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Fall of the Soviet Union, Part I: The Cold War's Unexpected Ending

December 7, 2011
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin
For half a century, The Cold War and the threat of "mutually assured destruction" defined geopolitical reality. With the US and its NATO allies on one side of the divide and the USSR and the Warsaw Pact on the other, the post World War II world was locked in a seemingly endless super power standoff. But an end did come, dramatically, peacefully, and unexpectedly, when the Soviet Union collapsed in late December of 1991. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the dissolution of the USSR, we explore the past, present, and future of Russia through a 3-part CONTEXT series. In Part I, we revisit that fateful moment in history with the help of an expert panel: Jack Matlock served as US Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1987-1991). His first assignment to Moscow was in 1961, and it was from the embassy there that he experienced the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, helping to translate diplomatic messages between American and Soviet leaders. He is the author of, Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended, and also of, Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador's Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Lilia Shevstova chairs the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, dividing her time between offices in Washington, D.C. and Moscow. Before joining the Endowment, she was deputy director of the Moscow Institute of International Economic and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and director of the Center of Political Studies in Moscow. Angela Stent is Director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian, & East European Studies and Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is also a Senior Fellow (non-resident) at the Brookings Institution and co-chairs its Hewett Forum on Post-Soviet Affairs. From 2004-2006 she served as National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council. Charles King is Professor of International Affairs and Government at Georgetown University, where he previously served as Chairman of the Faculty of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He teaches courses in comparative politics, East European studies, and international affairs and is a three-time recipient of teaching awards from Georgetown University.

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Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American expertise and knowledge of Russia, Ukraine, and the region. Through its residential fellowship programs, public lectures, workshops, and publications, the Institute strives to attract, publicize, and integrate new research into the policy community.  Read more