For Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova the break-up of the union isn’t over

In 1991 Mary Dejevsky watched from her flat as the tanks entered Moscow. The attempted military coup lasted barely three days, but 30 years on the transformation of the former USSR still has some way to go

<p>Private cars threaded around the military convoy with very little disruption</p>

Private cars threaded around the military convoy with very little disruption

There is a certain fascination in watching events you have experienced and reported on become history, with everything neatly interpreted and the still open arguments set out on the printed page. The demise of the Soviet Union has to be a classic case. Over the past 30 years, dozens of explanations have been offered for the Soviet collapse, from the unsustainability of the planned economy, to the cost of trying to keep up with US arms spending, to the nationalist aspirations unleashed when censorship was relaxed, to the sheer inhumanity of Soviet communism.

If there is still debate about why the Soviet Union collapsed, however, there is almost no debate about when. The red flag with the hammer and sickle that had flown over the Kremlin was lowered for the last time on the evening of 25 December 1991, shortly after President Mikhail Gorbachev had announced his resignation on TV. In its place was hoisted the Russian tricolour, and that, for the history books, is when the USSR reached its end.

Yet it is not quite as simple as that. You could argue, for instance, that the seeds of the Soviet demise were sown as soon as the USSR was formed by the Bolshevik government in 1922; that in its beginning was its end. Or you could say that it effectively ended with Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in the 1956 secret speech, which threw aside many of the principles that had governed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was then, by the way, that Crimea was transferred to the jurisdiction of Ukraine.

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