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Published on January 26th, 2012 | by Saira Khan
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="350" caption="Soviet Flag over Reichstag, locoaef ©"][/caption] Last month heralded the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union and growing support for a new one; Putin’s Eurasian union. The fall of the USSR was a historic world event that concluded the Cold War and marked a shift in the balance of power in the world. What caused this collapse and was it preventable? What is the Soviet Union’s lasting legacy? Is a Russian union with Eastern Europe and Central Asia possible today? And more importantly, is the world a better place without it? A recent opinion poll, broadcast on Russia Today, showed more than 50% of Russians regret the breakup of the USSR and believe it could have been avoided. The collapse is seen as a result of many factors; corruption; detrimental reliance on energy resources; a stagnant economy; internal neglect and foreign commitments; Russian nationalism; the August coup; the CIS meeting on December 8th; Reagan's and Gorbachev’s policies; public protests and the obvious disillusionment with the socialist ideology. There was evident deterioration within the USSR well before its fall in 1991, however, to try to repair this was akin to repairing a faulty car whilst on the road. So what caused this deterioration and can Putin's Eurasian union avoiding meeting the same fate? Reagan’s militarised counter-revolution sought to reduce the expansion of the Soviet Union by increasing nuclear arms, sending assistance to anti-communist insurgents and anti-communist governments, and setting up radio stations such as ‘Voice of America’ to encourage public protests in Eastern Europe. The lack of economic prosperity and low standard of living in state-controlled countries resulted in calls for political reform across the region. Corruption on the part of the Stasi in East Germany and Securitate in Romania was vast, and the lack of freedom eventually unearthed itself in the Polish Solidarity movement of 1980-1981. This was followed by the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Gorbachev sought to make the Soviet system more productive and responsive by reducing military expenditure and changing the Soviet outlook on international issues; foreign policy was no longer viewed as an instrument to further world communism and bring about the inevitable class struggle. His policy of Glasnost encouraged the population to take initiative in politics. He also ended the Brezhnev Doctrine, which meant that Russia would no longer intervene in other countries to uphold communist regimes. In 1989, Gorbachev allowed other political associations to coexist with the Communist Party. These changes towards democratisation ran out of Gorbachev’s control and the new-found freedom led the people of the USSR to reject Russian sovereign power by 1991. However, it may also be true that Gorbachev’s reforms would only directly result in the fall of communism, not necessarily in the collapse of the Union. Is, then, the only thing that upheld the Soviet Union its socialist ideology? Could the Soviet Union have continued as a political alliance without a shared communist belief? Putin is envisaging a non-communist Eurasian union, coincidentally, at the same time as the Eurozone may possibly break up. The only way this can survive is if it does not fall into the same traps as the USSR did in the 1980s.  The issue of hostile US leadership is less relevant with the end of the Cold War. A wave of popular protests across Eastern European countries is rather unlikely considering its greater freedom and prosperity in comparison to the situation 20 years ago. Democratic reforms will not jeopardise Russia's standing as it is no longer a single-party state. The prospect of Eastern Europe and Central Asia being an economic burden to Russia is also no longer relevant and Russia would, in fact, benefit from this integration. From this, it seems the creation of a new Soviet Union is possible. Furthermore, Putin promises there will not be the same political control in this as there was in the USSR. As Stephen Cohen has articulated, it is important to ask ourselves; if a non-communist Russian-led union existed, would there not be 'less international terrorism, less fanatical nationalism, less ideological zealotry, less global de-regularisation, less nuclear proliferation, etc. etc.'? It is largely agreed that the collapse of communism was a good development, but considering the above, it is not such a surety that the collapse of the Soviet Union was quite as good.  

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Can there be a Soviet Union today?

Soviet Flag over Reichstag, locoaef ©

Last month heralded the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union and growing support for a new one; Putin’s Eurasian union. The fall of the USSR was a historic world event that concluded the Cold War and marked a shift in the balance of power in the world. What caused this collapse and was it preventable? What is the Soviet Union’s lasting legacy? Is a Russian union with Eastern Europe and Central Asia possible today? And more importantly, is the world a better place without it?

A recent opinion poll, broadcast on Russia Today, showed more than 50% of Russians regret the breakup of the USSR and believe it could have been avoided. The collapse is seen as a result of many factors; corruption; detrimental reliance on energy resources; a stagnant economy; internal neglect and foreign commitments; Russian nationalism; the August coup; the CIS meeting on December 8th; Reagan’s and Gorbachev’s policies; public protests and the obvious disillusionment with the socialist ideology. There was evident deterioration within the USSR well before its fall in 1991, however, to try to repair this was akin to repairing a faulty car whilst on the road. So what caused this deterioration and can Putin’s Eurasian union avoiding meeting the same fate?

Reagan’s militarised counter-revolution sought to reduce the expansion of the Soviet Union by increasing nuclear arms, sending assistance to anti-communist insurgents and anti-communist governments, and setting up radio stations such as ‘Voice of America’ to encourage public protests in Eastern Europe. The lack of economic prosperity and low standard of living in state-controlled countries resulted in calls for political reform across the region. Corruption on the part of the Stasi in East Germany and Securitate in Romania was vast, and the lack of freedom eventually unearthed itself in the Polish Solidarity movement of 1980-1981. This was followed by the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Gorbachev sought to make the Soviet system more productive and responsive by reducing military expenditure and changing the Soviet outlook on international issues; foreign policy was no longer viewed as an instrument to further world communism and bring about the inevitable class struggle. His policy of Glasnost encouraged the population to take initiative in politics. He also ended the Brezhnev Doctrine, which meant that Russia would no longer intervene in other countries to uphold communist regimes. In 1989, Gorbachev allowed other political associations to coexist with the Communist Party. These changes towards democratisation ran out of Gorbachev’s control and the new-found freedom led the people of the USSR to reject Russian sovereign power by 1991.

However, it may also be true that Gorbachev’s reforms would only directly result in the fall of communism, not necessarily in the collapse of the Union. Is, then, the only thing that upheld the Soviet Union its socialist ideology? Could the Soviet Union have continued as a political alliance without a shared communist belief?

Putin is envisaging a non-communist Eurasian union, coincidentally, at the same time as the Eurozone may possibly break up. The only way this can survive is if it does not fall into the same traps as the USSR did in the 1980s.  The issue of hostile US leadership is less relevant with the end of the Cold War. A wave of popular protests across Eastern European countries is rather unlikely considering its greater freedom and prosperity in comparison to the situation 20 years ago. Democratic reforms will not jeopardise Russia’s standing as it is no longer a single-party state. The prospect of Eastern Europe and Central Asia being an economic burden to Russia is also no longer relevant and Russia would, in fact, benefit from this integration. From this, it seems the creation of a new Soviet Union is possible. Furthermore, Putin promises there will not be the same political control in this as there was in the USSR. As Stephen Cohen has articulated, it is important to ask ourselves; if a non-communist Russian-led union existed, would there not be ‘less international terrorism, less fanatical nationalism, less ideological zealotry, less global de-regularisation, less nuclear proliferation, etc. etc.’? It is largely agreed that the collapse of communism was a good development, but considering the above, it is not such a surety that the collapse of the Soviet Union was quite as good.

 

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