How many states existed before independence

After the end of the Soviet Union

Thomas Vogel

To person

Born in 1959; Journalist; Editor of the news program "10 vor 10" on Swiss television (SF), Zurich / Switzerland. [email protected]

Thomas Kunze

To person

Dr. phil., born 1963; Head of the Central Asia Regional Program of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), Sarbog 38, 100031 Tashkent / Uzbekistan. [email protected]

The Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s. The 15 former Soviet Socialist Republics that made up the USSR became independent and went different ways.


Twenty years ago the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) disappeared from the maps. Eduard Shevardnadze, her last foreign minister, remembers: "The last empire of the 20th century, the Soviet Union, this bloody, utopian empire that came into being against the will of God and the laws of nature, collapsed." [1] All of a sudden, new states appeared on. Their "mother", the Soviet Union, had been so isolated for a long time that for many in front of the Iron Curtain the Soviet Union was simply "Russian". The diversity of the huge multiethnic empire, which broke ground when it collapsed in 1991, only slowly became visible.

The Soviet Union fell apart. If this disintegration came as a surprise and sudden for many, the paralysis of the regime since the beginning of the 1980s had been obvious. The domestic political climate had hardened due to the repression of opponents of the regime, attempts at reform had stalled, in foreign policy the great power resisted any change, and economically it was on the ground. The arms race with the United States meant an effort for the economy that it was no longer able to cope with. The reform initiative with Glasnost (Transparency) and Perestroika (Reorganization), initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev, could no longer stop the end of the Soviet Union. On the contrary, Gorbachev ultimately paved the way for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1987 he rejected the Brezhnev Doctrine [2] and declared during a visit to Prague that the entire framework of political relations between the socialist states must be based on independence. Every nation should choose its own path and be able to determine its own fate, territory and resources. It was not just in the Warsaw Pact states that people were paying attention, but also in the various Soviet republics.

The Baltic states were the first to break away from the Soviet Union. Lithuania declared their independence on March 11, 1990, and Estonia and Latvia on August 20 and 21, 1991. The Baltic Soviet republics had always enjoyed a reputation for being something special. Having become nation states in the interwar years, they were deprived of their independence again in 1940. In the Soviet Union they were seen as a potential source of unrest, which was combated by the settlement of a Russian minority and by mass deportations. Their culture has been pushed back and their history reinterpreted, but it is above all the interpretation of their past on which their claim to belong to Europe and to return to it is based. They were already using the in 1989 wind of change in the form of Gorbachev's perestroika to call into question the entire union of the USSR. Although the Soviet Union recognized the independence of the Baltic States on September 6, 1991, the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians feared that their independence might not last for long. That is why the three countries pushed towards NATO and the European Union (EU) as early as the 1990s, which they finally joined in 2004. As the only successor states of the Soviet Union, the Baltic states have integrated themselves into the West, its economic and political institutions and its security structures. In the course of 1991 the declarations of independence of Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Armenia followed, and finally Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and finally, on December 16, 1991, Kazakhstan. Many of these states cannot look back on any experience with their own statehood. Detached from the Soviet Union, which officially ceased to exist with the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on December 21, 1991, the old structures were torn apart, but no new ones had yet been created. The transformation to a market economy and democracy, but also the formation of national identity, represent major challenges to this day.

The Russian SFSR (Socialist Federal Soviet Republic) is different: it formally declared its sovereignty, but not its independence. Russia became the legal successor to the Soviet Union at the United Nations, including the Security Council. Russia was also striving for transformation. After 1991, under President Boris Yeltsin, Russia did not manage to catch up with the more rapid democratization and transformation process in Eastern Europe.