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The Soviet Union Is Dead for Good

MOSCOW – This New Year’s Eve marks the 25th anniversary of the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union. But, rather than celebrating, many Russians – and some people in the West – are ambivalent about that outcome.

Russian President Vladimir Putin tops the list of doubters. He made known his position on the USSR’s disintegration in 2005, when he called it “a major geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century.” And some in the West consider the new states that emerged from the wreckage – Ukraine and the Baltic republics, in particular – to be the primary source of Russia’s ressentiment and revanchism in the post-Cold War world.

These doubts stand in sharp contrast to the consensus that prevailed for many years after the collapse of communism in Europe in 1989-1991. It was widely accepted that the end of the Cold War marked not only the liberation of Central and Eastern Europe, but also the triumph of liberal ideas.

But the end of the USSR could also be seen as a victory for nationalism. Indeed, it was fear of nationalist violence that led then-US President George H.W. Bush and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to try to help the USSR’s last president, Mikhail Gorbachev, hold the Soviet Union together (though only after having allowed the Baltic States to secede). They failed – and later claimed victory for the full demise of the Soviet empire.