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 ←/→.

Ads are being blocked

For us to continue writing great stories, we need to display ads.

Un-block Learn more


Please select the extension that is blocking ads.


Please follow the steps below

Most Recent

  • 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.

  • Yasin Akgul / AFP / Getty

    The Beginning of the Battle for Mosul

    Thousands of Iraqi and Kurdish troops, supported by the United States, France, and Britain, are now in the early stages of a massive operation to retake the Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, from ISIS militants.

  • Jim Cole / AP

    Fall Is in the Air, Part II

    One last overview of autumn

  • Hector Retamal / AFP / Getty

    A Humanitarian Crisis in Haiti After Hurricane Matthew

    The UN estimates at least 1.4 million Haitians are now in need of urgent assistance as clean water, food, and medicine are in short supply.

Join the Discussion