The appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader in March 1985 offered great promise in bringing about reform of the Soviet system and in re-writing Soviet international relations. The social, economic and political reforms introduced by Gorbachev allowed for sweeping changes within the Soviet Union and Gorbachev’s willingness to engage in talks with the Western powers had an important impact on global disarmament.
The reform process, however, soon appeared to move beyond Gorbachev’s control. In August 1991, anti-reform hardliners staged a coup in an unsuccessful attempt to remove Gorbachev from office. Ardent supporters of reform, however, were pushing for further changes to the Soviet system. A number of the Soviet republics had already begun the push for independence from the Union and their wishes were met. An accord of 8 December 1991 formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Increasingly under pressure, Gorbachev resigned as President of the USSR on 25 December, and the USSR itself was declared dissolved on 31 December. Power fell into the hands of Boris Yeltsin.
Historians have long debated the origins of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Commentators have more recently come to ask if there was any real need to dissolve the USSR and if a reformed Soviet Union could have been preserved.