On December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and only President of the Soviet Union, announced his resignation in a live TV address. Gorbachev confessed that he was leaving his post concerned but hopeful, as he had “faith in the Russian people, their wisdom and strong spirit” to build a great future.
In fact, there was no longer a country to be President of. Just several days before, the Soviet Union ceased to exist, after 11 of the former Soviet republics dismembered it, in its place establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
In his farewell speech, Gorbachev admitted the recent establishment of the CIS was the key motive for his resignation. He voiced his concerns about the fact that “the people are ceasing to become citizens of a great power and the consequences may be very difficult for all to deal with.” The changes were inevitable, as “the society was suffocating in the clutches of the command-and-control system, doomed to serve the ideology and shoulder the burden of the armed races.” Gorbachev’s reforms "steered" the communist economy "toward the market economy."
Sometimes prideful, sometimes resentful, Gorbachev accepted responsibility for all his policies. Indeed, his policies, though very controversial and much argued about, did bring the country on the path toward democracy.
Under Gorbachev, in compliance with his glasnost doctrine, censorship was abolished. Gorbachev stopped political persecution of many outstanding scientists and public figures, such as academic Andrey Sakharov, and dissidents’ rights were reinstated and political prisoners rehabilitated. The Soviet Union’s first-ever free elections for the people’s deputies in 1989 produced shocking results: Many local Party leaders failed to sustain their membership in the Party, instead allowing in more of intelligentsia, who were critical of the Party’s activity and determined to make changes.
In his speech, Gorbachev declared that the Russian people were "living in a new world" in which an "end has been put to the Cold War; the arms race and the insane militarization of the country, which had crippled the economy immensely, were finally done away with… The threat of a new world war was eliminated.” Admitting “there were mistakes made,” Gorbachev adamantly stated he "never had any regrets" about his activity.
However, back in the 1980s, Gorbachev received more criticism than praise. While some judged him for sluggishness and inconsistency in his reforms, others reproached for being premature. And it is true that the free trade laws were immediately followed by a ban on the speculation, that the democratization of industries came along with centralization of power, and that free elections were accompanied by policies of Party reinforcement.
After a failed coup d’etat undertaken by Gorbachev’s closest associates on August 19, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as the General Secretary of the Communist Party. Nevertheless, he resumed his work on elaborating the document to establish a new type of relations between the Soviet republics. On December 8, representatives of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed a decree on the formation of the CIS, thus finalizing the collapse of the Soviet Union. The protocol was signed by 11 former republics. After the collapse and his resignation, Gorbachev handed responsibility over Russia’s strategic missile weapons to Boris Yeltsin, the first Russian President.
After Gorbachev’s resignation, the Soviet flag above the Kremlin was taken down and the new Russian tricolor was raised in its stead. As for Gorbachev, he organized and led the Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies, which became known nationwide as Gorbachev’s Foundation.