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

  • Lucas Jackson / Reuters

    Studying Greenland’s Ice to Understand Climate Change

    Lucas Jackson, a photographer with Reuters, recently joined a team of scientists studying Greenland’s ice sheet and glaciers.

  • Jonathan Drake / Reuters

    Photos: Pet Rescues in the Wake of Hurricane Florence

    Dogs, cats, and other animals that were left behind, or caught in the storm, are being rescued and cared for by owners, neighbors, and first responders.

  • Zhang Zhou / VCG via Getty

    Photos: The Aftermath of Super Typhoon Mangkhut

    Images of the immediate effects of the monster storm in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and parts of southeastern China

  • Steve Helber / AP

    Photos: The Aftermath of Hurricane Florence

    Even though Florence has been downgraded to a tropical depression, much more rainfall and flooding have been predicted for already hard-hit regions.