The Cold War began to come to a close beginning in the early 1980’s. Although many historians have different opinions of what actually caused the Cold War to end or what the most important factor was, the Solidarity Movement in Poland is widely agreed to be the opening salvo in the final battle to end Soviet occupation.
After Pope John Paul II visited Poland in 1970, Poland underwent a resurgence of religious and nationalist fervor which created the Solidarity movement. This popular movement resulted in martial law being declared in Poland, but also exposed the weak Soviet economy when the USSR did nothing in response to this anti-communist movement on their doorstep.
Another factor which contributed to the end of the Cold War was the arms race with the U.S. The Soviets had been spending nearly 25% of their total GDP on weapons, severely cutting into the consumer goods and civilian infrastructure market.
As the Soviet Union was fighting internal spending issues, President Ronald Reagan began increasing U.S. military spending in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Now the U.S.S.R. was fighting a war that seemed to never end, being undercut by Saudi Arabia’s increased oil production, was trying to spend more on arms to keep up with the U.S. and they were also having increasing troubles at home relating to consumer goods. There was also a crisis in leadership as Brezhnev, Andropov and Cherenko all died in rapid succession.
Enter Mikhail Gorbachev , a youthful leader who decided to take extreme measures to end economic problems within the Soviet Union. One of the first things he did was institute the policy known as Perestroika in 1987 which allowed for limited private ownership of industry. He also introduces the policy of Glasnost, which allowed for more freedom of the press and more contact between the citizens of the U.S. and the citizens of the U.S.S.R.
These policy concessions by the Russians led to a series of conferences where the arms race and certain types of weapons were treatied away. With economic problems still abounding, Gorbachev ended the War in Afghanistan and also consented to the reunification of Germany in 1989, a symbolic sigh that the Cold War was coming to an end.
Despite these measures, the Soviet Block still collapsed due to lack of military support. Country after country withdrew from the Warsaw Pact and began seeking autonomy. Gorbachev allowed this to happen, and despite a coup attempt allowed country after country to seek its own independence by December of 1991, the USSR was officially announced dissolved.