The Soviet Union officially dissolved in 1991, and many former republics gained independence. Which of the former Soviet republics is the largest?
In mid-1991, Soviet hardliners tried to overthrow Gorbachev and restore the old order. Their attempted coup failed, but it further weakened Gorbachev. By year's end, as other Soviet republics declared independence, Gorbachev resigned.
In December 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was officially dissolved after almost 70 years. Its 15 republics became separate independent nations. Russia, the largest republic, had dominated the Soviet Union.
After the breakup, Russia and its new president, Boris Yeltsin, faced a difficult future. They struggled to build a market economy and prevent violent conflict between pro-democracy and pro-communist groups. Like Russia, the other former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Kazakhstan faced hard times. They wanted to build stable governments and improve their standards of living. But ethnic violence and economic troubles proved obstacles. Some republics had stores of nuclear weapons, which they agreed to give up in exchange for aid and investment from the West.
How did Gorbachev's reforms lead to a new map of Europe and Asia?
During the Cold War, Eastern Europe lay in the Soviet orbit. Efforts to resist Soviet domination were met with harsh repression. Despite the Soviet threat, some nations in Eastern Europe slowly made reforms. After Mikhail Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union would no longer intervene in Eastern Europe, a “democracy movement” swept the region, and the nations of Eastern Europe were remarkably transformed.
Poland was the Soviet Union's most troublesome satellite. In 1956, protests had led to some reforms, but dissatisfaction with communism remained strong. The Roman Catholic Church, which often faced persecution, became a rallying symbol for Poles who opposed the communist regime.
In 1980, economic hardships ignited strikes of shipyard workers. Led by Lech Walesa (lek vah WEN suh), they organized an independent labor union, called Solidarity. It soon claimed millions of members, who pressed for political change.
Under pressure from the Soviet Union, the Polish government outlawed Solidarity and arrested its leaders, including Walesa. Still, unrest simmered.