Year
1991

Soviet republics proclaim the Commonwealth of Independent States

In a final step signifying the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, 11 of the 12 Soviet republics declare that they are forming the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Just a few days later, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced he was stepping down from his position. The Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The 11 republics-Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan-signed an agreement creating the CIS. Only Georgia, embroiled in a civil war, abstained from participation. Exactly what they created was open to debate. The CIS was not a new nation, but merely an “alliance” between independent states. The political meaning of the alliance was hazy. The independent states each took over the former Soviet government facilities within their borders. The military side of the CIS was even more confusing. They agreed to sustain any arms agreements signed by the former Soviet Union. The former Soviet defense minister would retain control over the military until the CIS could agree on what to do with the nuclear weapons and conventional forces within their borders. Complicating the situation were terrific economic problems and outbreaks of ethnic violence in the new republics.

For Gorbachev, the announcement was the final signal that his power—and the existence of the Soviet Union—was at an end. Four days later, on Christmas Day, he announced his resignation.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Curious George co-creator Margret Rey dies

On this day in 1996, Margret Rey, who with her husband Hans created the popular “Curious George” children’s books about a mischievous monkey, dies at age 90 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Reys, both German Jews, escaped wartime Europe in 1940 and fled to America. The following ...read more

De Gaulle elected

Three months after a new French constitution was approved, Charles de Gaulle is elected the first president of the Fifth Republic by a sweeping majority of French voters. The previous June, France’s World War II hero was called out of retirement to lead the country when a ...read more

Apollo 8 departs for moon’s orbit

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, is successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, Jr., and William Anders aboard. On Christmas Eve, the astronauts entered into orbit around the moon, the first manned spacecraft ever ...read more

Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Scotland

On this day in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York explodes in midair over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members aboard, as well as 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. A bomb hidden inside an audio cassette player detonated in the cargo ...read more

“Old Blood and Guts” dies

On this day, General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. 3rd Army, dies from injuries suffered not in battle but in a freak car accident. He was 60 years old. Descended from a long line of military men, Patton graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1909. He ...read more

Hobey Baker killed in plane crash

On this day in 1918, the 26-year-old collegiate and amateur ice hockey star Hobey Baker is killed in a plane crash in Toul, France, just after the end of World War I. After beginning his hockey career at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, Baker played four seasons of ...read more

Nixon meets Elvis Presley

On this day in 1970, rock star Elvis Presley is greeted at the White House by President Richard M. Nixon. Presley’s visit was not just a social call: He wanted to meet Nixon in order to offer his services in the government’s war on drugs. Three weeks earlier, Presley, who wanted ...read more

William Wordsworth moves into Dove Cottage

On this day in 1799, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy move into Dove Cottage in Westmoreland, England, not far from the home of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Wordsworth and Coleridge had been good friends and colleagues since they met, in 1795. Their collaboration flourished, ...read more

Russell Crowe stars in A Beautiful Mind

On this day in 2001, A Beautiful Mind, starring the actor Russell Crowe as John Forbes Nash, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and mathematician who develops schizophrenia, opens in limited release in the U.S. Directed by Ron Howard and co-starring Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris and ...read more

Earthquake sends tsunami toward Japan

An undersea earthquake on this day in 1946 sets off a powerful tsunami that devastates Honshu, Japan. About 2,000 people perished and half a million were left homeless. This was particularly devastating to a community that was already reeling from the horrors of World War II. ...read more

Sunny von Bulow is found comatose

Wealthy socialite Martha “Sunny” Crawford von Bulow is found in a coma—the result of what appeared to be an insulin overdose—on the marble bathroom floor of her Newport, Rhode Island, mansion. Following a long investigation, Sunny’s husband, Claus von Bulow, was charged with two ...read more