The story of why the USSR collapsed begins in 1985 with the election of Gorbachev as Secretary General. He was young, energetic, and promised more openness, or Peristroika. At the end of 1985, Gorbachev appointed Boris Yeltzin to the head of the Moscow Communist party. Yeltzien will become extremely important as events progress into the 1990’s.
Gorbachev begins instituting reforms, showing the world that his concept Perestroika is no lie. His support remains high inside and outside the Soviet Union. Yeltzien meanwhile is sacked after his reforms go too far. He vows revenge against Gorbachev for the sacking even thought the secretary allowed him to stay in Russia.
Sensing their time is near, Soviet satellites begin making overtones about independence. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all begin forming political parties with independence on their mind. Ethnic violence breaks out in the Baltic, another sign of Soviet power weakening. Gorbachev continues with his reforms despite opposition starting to flare up.
Gorbachev creates a new congress in 1989 which becomes very popular with the people. Yeltzin is elected to this parliment, bringing him back into power once again. Econmic problems begin hitting, caused in part by US spending on defense. The costly war in Afghanistan is ended, and Gorbachev begins dissolving the Warsaw Pact. Poland votes out the communists in June. Hungary opens its boarders to the west in September. These would have been unthinkable in the past, but Perestroika has allowed all of these reforms to occur. Soon the Berlin Wall falls and Czechoslovakia and Romania gain independence.
By 1990 the economy is worsening, and Gorbachev’s support begins to slip. He tries to shore up support by allowing multiparty politics, but this backfires when Yeltzien is elected president of Russia. Gorbachev is now on equal terms with his rival.
By this time hardliners have had enough. Hoping to restore the Soviet Union’s power, they stage a coup in 1991 while Gorbachev is gone. Ironically it is Yeltzien who gathers the people and organizes a massive political resistance to the coup. He becomes a political superstar for this moment, and uses his newfound power to force the Communist party to cease all activities in Russia.
Gorbachev resigns as party secretary. The leaders of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine all meet and agree to dissolve the USSR and recognize the independence of the satellites who have declared independence. That is how the Soviet Union fell.