December 17

This Day in History

Cold War

Dec 17, 1991:

Yeltsin supporters announce Soviet Union will cease to exist by New Year's Eve

After a long meeting between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin, a spokesman for the latter announces that the Soviet Union will officially cease to exist on or before New Year's Eve. Yeltsin declared that, "There will be no more red flag." It was a rather anti-climactic culmination of events leading toward the dismantling of the Soviet Union.

Despite its dramatic implications, the announcement inspired mostly yawns and skeptical jokes from a Russian population weary from months of political intrigue and instability and a crumbling economy. For many people, the Soviet Union had already disintegrated. The various Russian republics had already declared their independence; in a few days they would meet and form the Commonwealth of Independent States. Gorbachev's power was steadily ebbing: a coup attempt the previous August had already nearly toppled him. Yeltsin, on the other hand, was busily planning the takeover of Soviet facilities and the symbolic lowering of the Soviet hammer-and-sickle to be replaced by the flag of Russia. Even Gorbachev seemed to accept the inevitable, taking time off from his less and less meaningful job to have a photo op with the rock group Scorpion.

It was all a rather unexciting end to the nation President Ronald Reagan once called "the evil empire."

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