In late December 1991—some 74 years after the Bolsheviks had taken power in Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin—the Soviet Communist regime and the Soviet state itself ceased to exist. The demise of the Soviet Union occurred less than seven years after Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Communist Party. Soon after taking office in March 1985, Gorbachev had launched a series of drastic political and economic changes that he hoped would improve and strengthen the Communist system and bolster the country's superpower status. But in the end, far from strengthening Communism, Gorbachev's policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (official openness) led inadvertently to the collapse of the Soviet regime and the unraveling of the Soviet state. This article analyzes the breakup of the Soviet Union, explaining why that outcome, which had seemed so unlikely at the outset, occurred in such a short period of time.

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