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

  • Matt Eich

    A Hidden American Anger

    Life in Ohio's proud but economically abandoned small towns

  • Thomas Mukoya / Reuters

    Photos of the Week: 11/26–12/2

    Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska, a beard and mustache competition organized by the Bangalore Beard Club, wildfires in Tennessee and Israel, Cubans mourn Fidel Castro, a monkey buffet in Thailand, and much more.

  • NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

    2016 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar

    Every day until Sunday, December 25, we’ll present one new image of our universe from NASA’s ‘scope.

  • Handout / Reuters

    Photos of the Wildfires Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee

    On Monday, a fire erupted in a section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, quickly spreading through the drought-affected area around Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Join the Discussion