“We just can’t go on living like this.” Mikhail Gorbachev, March 1985

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A Puzzle
“They’ve finally got rid of him, that windbag.” I heard this comment from fellow passengers on board an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to New York, which had just made a stop at Shannon, Ireland. It was the morning of 19 August 1991, and it took me a few minutes to realize that these people were alluding to the removal of Mikhail Gorbachev from power. They had learned the news from CNN during the refueling stop, and they clearly approved of what they heard. (Pg.270)

International factors became crucial for shaping the behavior of the Soviet elites and counter-elites, but only after the Soviet Union had entered its terminal crisis.

Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union by [Vladislav M. Zubok]

Glasnost (Gorbachev’s policy of openness and transparency) and the media’s attack on the communist past and ideology greatly contributed to the rise of anti-communist and nationalist movements. Yet it is not entirely clear what role ideological breakdown played in the disintegration of the Soviet statehood. For the Soviet elites, especially in Moscow, Stalin’s crimes and repressions had long been known. And the majority of those in the Party ranks, especially younger cohorts, had long been imitating socialist rhetoric, while acting on their real interests in a parallel universe of coveted foreign goods, travel, Western rock music, and mass culture.5 The Party’s ideological legitimacy had long been eroded, yet this was not the main reason why the Party had ceded its economic and political levers of power in 1990–91. That was Gorbachev’s decision, a voluntary and unprecedented devolution of power. (Pg.329)

The oft-repeated explanations about the resistance of the Party, the military-industrial complex, and other “lobbies,” are not convincing. Scholars who studied the Soviet economy concluded that the Soviet economic system was destroyed not by its structural faults, but by Gorbachev-era reforms. The purposeful as well as unintended destruction of the Soviet economy, along with its finances, may be considered the best candidate as a principal cause of Soviet disintegration.6 (Pg.339)

One authoritative study explains that nationalist movements began in Soviet borderlands, but then created enough resonance to mobilize the Russians in the core of “the empire”; the idea of secession from the Soviet Union became imaginable, and then began to appear inevitable. (Pg.342)

Gorbachev lies at the center of this puzzle. The personality and leadership of the last Soviet leader helps to bring together many pieces in the story of Soviet dissolution. (Pg.359)

“The final drama of the Cold War became a purely Soviet tragedy,” he concludes. Gorbachev could have preserved the country by force, but he “would rather see the union disappear . . .”12 (Pg.369)

Which other policy options were available to the Kremlin? Could a smart use of coercion and incentives, resolute actions and a bit of luck, have made a difference? Were there other much earlier choices and contingencies that, in the light of new evidence, constituted the points of no return? Many skeptics, when they heard me raising these questions, reproached me: the Soviet Union was doomed, they said, so one should celebrate its collapse, not interrogate it.
Those arguments reminded me of what one scholar wrote about the Soviet collapse in 1993: “We tend to confer the mantle of inevitability on accomplished facts, and arguing that what happened did not have to happen is likely to be dismissed as inventing excuses for the losing side.”13 My book is not an exercise in “how the evil empire could have been preserved.” Rather it is an attempt to be intellectually honest about what happened. (Pg.379)

Boris Yeltsin & Mikhail Gorbachev Former Presidents of the USSR.

The history of the Soviet collapse was never a script, known in advance. It was a drama of human ideals, fears, passions, and unanticipated developments. In these pages the reader will find many “fly-on-the-wall” episodes, when Gorbachev and others in the Kremlin debated reforms, agonized over what to do with ethnic conflicts and seceding republics, and contested responsibility and power. To make the texture of the historical narrative authentic, I give preference to instantaneous reactions, rumors, and fears, rare moments of optimism and frequent fits of despair, that characterized those times. (Pg.408)

When I was young, I dismissed Gorbachev’s neo-Leninist proclamations as mere rhetoric; the evidence reveals that it was absolutely genuine and heartfelt. Equally striking for me today is the explosive spread of ideological anti-communism and American-style liberalism, especially in economics. At the time, it looked “natural” and a “return to common sense.” (Pg.442)

My biggest surprise, however, came from my realization of the decisive and implacable role of money in the Soviet demise—something, given my Soviet background of economic ignorance, that I completely missed. (Pg.448)

I have completed this book with a conviction that the puzzle of the Soviet collapse is not a purely academic problem. In almost any conversation with Russians or Westerners alike in the years since 1991, they have reacted to my topic vividly and with curiosity. Why had Gorbachev, a prophet of change abroad, some asked, become an epitome of failure and ineffectiveness at home?
Was there back then really a threat of a new dictatorship? Did Gorbachev’s project of a new voluntary union of democratic states stand a chance of success? Was the new Russia that emerged in 1991 doomed to return to authoritarianism or was there a missed opportunity? I hope this book will satisfy this curiosity and arm the reader with a much better understanding of a great geopolitical and economic upheaval, one that gave birth to a new world. (Pg.460)

WE&P by EZorrilla.

“Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union” by Vladislav M. Zubok. https://a.co/45sNpvn

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