Modern World History

The fall of communism and the end of the Cold War

Unfortunately Gorbachev suffered the fate of all Russian leaders who have tried to liberalise. Within the USSR local party bosses began to create their own political domains at the expense of Moscow's authority. In Eastern Europe the enemies of communism were emboldened by the Kremlin's inability to maintain the puppet regimes that had ruled there since the war. They fell in rapid succession, first Poland and Czechoslovakia, then Hungary, East Germany and the Baltic States, and finally Rumania and Bulgaria. In 1990 Gorbachev himself was ousted, at first by a group of communist hard-liners and then by Boris Yeltsin, the leader of the Russian Federation, the largest of the republics making up the USSR. Soon afterwards the Soviet Union was formally dissolved and states like the Ukraine and Belorussia achieved an independence they had not enjoyed for nearly three hundred years. There followed an era of rapid and chaotic privatisation in Russia itself: huge state industries were given away to their workers, a small handful of whom became multi-millionaires. Mafia-like criminal empires flourished in a sea of corruption, whilst state employees went unpaid. Not until Vladimir Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin did the Kremlin begin to reassert its control of the economy and then at the expense of some of the new democratic freedoms hailed with such enthusiasm in the West. Putin has also had to deal with attempts at secession within the Russian Federation itself. Having been first elected president because of his success in preventing the autonomous region of Chechnya from breaking away, his rule has been punctuated by acts of terrorism perpetrated by the same Chechin rebels, whose campaign for independence has become steadily more brutal.