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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 19:36 GMT
Gorbachev recalls USSR's dying days
Mikhail Gorbachev on 21/12/01
Gorbachev: The last decade has been far from easy
By BBC Russia analyst Steven Eke

As the 10th anniversary of his resignation looms, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has said he still regrets the collapse of the USSR.

Final days
8 December: USSR declared defunct
21 December: CIS grows to 11
25 December: Gorbachev resigns
26 December: Russian flag flies over Kremlin
Looking back at the tumultuous events of the last few days of 1991, at a press conference in Moscow on Friday, Mr Gorbachev again accused Boris Yeltsin - his old rival and Russia's first post-Soviet President - of wrecking the Soviet Union out of a desire to advance his own personal interests.

"I was shocked by the treacherous behaviour of those people, who cut the country into pieces in order to settle accounts and establish themselves as tsars," he said.

In reality, it was not only Mr Yeltsin who helped bring Mr Gorbachev's career to an end.

Just under two weeks earlier, on 8 December 1991, Mr Yeltsin had met with the leaders of two Soviet Republics - Ukraine's Leonid Kravchuk, and Stanislav Shushkevich of Belarus.


Stanislav Shushkevich (left) and Boris Yeltsin
Vodka-soaked: Stanislav Shushkevich (left) and Boris Yeltsin
After what is reported to have been a vodka-soaked evening of heavy drinking at a snow-bound government dacha at Belovezhskaya Pushcha, a nature reserve in western Belarus, they signed an agreement setting up the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

On 21 December, eight other republics joined the CIS, leaving Mikhail Gorbachev the president of a country that no longer existed.

The last week in the existence of the Soviet Union - a multi-national empire whose life ran to just seven decades - was something of an anti-climax.

It passed without great bloodshed, mass upheavals or a revolution.

On 25 December Mr Gorbachev addressed the Soviet people for the final time, saying he was resigning with "anxiety, but also hope".

By the evening he had handed the nuclear button to Boris Yeltsin, and the following day the Soviet flag no longer flew over the Kremlin.

I have never spoken to Yeltsin again

Mikhail Gorbachev
At a press conference this week Mr Gorbachev claimed that Mr Yeltsin broke a promise to give him five days to pack, and settled in his office hours after the resignation speech.

"They gathered in my office and drank a bottle of whisky for their victory," he said.

"I have never spoken to Yeltsin again."

Valour and imagination

The Soviet system was built on an ideology of confrontation which foresaw Soviet rule being exported to the entire globe.

The Kremlin on 1/12/91
Long gone: It's 10 years since the Soviet flag flew from the Kremlin
In reality, it only spread to a small number of satellite states, where the resulting political repression and dire economic conditions were enough to convince people that Soviet Socialism's messianic vision of global dominance was fantasy.

In the USSR itself, few understood the magnitude of change that took place during the last week of December 1991, and a sense of bewilderment enveloped formerly-Soviet cities from the beginning of 1992.

For the man who set out by trying to reform the system and ended up destroying it, the last decade has been far from easy.

Life these days for Mr Gorbachev consists of a seemingly endless series of seminars and press conferences.

But wherever he appears, few people fail to recognise that Mikhail Gorbachev was a politician of great vision, valour and imagination, who waited, patiently, within the Soviet system until he believed the time had come to alter it.

He was wrong, because the system was unreformable.

In the end, it simply died.

See also:

18 Aug 01 | Talking Point
Was it better in Soviet days?
30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Russia
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