Vladimir Putin described the break-up of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century’. The secession of the subsidiary states of the Union was preceded by the collapse of Communist rule in eastern Europe. This was largely bloodless, accomplished by campaigns of mass civil resistance, excepting Romania, where the dictator Ceacescu was violently overthrown and executed. By the end of 1991, a total of 14 states had declared their independence from the Soviet Union, and Germany had reunited. Czechoslovakia then peacefully split into its constituent halves, while Yugoslavia separated into five successor states by 1992. These successor states soon erupted into conflict; Serbia, the primary aggressor, was ostensibly protecting Serbian minorities within its new neighbours’ borders. Complex demography generated a cluster of separatist movements in Moldova (Gagauzia, Transnistria) and the Caucasus (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Chechnya), while Armenia and Azerbaijan clashed over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
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