Geopolitically, the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed Russia and other post-Soviet states to integrate better into the global economy, have a much greater market cooperation with countries and companies abroad, share modern management, investment, social sciences, and even the arts which were inaccessible in the past.Valdaiclub.com interview with Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow, Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy, The Heritage Foundation
How do you assess the dissolution of the Soviet Union – was it “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the XX century” or “the death of the Evil Empire”?
The dissolution of the Soviet Union is indeed a very important geopolitical event that on balance is more positive, than negative.
First of all, it was the peoples of Russia that decided to dismantle the USSR. They voted en masse for Boris Yeltsin, who, together with Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, and Stanislav Shushkevich of Belarus, voted to transform the Soviet Union into the Commonwealth of Independence State in Belovezha in December of 1991.
Other peoples of the Soviet Union from the Baltic to the Central Asia also voted for independence, especially after the failed August 1991 putsch in Moscow. They had enough. By the way, as far as I know, Vladimir Putin, who worked at the time for Mayor Sobchak of St. Petersburg, also supported the anti-putsch forces.
The Soviet Union was the heir of the Tsarist Empire and in many aspects had even less liberty than the Empire and this was not sustainable. There were no property rights to speak of, human rights and freedoms were suppressed, including freedom of the press, religion, travel, and political expression. Suffice to say that the Bolsheviks murdered over 20 million of people in GULAG, collectivization, and artificial famines – not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia and Kazakhstan, to mention just a few.
No one was ever punished for these crimes against humanity.
Secondly, the USSR had an economic system that utterly failed in competition with the West. The Soviet Union was a failure especially in terms of economic competition. One only needs to remember Soviet-made cars, dresses, electronics, and other consumer goods.
Thirdly, for many peoples who inhabited the Soviet Union, there was no sufficient national rights. The USSR imploded because its pseudo-multi-national model, based on the “new historic entity – the Soviet people” was rejected by everyone, from Russian Orthodox Slavs to Muslim Kyrgyz, to Catholic Lithuanians. Jews, Germans and Armenians emigrated en masse.
Thus, defending the Soviet Union is defending the indefensible.
Having said that, in many cases people perceived the collapse of the USSR as a personal tragedy. This was because of the loss of jobs in some of the non-competitive industries, such as the military-industrial complex, which became obsolete with the end of the Cold War, or the jobs in the all-Union bureaucracy that also disappeared. The military was drastically cut.
Many personal and family ties of people living in different states got cut or disconnected. The post-USSR space experienced great economic disruption, comparable with the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s. The industrial production dropped over 30%, but it can be explained in terms of the Soviet economic system producing the goods that nobody needed, such as the intercontinental ballistic missiles, tanks and other weaponry, or producing goods that could not compete with the foreign equivalents, and the foreign competition the post-Soviet industry was not ready for.
Today both the younger generation and those among the older ones who were not a part of the Soviet nomenklatura, prefer the system that exists today. Yes, lots of people suffered tremendous deprivation. In the 1990s, the state drastically cut pensions and other aspects of the social safety net. Inflation and devaluation made savings evaporate.
Still, many who can remember the USSR now can enjoy the freedom to travel overseas, freedom of religion, ability to read anything they want and to publish their ideas in the Internet and in the media that are not controlled by the state. Many started their businesses or work in companies where real salaries with real buying power are paid.
Obviously, the picture between different republics of the post-Soviet space is uneven. Some of the former republics, for example the Central Asia, are at one side of the freedom spectrum, while the Baltics are at the other, with Russia and Ukraine being somewhere in between.
Geopolitically, the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed Russia and other post-Soviet states to integrate better into the global economy, have a much greater market cooperation with countries and companies abroad, share modern management, investment, social sciences, and even the arts which were inaccessible in the past.
Russia received a chance to return to its European cultural roots, and to become a respected player in the world, despite the efforts of those who are trying to create a separate “Eurasian” Russian identity, and foster Russian friendship and cooperation with Iran, China and Venezuela.
Indeed, the collapse of the USSR is a victory for freedom, a correction of a great and tragic historic injustice which occurred with the Bolshevik coup of November 1917; it was a bankruptcy of a blood-thirsty ideology, -- and most importantly, -- a victory for the Russian people and all peoples of the former Soviet Union.
It would be inexcusable and tragic to romanticize the USSR, to return to the Soviet past, its symbols, and its modus operandi .