The Gorbachev era and the collapse of the Soviet Union

March 1985 – Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev, the youngest member of the Politburo at 54, becomes General Secretary of the Communist Party after the death of Konstantin Chernenko. He launches a program of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) to lift the country out of political and economic stagnation.

November 1985 – Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan hold their first summit in Geneva; Gorbachev says he is “very optimistic” about détente and future arms restrictions.

April 1986 – Explosion at the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl spreads a radioactive cloud over Europe. The Soviet authorities conceded only three days later and crushed glasnost.

Dec 1986 – Dr. Andrei Sakharov, the father of the dissident movement, is released from exile after a phone call from Gorbachev – one of hundreds of political and religious dissidents released under his rule.

May 1987 – A young German, Mathias Rust, breaks through Soviet air defenses by flying a Cessna plane from Helsinki to central Moscow and lands in Red Square. Gorbachev begins a purge of defense leaders.

October 1987 – Leading Russian reformer Boris Yeltsin clashes with Gorbachev over the pace of perestroika and quits the ruling Politburo.

December 1987 – Gorbachev and Reagan sign the first treaty in Washington to reduce nuclear arsenals. All Soviet and American medium-range missiles must be dismantled.

October 1988 – Gorbachev consolidates power by becoming chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the national legislature.

February 1989 – Nine years of Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan ends. Independence movements are gaining momentum in the Baltic republics, Georgia and Ukraine.

March 1989 – The Soviet Union holds its first competitive multi-candidate election for the election of a Congress of People’s Deputies. Many prominent old-guard communists are losing to independents, and separatists are winning the majority of seats in the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

November 1989 – Popular revolutions wipe out communist governments in East Germany and the rest of Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union makes no attempt to intervene as its satellite regimes fall.

December 1989 – Gorbachev and US President George HW Bush hail the end of the Cold War at a summit in Malta.

February 1990 – The Communist Party gives up its guaranteed monopoly on power. Parliament agrees to give Gorbachev an executive presidency with a major expansion of powers. Reformist protesters hold large demonstrations across the Soviet Union.

October 1990 – East and West Germany unite after intense six-power negotiations, with Gorbachev playing a key role. The Soviet Parliament approves the plan to abandon communist central planning of the economy in favor of a market economy. Gorbachev receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

November 1990 – Parliament gives Gorbachev the power to issue decrees in almost all sectors of government activity. The first draft of the Union Treaty proposed by Gorbachev gives significant powers to the 15 republics, but four – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Georgia – refuse to sign.

January 1991 – Troops crush pro-independence demonstrations in the Baltic states, killing 14 in Lithuania and five in Latvia.

March 1991 – Referendum wins overwhelming majority for the preservation of the Soviet Union as a renewed “federation of equal sovereign republics”, but six republics boycott the vote.

April 1991 – The Warsaw Pact for Eastern European nations dissolves.

June 1991 – Boris Yeltsin is elected President of Russia.

August 19, 1991 – Gorbachev’s alleged health problems are claimed and his deputy, Gennadi Yanayev, becomes president at the head of a hard-line communist junta. A state of emergency has been declared in some areas. Estonian parliament declares independence.

August 21 – The coup d’état fails, destroying the conservative party in the center and giving separatists in the republics a huge boost. The Latvian Parliament declares independence.

August 24 Gorbachev resigns as leader of the Communist Party, orders the state to confiscate her property, bans her from all state organizations, and suggests that she disband herself. Ukrainian parliament declares independence. Within weeks, all countries except Kazakhstan and Russia have followed suit.

6 September – The supreme Soviet legislature recognizes the independence of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Congress abrogates the Treaty of Union of 1922 and transfers power to a temporary authority pending the signing of the Treaty of a Voluntary Union of Sovereign States.

Nov 16 – Russia gains control over almost all gold and diamond reserves in the Soviet Union and over oil exports. Later, it announced the takeover of the economic ministries.

Dec 8 – Russia, Ukraine and Belarus declare the Commonwealth of Independent States with no role for a central authority or Gorbachev. At first he opposes the new order and refuses to resign. Gradually he accepts the inevitable.

25 Dec 1991 Gorbachev resigns as president of the Soviet Union, which formally dissolves the following day.

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