Mikhail Gorbachev, ascended to the position of General Secretary of the Soviet Union in 1985. It was during this historical period that U.S. - U.S.S.R. hostilities were thickening. In the United States, Roland Reagan was framing an arguement through pop culture films, such as Rocky IV, and Red Dawn for an increased federal military budget. The U.S. was taking a pro-active stance against communist states in Latin America, and detente had come to an end. Reagan even called the Soviet Union an "empire of evil" it is obvious he was gearing the U.S. public, up for something.
Gorbachev ended all of this. Some might say that he single handedly ended the Cold War. I would agree. Gorbachev took measures to cut the U.S.S.R nuclear missile stockpiles. He withdrew the Soviet armies from Afghanistan in 1989, opened the Soviet Union up to democracy, through the Congress of Peoples Deputies. In 1989, widesperad Eastern European anti-communist movements began. Gorbachev told the communist leaders of Eastern Europe that the Soviet Union would no longer support them economically, or politically. Those comments heralded the end of communism in Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall came crashing down, Germany was reunited, and these anti-communist movements spread to the individual republics of the U.S.S.R.
The Congress of Peoples Deputies that was created by Gorbachev to begin the process of democracy, weakened the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. New regional anti-communist delegates were elected and began to speak of indepedence from the Soviet Union. The economy was also collapsing during this period, because Gorbachev began the process of ending the Centrally Planned Economy in favor of creating a Free-Market economy.
There was mass unemployment, food shortages, and the Russian Mafia began to become increasingly more powerful in society. In August of 1991, the Soviet Union was collapsing due to democracy and economic instablity. Regional nationalists began to leave the Congress of Peoples deputies, and returned to their home Republics to establish independence. The August 1991 coup removed Gorbachev from power and attempted to install a new hard-line communist politburo.
It was in this moment that Gorbachev's rival Boris Yeltsin rallied the citizens of Moscow outside of the Congress of Peoples Deputies. The communist hard-liners sent army units to the center of Moscow to control the domestic unrest. Most of the tank units would not fire on the Moscovites, it was there, that Yeltsin rallied the citizens of Moscow on a tank. Soon after, Yeltsin, as president of Russia, declared independence from the Soviet Union. Along, with most of the other independent republics, this action signaled the end to the Soviet Union. In December of 1991, Gorbachev wrote the Soviet Union out of existance, and 15 new countries were established.
The Soviet Experience failed because of several reasons. The first reason was that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union shunned any progress intelectually, politically, or economically. They clung to the principals of Stalin and Lenin. The Centrally planned economy did not foster growth and this economic model was the reason for the slow decline of the Soviet Union's prosperity. Regional republics felt like they were second class citizens in the Soviet Union because their languages were never official languages. The official language of the U.S.S.R. was russian. The russians dominated the Soviet Union just like the Tsar's dominated the Russian Empire. In fact, the Soviet Union was just a continuation of the Tsarist Empire, under the principals of Marxism. In the end, Marxism and Leninism wasn't even prevelant in Russia and the majority of Soviet citizens rejected these principals.
The Russian Federation emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union. The 1990s were a period of economic collapse, food shortages, and establishing a new nation. The Russian mafia bought up most of the major industries in Russia, and formed the oligarchs. It wasn't until 1999, when Putin came to power that the mafia was confronted. Eventually the major industries would return to the people of Russia. Russia today is a leftist state, not as left as it was under Communist rule. Putin has taken measures to return Russia to prominance in the world. Russia can be considered a regional super-power. They have an abundance of influence in places like Iran and central Asia. Other states in Europe like Ukraine and Belarus are still tied economically and politically to Russia. Putin has confronted the mafia and ended the power of the Oligarchs, and mostly restored order to Russia.
Putin has also created a highly centralized state. The Russian Federation is a centralized state in which Putin is at the top. Even though he is technically no longer the President of Russia, he created a new position for himself Prime Minister (with all his old powers). It looks like Russia might be drifting back to its old ways. Putin has consilidated power and centralized Russia under himself. He also expresses a desire to return Russia to being a global super-power. Only time will tell what road Russia will take but it looks like it is slipping more to the left and towards a dictatorship, than anything else. Read part one, and part two here.