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

  • Richard Seeley / Shutterstock

    Travel Monday: A Photo Trip to Southeast Alaska

    Recent images from across southeast Alaska, a narrow strip of coastal islands and mountains that stretches more than 500 miles along the Pacific Ocean.

  • Mario Tama / Getty

    Photos of the Week: Kyrgyz Horsemen, Shanghai Steeplechase, Giant Bobbleheads

    Participants at the Wave and Goth festival in Germany, attendees at a “Kiss-a-thon” in Mexico City, observations of Ramadan in Indonesia, and so much more.

  • Bill Taub / NASA

    Historic Photos of NASA's Cavernous Wind Tunnels

    Throughout the 20th century, NASA made extensive use of wind tunnels to test and refine designs for airplanes, spacecraft, and many other vehicles and structures.

  • Mario Tama / Getty

    Spectacular Images of the Recent Eruptions in Hawaii

    The ongoing eruption of Kilauea volcano has opened as many as 20 new fissures on Hawaii's Big Island over the past two weeks.