25 years later: 7 shockwaves from breakup of Soviet Union

“The Soviet Union broke up without a civil war, thank God,” says Yevgeny Roizman, 54, a historian and mayor of Yekaterinburg, Russia’s third-largest city. “But huge empires always go down with a lot of noise. The process is not over. It will be many years before all the damage can be undone. Now, it’s like the Soviet era is a phantom pain,” Roizman adds.

People who remember living under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics — the USSR — have mixed feelings whether those were the good old days or the bad old days.

In Kazan, in central Russia, Alexander Andreev, 64, recalls the end of Soviet life as a time of chronic food shortages. His wife would wake him at 5 a.m. so he could stand outside the store near their home in hopes of buying an item before it ran out. “It was only a few minutes’ walk away and it didn’t open until 6 a.m. Most days there would be a long line. If I was in the first 10 we would get cottage cheese or sour cream. If not, only milk,” he says.

Andreev’s wife, Tatiana, 65, says, “I was worried about the children. We were constantly adding things to the food to make it go further,” she says. “Now, within reason, we can buy anything. We don’t want to go back.”

But her husband is a bit nostalgic. While Communism was not a political system he admired, the Soviet Union was a place where there was “real unity” between the people of the different republics. “In this way, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin was right,” Andreev says. “The breakup was the worst thing that happened to us.”

Here are seven things that have happened since the 1991 breakup:


Russia is one of the world’s most unequal countries: 75% of its wealth is controlled by the richest 1%. Today, there are 77 billionaires with a combined net worth of $283 billion.


The transition to new systems was very difficult. There was an economic depression that was far harsher than what was experienced in the United States in the 1930s.


The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the European Union and NATO and adopted a Western liberal democratic order. They are nervous about their vulnerability to Russian expansion.


Former Soviet-aligned nations in Europe —Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Romania— are now members of the EU and NATO.


Belarus is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, where criticizing the president can lead to a lengthy jail term. Uzbekistan and other ex-Soviet Central Asian countries have records of corruption and human rights abuses.

Russia's predominantly Muslim and restive province of Chechnya uses public shaming, torture and abductions to keep control over the province.


Russia embraced democracy after the Soviet breakup but has been sliding back toward authoritarianism. Putin has jailed critics, imposed restrictions on news and social media, reclaimed Crimea from West-leaning Ukraine, abetted pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, cracked down on foreign non-profit groups and stoked the flames of right-wing nationalism.


President Trump has spoken positively about Putin. Russia and the U.S. under Trump have a level of international cooperation that would have been inconceivable after Russia reclaimed Crimea in 2014.

Source: 25 years later: 7 shockwaves from breakup of Soviet Union
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