Friday, December 24, 2021

Post-Post Soviet: 30 Years On

Thirty years ago this Christmas, AP journalists Alan Cooperman and Liu Heung Shing were hurriedly invited to a conference room below ground at the Kremlin for what turned out to be an extraordinary historical moment. 

In an interview exactly 30 years later, Cooperman describes the exact moment when the Soviet Union was disbanded. The interview begins with the drama of that evening and then explains how those events relate to the current crisis in Ukraine that has proven increasingly intractable for three U.S. presidents (so far).

Closing the books on the Soviet Union.
Forbidden image by Liu Heung Shing

I was fortunate enough to have been taking a course entitled Geography of the Soviet Union during the fall semester of 1991. I had been the student representative on the committee that hired a young economic geographer who was a leading expert on the region, so I decided to take her course as an elective. 

Among other things, the course was designed to show us the complexity and inherent inefficiency of Soviet governance. As the semester progressed, she would often start class with a map or article and say, "this is how it was in September" when the course began. And then she would explain what was already changing as Gorbachev implemented various reforms.

Although I never studied the region in depth after that semester, the in-depth survey helped me to understand much of what I have read and heard in the ensuing three decades. Most notably, it is clear that no U.S. president can take much credit for the collapse, even though excessive military spending in the U.S. did probably bring it about just a bit more quickly by justifying the same errant behavior in the USSR.

That professor, by the way, was soon named editor of a journal called Soviet Geography, which soon changed its name to Post-Soviet Geography. I recently learned that even that name became passé, and the journal is now called Eurasian Geography and Economy

Map: Britannica article detailing the Soviet collapse 


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