Collapse of the Soviet Union in pictures

Updated 1531 GMT (2331 HKT) December 23, 2011
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March 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev, pictured here a month later with Poland's General Wojciech Jaruzelski, becomes Soviet leader, ushering in a new era of reform and openness. AFP/Getty Images
March 1987: Gorbachev is courted by foreign leaders, including Britain's Margaret Thatcher, keen for him to build on democratic advances that have boosted his popularity. AFP/Getty Images
June 1988: A visit by US President Ronald Reagan affrms Gorbachev's thawing ties with the West even as hardliners at home oppose his policies. AFP/Getty Images
February 1989: Soviet military involvement ends in Afghanistan a month before Russians elect a new parliament in the first free elections since the Soviet Union's 1917 founding. AFP/Getty Images
Summer 1989: Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement defeats communists in Poland. Amid anti-communist defiance Gorbachev loosens control of Warsaw Pact countries. AFP/Getty Images
Autumn, winter 1989: Upheaval sweeps the Soviet-sponsored states, with the symbolic collapse of the Berlin Wall accelerating change throughout the Eastern Bloc. AFP/Getty Images
1990: As anti-Moscow unrest gathers in Soviet states, Boris Yeltsin is elected parliamentary president. He later quits the Communist Party. Gorbachev, meanwhile, faces resistance. AFP/Getty Images
August 1991: As unrest continues in the republics, hardline coup plotters seize Gorbachev and position tanks outside parliament. Yeltsin rallies demonstrators against the plot. AFP/Getty Images
August 1991: The coup collapses under public pressure and army insurrection. The Russian flag is flown over the Kremlin and Gorbachev quits his Communist Party role. AFP/Getty Images
December 1991: As the Baltic states lead the charge towards sovereignty, a new Commonwealth of Independent States is declared, forcing Gorbachev to quit as Soviet leader. Photo Illustration/Thinkstock