To what extent can Mikhail Gorbachev be held responsible for the collapse of the USSR?

Essay by boodyboo January 2004

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The collapse of the USSR was one of the most important events of the twentieth century and it is undeniable that Mikhail Gorbachev played a part in the break up. But to answer the above question we have to look at factors out with Gorbachev's control, while also analysing what he did wrong, how he reacted to problems, and the consequences of the reforms he put in place, so that we are able to come to a conclusion on just how important his role in the downfall of the Soviet Union was.

There are many factors in the collapse that could be argued to have nothing to do with Gorbachev. For example, the geography of the country and the wide spread of nationalities had always been a problem for the USSR. Some figures claim that there was as many as 800 different national groups and about 130 different languages within the Union .

Many groups were angered by what they felt was a Russian bias in such areas as employment and benefits and many nationalities had suffered much oppression, particularly during the Stalin years, at the hands of the Communist party. National pride was often directed towards a person's own state and not the USSR as a whole and while it was not possible to show these feelings publicly, many people longed for independence from the Soviet Union. The nationalities problem is widely accepted as being one of the key factors in the collapse of the USSR and Gorbachev can hardly be blamed for it but he does come into criticism for the way he handled the situation. His use of force against dissenting republics such as Lithuania has been described as clumsy and ineffective and in the end his inability to solve the problem proved fatal for the Soviet...