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From ABC-CLIO's History Hub website

After decades of tension and diplomacy, the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. This collection of resources provides students with an overview of the many factors contributing to the communist empire's demise, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and reforms instituted under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. Use the Export to My Lists button above to turn this into a research list for your students.

Time Period Key Understandings

  • The struggle for political power can motivate nationalist response among the citizenry
  • Contrasting influences of communism and democracy can lead to difficult and fragmented transitions in political states
  • Geographic containment does not mean ideological containment
  • Ideological wars do not have physical endings
  • The legacies of political leadership and social policy cannot be erased
  • Weapons of mass destruction increase the impact and importance of political policy
  • Nationalism can motivate both national unity and domestic terrorism
  • The global focus on human rights influenced political regimes and economic structures

Key Questions

  • How did the end of the détente policy among the Cold War superpowers accelerate the fall of the Soviet Union?
  • How did the Helsinki Accords' position on human rights contribute to the decline of the Soviet Union?
  • How did the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan affect Soviet relations with the United States? How did Ronald Reagan demonstrate that the U.S. was no longer pursuing détente?
  • How did Mikhail Gorbachev bring a new approach to Soviet interactions with the U.S.? How did his policies change life within the Soviet Union?
  • Why do you think the final collapse of the Soviet Union was largely peaceful?


  1. Overview: Fall of the Soviet Union
  2. Outline: Outline
  3. Transcript: Transcript
  4. Lesson: Introduction
  5. Lesson: 1-Influence of Western Leaders
  6. Lesson: 2-Helsinki Agreements and Human Rights
  7. Lesson: 3-Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
  8. Lesson: 4-Mikhail Gorbachev
  9. Lesson: 5-Collapse of the Eastern Bloc
  10. Lesson: Closing
  11. Glossary Terms: perestroika
  12. Photos & Illustrations: Afghanistan: Soviet withdrawal
  13. Photos & Illustrations: Berliners dancing on the Berlin Wall
  14. Photos & Illustrations: Reagan, Ronald: Berlin Wall
  15. Reference Articles: Afghanistan Invasion
  16. Reference Articles: Soviet Union, Collapse of the
  17. Reference Articles: Glasnost
  18. Biographies: Gorbachev, Mikhail
  19. Political, Government & Court Documents: Helsinki Agreements (1975)
  20. Speeches: Reagan, Ronald: Address to the British Parliament (1982)


Select Citation Style: 
MLA Citation
"Fall of the Soviet Union." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2020, Accessed 28 Feb. 2020.
Chicago Citation
"Fall of the Soviet Union." In History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2020. Accessed February 28, 2020.
APA Citation
Fall of the Soviet Union. (2020). In History Hub. Retrieved from
Entry ID: 2156868