On December 25, 1991, the unthinkable happened. Mikhail Gorbachev officially announced his resignation as president of the Soviet Union, and a day after, the USSR legislature formally dissolved the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev’s resignation ended the cold war; with it, it ended the west’s fear of a nuclear war.
The collapse of the USSR also freed millions of people from one of the worst tyrannies in history, allowing the independence of the now sovereign nations of Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Estonia, and Kazakhstan, among others.
On Christmas 1991, the then-President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, called the collapse of the Soviet Union “a victory for democracy and freedom.” And from that moment onward, the 1990s were marked by overwhelming optimism.
Everyone during the 1990s thought that the worst had ended. They thought that wars and radicalism were a thing of the past. From policymakers and academics to the public, everyone believed that the new millennium was set to bring decades of peace, social progress, and economic opportunity.
Yet, here we are, 30 years after the collapse of the USSR, and the world is nowhere near that ideal.
The United States is experiencing an identity crisis, ashamed by their past, unsure about their future. Stagnation is the best word to describe the status of Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, Russia is on the verge of invading Ukraine, and the Balkans continue their permanent state of instability. And Latin America is also trapped in its systematic state of social unrest, economic stagnation, and political radicalization.
Similarly, Russia has not evolved into the liberal democracy that many policymakers wanted it to be. Instead, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is working diligently to revive many Soviet ghosts.
Putin’s resurrection of the Soviet rhetoric famously began in 2005, when he said in a speech that the collapse of the Union was the “greatest political catastrophe” of the 20th century. In recent years, this narrative only intensified.
Just earlier this month, Putin said that “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the collapse of a historic Russia … we became a different country. What had been built over a millennium was lost to a large extent.”
Even Mikhail Gorbachev himself said last week that the United States became “arrogant and self-confident” after 1991, adding that the victory against the Soviets “went to their heads.”
Overall, what became clear is that the world has not lived up to the expectation of 1991. We have to realize that, learn from past mistakes, and redesign a strategy to advance freedom and democracy in every part of the world.