"A stirring account of an extraordinary moment." --Wall Street Journal
On Christmas Day, 1991, President George H. W. Bush addressed the nation to celebrate what he described as a historic American victory: Mikhail Gorbachev's resignation as Soviet prime minister and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union. The enshrining of that narrative, one in which the end of the Cold War was linked to the triumph of democratic values over communism, took center stage in American public discourse 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. Bush, in fact, was firmly committed to supporting Gorbachev as he attempted to hold together the USSR in the face of growing independence movements in its republics. Drawing on recently declassified documents and original interviews with key participants, Plokhy presents a bold new interpretation of the Soviet Union's final months, providing invaluable insight into the origins of the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the outset of the most dangerous crisis in East-West relations since the end of the Cold War.
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.