In This Review

Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union
Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union
By Vladislav M. Zubok
Yale University Press, 2021, 560 pp

Zubok’s meticulous chronicle covering the years of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the 1980s and early 1990s passes exceptionally harsh judgment on the last Soviet leader. He lauds Gorbachev’s vision of global affairs but does not hold back when it comes to criticism: Gorbachev had a poor understanding of the Soviet economy and launched ill-conceived economic reforms. Zubok condemns Gorbachev for radically weakening the Communist Party apparatus, the Soviet Union’s only effective governing mechanism, which eventually left him to powerlessly watch his country’s demise. The book offers an impressive close-up of the hectic political and diplomatic activities between August 1991, the time of the failed Communist coup, and December of that year, when the Soviet Union formally ceased to exist. Throughout, one is struck by the grand expectations that Gorbachev, his allies, and his opponents had of the West, and the United States in particular, as a source of political support, legitimation, and, especially, economic assistance. But as Washington watched its Cold War adversary plunge into a meltdown, it was no longer willing to keep extending credit to the Soviet Union and began focusing instead on protecting itself from the consequences of the Soviet Union’s collapse.