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

  • Dennis Cook / AP

    30 Years Ago: A Look Back at 1987

    Take a step into a visual time capsule, for a brief look at the year.

  • Cris Bouroncle / AFP / Getty

    Peru Suffers Worst Flooding in Decades

    An unusual bout of heavy rains powered by El Niño conditions have drenched parts of Peru with 10 times more rainfall than normal.

  • Guillaume Souvant / AFP / Getty

    Photos of the Week: 3/11–3/17

    A therapeutic greyhound in Spain, a civil defense drill in South Korea, flooding in Peru, a robot-run hotel in Japan, refugees learning curling in Canada, and much more

  • Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty

    In Syria: Six Years of War

    For six years now, Syrians have endured the loss and hardship caused by a protracted civil war.

Join the Discussion