Gorbachev resigns as president of the USSR - HISTORY
Year
1991

Gorbachev resigns as president of the USSR

Mikhail Gorbachev announces that he is resigning as president of the Soviet Union. In truth, there was not much of a Soviet Union from which to resign—just four days earlier, 11 of the former Soviet republics had established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), effectively dismembering the USSR. The Soviet Union, for all intents and purposes, had already ceased to exist.

In his farewell speech to the nation, Gorbachev indicated that the recent establishment of the CIS was the primary motive for his resignation, claiming he was “concerned about the fact that the people in this country are ceasing to become citizens of a great power and the consequences may be very difficult for all of us to deal with.” In words that were sometimes prideful, sometimes resentful, Gorbachev stated that he stood on his record of achievement. He had, he claimed, overseen the Soviet Union’s trip down the “road of democracy.” His reforms “steered” the communist economy “toward the market economy.” He declared that the Russian people were “living in a new world” in which an “end has been put to the Cold War and to the arms race.” Admitting “there were mistakes made,” Gorbachev remained adamant that he “never had any regrets” about the policies he pursued.

In reality, Gorbachev had lost much of his power and prestige in the Soviet Union even before the establishment of the CIS. The economy was unstable. No one seemed pleased by Gorbachev-some opponents demanded even more political freedom while hard-liners in his government opposed any movement toward reform. In August 1991, he survived a coup attempt only through the assistance of Russian Federation president Boris Yeltsin. Following the failed attempt, Yeltsin became a vocal critic of the slow pace of economic and political reforms in the country. As Gorbachev’s power slipped away, Yeltsin took over the Kremlin and other Soviet government facilities and replaced the Soviet flag with the flag of Russia. After over 70 years of existence, the Soviet Union-America’s archenemy in the Cold War-was gone.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Christ is born?

Although most Christians celebrate December 25 as the birthday of Jesus Christ, few in the first two Christian centuries claimed any knowledge of the exact day or year in which he was born. The oldest existing record of a Christmas celebration is found in a Roman almanac that ...read more

The Christmas Truce

Just after midnight on Christmas morning, the majority of German troops engaged in World War I cease firing their guns and artillery and commence to sing Christmas carols. At certain points along the eastern and western fronts, the soldiers of Russia, France, and Britain even ...read more

Enemies exchange Christmas greetings

On and around Christmas Day 1914, the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding fade in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the trenches and gestures of goodwill between enemies. Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British ...read more

Linebacker II resumes after Christmas pause

After a 36-hour respite for Christmas, the U.S. resumes Operation Linebacker II. The extensive bombing campaign was resumed because, according to U.S. officials, Hanoi sent no word that it would return to the peace talks.On December 13, North Vietnamese negotiators walked out of ...read more

John Wesley Hardin kills over a card game

Angered over a card game dispute, 16-year-old John Wesley Hardin reveals a singular lack of Christmas spirit by shooting James Bradley dead in the street.Although less famous than Billy the Kid, Jesse James, or Wyatt Earp, John Wesley Hardin is believed to hold the gunslinger’s ...read more

To Kill a Mockingbird debuts

On this day in 1962, To Kill a Mockingbird, a film based on the 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Harper Lee, opens in theaters. The Great Depression-era story of racial injustice and the loss of childhood innocence is told from the perspective of a young ...read more

Christmas party in China turns deadly

A Christmas party at an unlicensed disco is the site of a tragic fire that kills more than 300 people in Luoyang, China, on this day in 2000. It was the deadliest fire in China since a December 1994 fire in a Xinjiang concert hall killed 324 people.In the center of Luoyang, which ...read more

Young JonBenet Ramsey is murdered

Six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey is killed in her Boulder, Colorado, home. John and Patsy Ramsey, her parents, called police at 5:52 the following morning to report that their daughter was missing. Although police found a ransom note demanding $118,000, the money would never be ...read more

Washington crosses the Delaware

During the American Revolution, Patriot General George Washington crosses the Delaware River with 5,400 troops, hoping to surprise a Hessian force celebrating Christmas at their winter quarters in Trenton, New Jersey. The unconventional attack came after several months of ...read more

British surrender Hong Kong

On this day, the British garrison in Hong Kong surrenders to the Japanese.Hong Kong was a British Crown colony whose population was overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese. It was protected by a garrison force composed of British, Canadian, and Indian soldiers. The British government, ...read more