Following Stalin's death in 1953, a period of political and economic liberalization, known as "
de-Stalinization" and "
Khrushchev's Thaw", occurred under the leadership of
Nikita Khrushchev. The country developed rapidly, as millions of peasants were moved into industrialized cities. The USSR took an early lead in the
Space Race with
Sputnik 1, the first ever satellite, and
Vostok 1, the first human spaceflight. In the 1970s, there was a brief
détente of relations with the United States, but tensions resumed with the
Soviet–Afghan War in 1979. The war drained economic resources and was matched by an escalation of American military aid to
In the mid-1980s, the last Soviet leader,
Mikhail Gorbachev, sought to further reform and liberalize the economy through his policies of glasnost and perestroika. The goal was to preserve the Communist Party while reversing the economic stagnation, known as the
Era of Stagnation. The Cold War ended during his tenure, and in 1989 Soviet satellite countries in Eastern Europe overthrew their respective communist regimes. This led to the rise of strong nationalist and separatist movements inside the USSR as well. Central authorities initiated a
referendum on the future of the Soviet Union—boycotted by Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and the Baltic republics—which resulted in the majority of participating citizens voting in favor of preserving the union as the
Union of Sovereign States. In August 1991,
a coup d'état was attempted by Communist Party hardliners. It failed, with Russian President
Boris Yeltsin playing a high-profile role in facing down the coup, resulting in the banning of the Communist Party. On 25 December 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the remaining twelve constituent republics emerged from the
dissolution of the Soviet Union as independent
post-Soviet states. The
Russian Federation (formerly the Russian SFSR) assumed the Soviet Union's rights and obligations and has emerged as the recognized primary legal successor of the Soviet Union.
The word “
Soviet” is derived from a
Russian word meaning council, assembly, advice, harmony, concord,[note 1] and all ultimately deriving from the Proto-Slavic verbal stem of *vět-iti "to inform", related to Slavic "věst" ("news"), English "wise", the root in "ad-vis-or" (which came to English through French), or the Dutch "weten" (to know; cf. "wetenschap" = science). The word "sovietnik" means councillor.
A number of organizations in Russian history were called "council" (
Russian: сове́т). For example, in the
Russian Empire, the
State Council, which functioned from 1810 to 1917, was referred to as a Council of Ministers after the revolt of 1905.
From its founding, the Soviet Union was called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, although all the republics began as Socialist Soviet and did not change to the other order until
1936. In addition, in the national languages of several republics the word "Council/Conciliar" in the respective language was only quite late changed to an adaptation of the Russian "Soviet" - and never in others, e.g.,
The names of the Soviet Union are as follows in several languages of its 15 constituent republics:
Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик; Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik
Ukrainian: Союз Радянських Соціалістичних Республік; Soyuz Radyans’kykh Socialistychnykh Respublik
Belarusian: Саюз Савецкіх Сацыялістычных Рэспублік; Sajuz Savieckich Sacyjalistyčnych Respublik
Uzbek: Совет Социалистик Республикалари Иттифоқи; Sovet Sotsialistik Respublikalari Ittifoqi
Kazakh: Кеңестік Социалистік Республикалар Одағы; Keñestik Socïalïstik Respwblïkalar Odağı
Georgian: საბჭოთა სოციალისტური რესპუბლიკების კავშირი (sabch’ota sotsialist’uri resp’ublik’ebis k’avshiri)
Azerbaijani: Совет Сосиалист Республикалары Иттифагы; Sovet Sosialist Respublikaları İttifaqı
Lithuanian: Tarybų Socialistinių Respublikų Sąjunga
Moldovan: Униуня Републичилор советиче Сочиалисте; Uniunea Republicilor Sovietice Socialiste
Latvian: Padomju Sociālistisko Republiku Savienība
Kyrgyz: Советтик Социалисттик Республикалaр Союзу; Sovettik Socialisttik Respublikalar Soyuzu
Armenian: Խորհրդային Սոցիալիստական Հանրապետությունների Միություն; Xorhrdayin Soc̕ialistakan Hanrapetowt̕yownneri Miowt̕yown
Turkmen: Совет Социалистик Республикалары Союзы; Sovet Sosialistik Respublikalary Soýuzy
Estonian: Nõukogude Sotsialistlike Vabariikide Liit
In some cases, due to the length of its name, the state was referred to as the "Soviet Union" or the "USSR" especially when used in the
Western media. It was erroneously called "Russia" as well in some encyclopedic sources.