suitable form of political organisation for them The book also includes a good collection of monochrome plates of the major actors and events of the era.The book is strongly recommended

  8. Socraticgadfly says:

    Plokhy writes a very worth successor to his Yalta book, which I ve also read.With a bittime separation, unlike Gorbachev and other principals who have already written away, and academic detachment, but with the connection of Ukranian heritage and being born in the USSR, Plokhy is well positioned for a book like this.And he doesn t disappoint.Much of his focus is on neither Gorbachev but Boris Yeltsin, but on Ukraine s Leonid Kravchuk, as he pivots from being a Ukrainian Communist apparat Plokhy writes a very worth successor to his Yalta book, which I ve also read.With a bittime separation, unlike Gorbachev and other principals who have already written away, and academic detachment, but with the connection of Ukranian heritage and being born in the USSR, Plokhy is well positioned for a book like this.And he doesn t disappoint.Much of his focus is on neither Gorbachev but Boris Yeltsin, but on Ukraine s Leonid Kravchuk, as he pivots from being a Ukrainian Communist apparatchik to its leading politician, and pushing for the full break up of the USSR.Plokhy also explains the nearly 40 years of Russian Ukrainian dynamics within higher Soviet ranks, from the start of Khrushchev on He then ties in Kazakhstan s Nursultan Nazarbayev as the other key player, after the failure of the August 1991 coup, in the drama.Without this being an actual biography, one gets good snapshots of Yeltsin, Gorbachev and Kravchuk My only regret is that there s not a bitabout the Central Asian dynamics, or maybe the Caucasian ones.On the American side, Plokhy spends somewhat less time He could have gone another 40 50 pages with some dynamics, but he does note that US attitudes toward keeping the USSR alive were divided within the Bush administration, with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney being most hawkish about a breakup.With the recent Russian Ukranian tensions, Plokhy also has ironically good timing, per what I have noted above Foron Soviet ethnic dynamics, especially in western Ukraine, his Yalta book may be of some additional help

  9. Marv says:

    The Last Empire The Final Days of the Soviet Union answered a lot of my questions about the disintegration of the Soviet Union Especially the role of the Bush Presidencies involvement in the future of Russia and the other countries of the Soviet Union.

  10. Andrewh says:

    This book starts off by stating that the idea that the US West won the cold war, by defeating the Soviet Union, is a total myth in fact, the Soviet Union was intact at the end of the conflict and not militarily defeated As the author also explains, President George HW Bush was in fact very keen to keep the reformist Gorbachev in power and to avoid a break up of the USSR the US were worried about a nuclear armed Yugoslavia type breakup of the Union, with several potentially unstable nucl This book starts off by stating that the idea that the US West won the cold war, by defeating the Soviet Union, is a total myth in fact, the Soviet Union was intact at the end of the conflict and not militarily defeated As the author also explains, President George HW Bush was in fact very keen to keep the reformist Gorbachev in power and to avoid a break up of the USSR the US were worried about a nuclear armed Yugoslavia type breakup of the Union, with several potentially unstable nuclear states resulting The author is an expert on Ukraine and much of the 500 pp history is devoted to detailing the machinations between the central power of the Communist Party, led by the reformist but locally unpopular Mikhail Gorbachev, and the leaders of the key Soviet republics, Boris Yeltsin Russia and Leonid Kravchuk Ukraine in particular The most exciting and in some ways most interesting section of the book is the August coup against Gorbachev by members of the KGB and the military, who effectively took him prisoner in his dacha and tried to take over the state, in order to prevent further reforms and a new union treaty Gorbachev refused to sign over power to the plotters and when army units moved on Moscow, Boris Yeltsin made himself into a national ist hero by standing with the crowds against the tanks that were closing in on the White House The coup failed, but Gorbachev s fate as Soviet leader was effectively sealed and Yeltsin then began to challenge him, as president of the largest state in the Union, which no longer had any wish to be ruled from the centre.There then follow many detailed and well referenced, if slightly dull, chapters outlining the complex negotiations between the aspiring states, Russia and Ukraine in particular, and the Party in the Centre, who still had power over the Soviet armed forces and over foreign policy, if nothing else in effect Ukraine held a referendum on independence in December 1991, which voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the Union 90% , which effectively forced Russian s hand they could not envisage the Union without Ukraine Yeltsin favoured a confederation of Slavic states, comprising Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all being nuclear states , which would eventually become the Commonwealth of Independent States, the successor body to the Soviet Union in effect This body was agreed to at the fairly informal Belavehza Accords at which the various leaders wrote things down themselves in pen and ink The US position seemed to be pivoting toward support for the free market aspirations of Yeltsin s young reformers The formal discussions on the transition of power from the Union to the CIS took place in mid December 1991 at Almaty the central Asian leaders also supported this pan Slavic body, to Gorbachev s surprise he had hoped to keep them in a new Union , on condition that they be considered as founder members, with equal rights it would now include 11, not 3 republics a new declaration was signed for the Commonwealth, which essentially replicated the USSR without the Baltics It also abolished all Soviet ministries on all territories and allowed Russia to be the legal successor to the Union and to take the USSR s seat at the UN, with only the Russian president being given authority to launch nuclear weapons, while other presidents would be consulted Gorbachev formally resigned on 25 December and the Soviet flag was simply replaced with the Russian imperial flag even though the CIS capital was supposedly Minsk Yeltsin had completed his coup in the author s words, and the Soviet Union was over, without ever having been subject to any vote in all the member republics on its own future.After Gorbachev s resignation speech, President Bush made a televised speech announcing it as a victory for democracy and freedom This was a volte face aimed to prop up Bush s presidency and to appease the hawks in his party In the Epilogue the author notes that it was the introduction of democratic elections within the USSR that led to its downfall directly, in fact, as a result of the December 1991 Referendum in Ukraine Neither Gorbachev nor Yeltsin could envisage a USSR without Ukraine, and that was the catalyst for the CIS agreement The author also adds a coda that describes Putin s aggressive policy in the near abroad as harking back to 1991, as the CIS was devised by Yeltsin as a means to control the post Soviet space in essence He also traces the hubristic US neo con policy of the post 911 era to this great moral victory over the USSR, making 1991 a crucial event in international relations in many ways This is a very readable book but I would probably have enjoyed itwith aedited down middle section, but the author s authority on the topic seems undoubted and he paints vivid pictures of the main actors, Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Bush Sr

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