Staunton, Dec. 8 – The USSR had been in its death throws since the failed August putsch, Boris Sokolov says, but it was the overwhelming Ukrainian vote for independence on December 1, 1991, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s recognition of that step that made Mikhail Gorbachev’s departure and the end of the Soviet Union inevitable.
Each anniversary of the final days of the USSR stresses something different. In earlier years, many writers focused on Yeltsin’s collusion with the West, for example, calling US President George Bush before he called Gorbachev. But this year, perhaps to no one’s surprise, a leading historian is focusing on the role of Ukraine in those events.
Sokolov says that “in fact, the Soviet Union had fallen apart after the failure of the August putsch, in the suppression of the Russian Federation played a decisive role.” But the proximate cause of the Beloveshchaya accords was the December 1 referendum in Ukraine in which the entire republic voted for independence (theins.ru/history/246932).
Yeltsin immediately recognized the Ukrainian vote, although Gorbachev told aides that he didn’t understand wat was happening “because he did not expect such unanimity from the brother Ukrainians. Declarations of sovereignty are one thing, but the ‘Baltic’ variant of independence is something else” (ypominov.ru/books/7/).
Despite that, it was clear to everyone except perhaps to Gorbachev that his ideas about a new union even on a confederal basis were now impossible to realize, Sokolov continues. Yeltsin had won over the military Gorbachev had alienated and taken control of Gorbachev’s communications (generalarmy.ru/_files/ugd/6c6d8a_3ad947f5f67142198b02d14f68584e63.pdf).
That led directly to Beloveshchaya where as Gorbachev’s aides explained to him, Yeltsin working with the Ukrainian leader and in the presence of the Belarusian one, pursued his primary goal, the elimination of Gorbachev even from formal power. These aides said that Yeltsin didn’t care what else happened (lib.ru/MEMUARY/GORBACHEV/chernow.txt).
Some of them expected Yeltsin to fail and do so quickly, but as things have turned out, Yeltsin working with the Ukrainians created a new system which has lasted far longer, Sokolov concludes.