Cover image for The last empire : the final days of the Soviet Union
Title:
The last empire : the final days of the Soviet Union
Author:
Plokhy, Serhii, 1957- , author.
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group, [2014]
Physical Description:
xxii, 489 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Summary:
Describes the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, dispelling the myth that the event was spurred on in part by the close relationship between George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev.

"On Christmas Day, 1991, President George H.W. Bush addressed the nation to declare an American victory in the Cold War: earlier that day Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned as the first and last Soviet president. The enshrining of that narrative, one in which the end of the Cold War was linked to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the triumph of democratic values over communism, took center stage in American public discourse immediately after Bush's speech and has persisted for decades - with disastrous consequences for American standing in the world. As prize-winning historian Serhii Plokhy reveals in The Last Empire, the collapse of the Soviet Union was anything but the handiwork of the United States. On the contrary, American leaders dreaded the possibility that the Soviet Union - weakened by infighting and economic turmoil - might suddenly crumble, throwing all of Eurasia into chaos. Bush was firmly committed to supporting his ally and personal friend Gorbachev, and remained wary of nationalist or radical leaders such as recently elected Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Fearing what might happen to the large Soviet nuclear arsenal in the event of the union's collapse, Bush stood by Gorbachev as he resisted the growing independence movements in Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasus. Plokhy's detailed, authoritative account shows that it was only after the movement for independence of the republics had gained undeniable momentum on the eve of the Ukrainian vote for independence that fall that Bush finally abandoned Gorbachev to his fate. Drawing on recently declassified documents and original interviews with key participants, Plokhy presents a bold new interpretation of the Soviet Union's final months and argues that the key to the Soviet collapse was the inability of the two largest Soviet republics, Russia and Ukraine, to agree on the continuing existence of a unified state. By attributing the Soviet collapse to the impact of American actions, US policy makers overrated their own capacities in toppling and rebuilding foreign regimes. Not only was the key American role in the demise of the Soviet Union a myth, but this misplaced belief has guided - and haunted - American foreign policy ever since."--Jacket.
Language:
English
Contents:
Last summit. Meeting in Moscow -- Party crasher -- Chicken Kiev -- Tanks of August. The prisoner of the Crimea -- Russian rebel -- Freedom's victory -- A countercoup. The resurgence of Russia -- Independent Ukraine -- Saving the empire -- Soviet disunion. Washington's dilemma -- Russian ark -- Survivor -- Vox populi. Anticipation -- Ukrainian referendum -- Slavic trinity -- Farewell to the empire. Out of the woods -- Birth of Eurasia -- Christmas in Moscow.
ISBN:
9780465056965
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

On Christmas Day, 1991, President George H. W. Bush addressed the nation to declare an American victory in the Cold War: earlier that day Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned as the first and last Soviet president. The enshrining of that narrative, one in which the end of the Cold War was linked to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the triumph of democratic values over communism, took center stage in American public discourse immediately after Bush's speech and has persisted for decades--with disastrous consequences for American standing in the world.

As prize-winning historian Serhii Plokhy reveals in The Last Empire , the collapse of the Soviet Union was anything but the handiwork of the United States. On the contrary, American leaders dreaded the possibility that the Soviet Union--weakened by infighting and economic turmoil--might suddenly crumble, throwing all of Eurasia into chaos. Bush was firmly committed to supporting his ally and personal friend Gorbachev, and remained wary of nationalist or radical leaders such as recently elected Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Fearing what might happen to the large Soviet nuclear arsenal in the event of the union's collapse, Bush stood by Gorbachev as he resisted the growing independence movements in Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasus. Plokhy's detailed, authoritative account shows that it was only after the movement for independence of the republics had gained undeniable momentum on the eve of the Ukrainian vote for independence that fall that Bush finally abandoned Gorbachev to his fate.

Drawing on recently declassified documents and original interviews with key participants, Plokhy presents a bold new interpretation of the Soviet Union's final months and argues that the key to the Soviet collapse was the inability of the two largest Soviet republics, Russia and Ukraine, to agree on the continuing existence of a unified state. By attributing the Soviet collapse to the impact of American actions, US policy makers overrated their own capacities in toppling and rebuilding foreign regimes. Not only was the key American role in the demise of the Soviet Union a myth, but this misplaced belief has guided--and haunted--American foreign policy ever since.


Author Notes

Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University. A three-time recipient of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies prize and author of Yalta: The Price of Peace , Plokhy lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Plokhy, a professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University, investigates the collapse of the Soviet Union, revealing the often brutal political chess game within the Kremlin that ended in President George H. W. Bush's address of the end of the Cold War on Christmas, 1991. Drawing from unreleased presidential material, confidential foreign memos, and declassified documents, Plokhy largely discounts Reagan's get-tough policy as a cause. He credits Mikhail Gorbachev's embrace of Glasnost and electoral democracy in 1987 with loosening the grip of the party apparatus and rigidly controlled media, opening government matters to widespread public criticism despite fears of the Soviet military. Bush and his advisers cautiously tried to prolong the reign of Gorbachev, but worried about both the ambitions of the "boorish" Boris Yeltsin and the potential falling into the wrong hands of the nuclear arsenals in the newly freed republics. Plokhy's taut narrative features rapid snapshots of Yeltsin's soaring rhetoric to the masses as he stood atop a tank, the ruthless efficiency of the plotters against the powerless Gorbachev, the crisis of rebellious Ukraine, and the vigorous debate within the White House. This account is one of a rare breed: a well-balanced, unbiased book written on the fall of Soviet Union that emphasizes expert research and analysis. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

The recent Russian-Ukrainian crisis has its roots in the breakup of the Soviet Union. Here, Plokhy (Ukranian history, Harvard Univ.; Yalta: The Price of Peace) details the collapse of the USSR in late 1991. His contention is that the USSR, which he views as the last great European empire, dissolved under the stress of internal tensions and ethnic clashes. Rejecting the notion that the United States won a great victory in the Cold War, the author uses the memoirs, correspondence, and other writings of American and Soviet officials to strengthen the picture he puts forth of an American leadership that failed to understand the players and movements shaping Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan. Plokhy's cleanly written narrative presents a clear view of the complex events and numerous parties involved in the Soviet Union's demise as well as the reasons that the Soviet government could not ultimately rein in Ukrainian and -Russian national movements. VERDICT Plokhy's fine scholarship should be set alongside such great works as David Remnick's Lenin's Tomb and Vladislav M. Zubok's A Failed Empire. An excellent text for historians, students of current events, and anyone fascinated with political intrigue.-Jacob Sherman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., San Antonio (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

Plokhy (Harvard) documents in great detail the last months of the Soviet Union, telling the story of how and why the country collapsed. He especially focuses on the negotiations for dissolution that occupied the summer and fall of 1991, drawing on new documents from US and Russian archives to illustrate the difficult and uneasy time as the world's largest empire peacefully imploded and separated into 15 new states. Plokhy reveals that US president George H. W. Bush supported maintaining Gorbachev in power rather than local leaders, such as Boris Yeltsin in Russia, who were emerging in the 15 provinces of the collapsing empire. The book provides an essential chronological framework to understand more fully this dramatic event of recent history and shows the importance of ethnic identities and their role in the ultimate collapse. This work will stand as a tremendous achievement that highlights the internal politics of the Soviet Union and its relationship to the world as the country ceased to exist. A valuable work for both specialists and general readers interested in this subject. --William Benton Whisenhunt, College of DuPage


Table of Contents

Mapsp. ix-xi
Introductionp. xiii
I The Last Summit
1 Meeting in Moscowp. 3
2 The Party Crasherp. 24
3 Chicken Kievp. 47
II The Tanks of August
4 The Prisoner of the Crimeap. 73
5 The Russian Rebelp. 93
6 Freedoms Victoryp. 110
III A Countercoup
7 The Resurgence of Russiap. 133
8 Independent Ukrainep. 152
9 Saving the Empirep. 171
IV Soviet Disunion
10 Washington's Dilemmap. 191
11 The Russian Arkp. 212
12 The Survivorp. 231
V Vox Populi
13 Anticipationp. 255
14 The Ukrainian Referendump. 275
15 The Slavic Trinityp. 295
VI Farewell to the Empire
16 Out of the Woodsp. 319
17 The Birth of Eurasiap. 344
18 Christmas in Moscowp. 366
Epiloguep. 388
Acknowledgmentsp. 409
Notesp. 413
Indexp. 461