The Students' Revolution on Granite protest in Kyiv's October Revolution Square on November 15, 1990. During the students' hunger strike the square became known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) for the first time. (Image: State archives) 

Opinion, Russia

As the years pass from what Vladimir Putin calls “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century (i.e. the collapse of the USSR in 1991, – Ed.), Russians and others are adding to the list of those they blame for the disintegration of the USSR and acting as if this or that person had been replaced or taken a different line, all would have been well, Andrey Milyuk says.

The Ethnicities of the USSR (ethnographic map published by the Soviet authorities in 1941)

The Ethnicities of the USSR (ethnographic map published by the Soviet authorities in 1941)

But they ignore the reality that centrifugal forces were already so great, the leader of the Other Russia Party says, that even “if Yeltsin and Gorbachev had agreed on the restoration of the monarchy” let alone agreed to a confederation, “the Union already had in fact collapsed.” Even drowning the country in blood might not have been enough.

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The non-Russian republics, he says, would have viewed a confederation as a half-way house to independence, and in the absence of a Moscow elite prepared to use the kind of violence across the entire Soviet Union that Yeltsin and then Putin applied to Chechnya, the country would have disintegrated.

Yevgeny Valyaev of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society agrees and argues that “a confederation could not become a salvation format for the preservation of the USSR, by itself, this form of state organization is unstable and often is encountered as a traditional phase, either toward future unification or toward final collapse.

A sign "Ukraine is leaving the USSR" at the rally in support of the nation's independence next to Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv on August 24, 1991.

A sign “Ukraine is leaving the USSR” at the rally in support of the nation’s independence next to Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv on August 24, 1991.

The sad fate of the Commonwealth of Independent States and of Moscow’s efforts to promote a union state with Belarus only underscore this reality. Only if Russia were very strong and had a political class willing to use violence to hold things together would there have been any chance for saving the USSR.

Failing to recognize these realities by continuing to search for those Russians can blame for the demise of the Soviet Union is a fool’s errand, the two suggest, an approach that gets in the way of understanding what the USSR was based on and why, despite all the bold words about its permanency, it came apart.

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