The End of a Superpower: The Collapse of the Soviet Union

Nov 24, 2023 | History, Videos

The collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago was a seismic event that continues to reverberate through the region today. At its peak, the USSR contained 280 million people and spanned 1/6th of the earth’s surface. When it disbanded in 1991, it created 15 new states with vastly different levels of success. To explore how these changes have altered this part of the world, DW has released “The Collapse of the Soviet Union” documentary.

The Soviet Union had been formed in 1922 as an amalgamation of various national republics that included Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan among others. Though superficially a federation, its government and economy were highly centralized in Moscow until its dissolution. Increasingly vocal nationalist movements within these republics led to their desire for freedom and sovereignty from the USSR ultimately resulting in its break up. With the formation of independent nations came a shift towards democracy – albeit sometimes autocratic – as well as an economic transition into market-based economies.

Of all the new states created by this breakup, Russia was by far the largest and most powerful possessing much of former Soviet assets including military might and international standing. The Baltic States moved towards pro-European politics joining NATO while those further to the East favored closer ties with Russia or even China. On surface level many countries appear westernised with democratic institutions and consumerism but beneath lie deep issues unresolved from their shared history under Soviet rule such as widening inequality between rich and poor and religion-fuelled conflict where once there was none due to state control over religious freedoms.

President Vladimir Putin has commented on this momentous shift in history calling it a geopolitical catastrophe while noting that looking back to what once was is fruitless yet those who don’t mourn what has passed have no heart either suggesting a sentimentality felt by so many across this vast region for what it once was before 1991.

This region’s complex mix of historical cultural and political issues make DW’s documentary essential viewing if you are interested in learning more about how events three decades ago are still impacting us today. Watch “The Collapse of the Soviet Union” for an insightful look at life after Soviet rule as well as thought provoking discussion about our future path forwards together as citizens on this planet Earth.

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David B