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

  • Fatos Bytyci / Reuters

    Photos of the Week: Airplane House, Mayfly Swarm, Cool Buffalo

    Historic-battle reenactments in England, the reemergence of a flooded village in Portugal, a beagle-rescue operation in Virginia, sledding at a mountain ski resort in Lesotho, and much more

  • © Tomasz Szpila / Nature TTL

    Winners of the Nature TTL Photographer of the Year 2022

    Some of the best images from a competition celebrating the natural world

  • Marco Di Marco / AP

    A New Eruption of Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall Volcano

    A fissure opened on August 3, and thousands have since made the long trek to the site to witness the new eruption.

  • NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

    Photos of the Week: Knife Angel, Paris Henge, Flamingo Tagging

    Scenes from the Commonwealth Games in England, a new sinkhole in Chile, Beluga whales near Svalbard, an air show above the Giza Pyramids, and much more