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In June 12th 1990, the Russian Federation declared its independence from the Soviet Union, effectively ending the Soviet Union. While I understand that other parts of the former Soviet Union like Ukraine and the Baltics People could declare their independence, I do not understand how it could happen that Russia, which was by definition the Soviet Union declared its Independence from... itself?

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    Because Russia was "by definition" not the Soviet Union. – Semaphore Mar 28 '16 at 12:54
  • But werent the leaders of Russia not exact the leaders of the Soviet Union? – Acroneos Mar 28 '16 at 12:55
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    No... Boris Yeltsin was President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic; Mikhail Gorbachev was President of the Soviet Union. To put it in terms that might be more familiar to you, Russia was a state like California, whereas the Soviet Union was the federal government like the United States. Except that "California" controlled 80% of the "United States". – Semaphore Mar 28 '16 at 13:09
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    It has to be added that the Russian SFSR was, in some matters, more tightly amalgamated into the Union than were other republics. For example, RSFSR (although it had its own Government and Supreme Soviet) didn't have a number of its own ministries (their functions were fulfilled by so called 'Union-Republican' ministries), Communist Party or Academy of Sciences etc. – ach Apr 3 '16 at 10:25
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    I have voted to reopen this question. There are, as of the time of this comment 4 upvotes and 0 down, and two answers, both upvoted more than once and one accepted, neither of which appear to be cut and pasted answers from wikipedia, so why not leave it open? – CGCampbell Apr 8 '16 at 17:24
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To summarize @semaphore's comments which should be the accepted answer:

Technically, Russia was not the USSR (just like England is not Britain or UK.)

Of course, de-facto, USSR was just a re-branding of the old Russian Empire, just like the modern Russian Federation is the heir to the Soviet Union.

However, the Soviet state structure was a weird combination of Lenin's rhetoric of "ethnic areas having the right to self-determination. up to and including independence" and Stalin's practice of a centralized dictatorship. The reality was the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" was composed of 15 "Republics", one of them called "Russian Soviet Federate Socialist Republic" and 14 other SSRs (Ukrainian SSR &c).

When in the 1980-ies a combination of the need to compete with the SDI and low oil prices brought about an economic hardship, Gorbachev started "perestroyka" (a political liberalization plus half-hearted economic reforms) which lead some of the republics to hope for independence. The 3 Baltic states started the so called Парад суверенитетов and Russia was the 6th to declare its sovereignty on 1990-06-12. Note that at that moment this declaration was a largely symbolic gesture (none of the Republics controlled the military and KGB stationed there) and, in a way, diluted the push of the Republics for independence ("if everyone is special, nobody is").

That date is now celebrated in Russia as the Independence Day.

Russia is Russia

USSR was dissolved by Russia, Ukraine, and Belorus on 1991-12-26 (1.5 years after the Sovereignty declaration). This was an admission of the existing situation after the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt: the only structures of the USSR that still existed were the military and security forces, and they were being brought under the local administration of the newly independent Republics post haste. What was needed was a coup de grace which would force Gorbachev to surrender the control over the nukes to Yeltsin.

  • Technically, it was dissolved by a legal declaration made by the remaining head of state -- Committee (the Russian word which is often not translated, but just transliterated as "Soviet") of the Republics of the Supreme Committee of the USSR. The full text of the dissolution declaration is here: ru.wikisource.org/wiki/… – Dmitry Rubanovich Apr 21 '17 at 18:51
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Russia was the largest republic but of course it was not the same as Soviet Union. (Though many people in the west confused Soviet Union and Russia).

The decision to terminate the Union was made by three presidents. Each of them had his own interest: Ukrainians and Belorussians wanted independence. Russian president (Yeltsin) wanted independence from Gorbachev who was the president of the Union. The result of this act for Yeltsin was that he became the leader of the country by a clever move of eliminating Gorbachev's position, so from his point of view this could look like a coup d'etat.

However this would happen in any case, because shortly before Ukrainian parliament decided on independence, and this was soon confirmed by the referendum. Similar decision was made by Belarus. So there was no way to preserve the union, no matter what Yeltsin and the Russians wanted.

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    -1: This answer, especially the last paragraph, is completely wrong on dates. The Russia has proclaimed its sovereignty on June 12, 1990, Ukraine did it a month later, on July 16, 1990, and three presidents have announced dissolution of the USSR 1½ years later, on December 7-8, 1991. – bytebuster Mar 28 '16 at 18:16
  • I do not see what is "wrong with dates". I did not give any specific dates. All three declared their sovereignty. And some time AFTER that the union was formally dissolved. – Alex Mar 28 '16 at 18:49

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