20 Years Since The Fall of the Soviet Union

Twenty years ago, on December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union, declaring the office extinct and dissolving the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a massive communist empire that had existed since 1922. The USSR had been in a long economic stagnation when Gorbachev came to power in 1985. In order to bring about change, he introduced several reforms, including perestroika (economic restructuring) and glasnost (openness). Glasnost opened the floodgates of protest and many republics made moves toward independence, threatening the continued existence of the USSR. In August of 1991, a group of Communist Party hardliners frustrated by the separatist movement attempted to stage a coup. They quickly failed due to a massive show of civil resistance -- but the already-faltering government was destabilized even further by the attempt. By December of 1991, 16 Soviet republics had declared their independence, and Gorbachev handed over power to Russian president Boris Yeltsin, ending the USSR. Collected here are photos from those tumultuous months 20 years ago. Bonus: Memories of photojournalist Alain-Pierre Hovasse, first-hand witness to these events, are collected at the end of this entry.

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Christopher Furlong / Getty

    France Dismantles 'The Jungle' in Calais

    A small camp in Calais, France, housing nearly 8,000 migrants hoping to cross into England, is being evacuated and torn down in what French authorities are calling a “humanitarian” operation.

  • David Goldman / AP

    Photos of a Divided America

    For much of the past year, Associated Press photographers have been gathering images of the people and places at the heart of multiple issues dividing Americans this election year.

  • Benjamin Grant / Daily Overview / Amphoto Books / DigitalGlobe

    The Awesomeness of Earth from Above

    Can satellite images of our planet's varied terrain make humanity's impact apparent?

  • Wong Maye-E / AP

    Photos of the Week: 10/15–10/21

    Diwali lights in England, a pair of scary clown masks in Nicaragua, a rat stuck in a New York garbage can, a bioluminescent jellyfish in the Marianas Trench, a little Hitler, and much more.

Join the Discussion