My brief review of Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union



I vividly remember the flag of the USSR coming down at midnight on Christmas night in Moscow, in 1991, and the tricolor flag of Russia rising in its place.

It was like the USSR had disappeared in the blink of an eye. I had forgotten how prolonged its collapse really was. My memory was jostled; I remember debates about what might take the place of the USSR long before December 1991. The Cold War was officially declared to be over some time in 1989 or 1990.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, was very much depicted as a hero in the West. He had singlehandedly ended the Cold War, let East Germany unite with West Germany, and allowed Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries to embrace democracy. The troubles and backlash he faced in the USSR was hinted at by the August 1991 coup attempt, but this book lays out the impossible headwinds that Gorbachev faced as he sought wide ranging reforms. What I didn't know was the many flaws of Gorbachev himself, and how he often undermined his own progress.

The breakup of the USSR was much more complex and long-coming than many realize. And the current conflicts in Ukraine, from Crimea to the Donbass to the Russian invasion in 2022, directly arise from unresolved and heavily debated issues of borders and sovereignty in 1991 as the USSR broke apart. Same for the South Ossetia and Abkhazia conflicts in Georgia, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

I feel more informed after reading this book.