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The signing ceremony at Viskuly Government House in the Belarusian Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, 8 December 1991
|Type||Treaty establishing a loose regional organisation|
|Signed||8 December 1991|
|Effective||12 December 1991|
|Signatories|| Boris Yeltsin
The Belavezha Accords (Russian: Беловежские соглашения, Belarusian: Белавежскае пагадненне, Ukrainian: Біловезькі угоди) is the agreement that declared the Soviet Union effectively dissolved and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place. It was signed at the state dacha near Viskuli in Belovezhskaya Pushcha on December 8, 1991, by the leaders of three of the four republics-signatories of the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR — Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk and Belarusian parliament chairman Stanislav Shushkevich.
The name is variously transliterated as Belavezh Accords, Belovezh Accords, Belovezha Accords, Belavezha Agreement, Belovezhskaya Accord, Belaya Vezha Accord, etc.
Legal basis and ratification
While doubts remained over the authority of the leaders of three of the 12 remaining republics (the three Baltic republics had seceded in August) to dissolve the Union, according to Article 72 of the 1977 Soviet Constitution, Soviet republics had the right to secede freely from the Union. On December 12, 1991 the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR ratified the accords on behalf of Russia and at the same time denounced the 1922 Treaty on the Creation of the Soviet Union. While this is sometimes noted as the moment that the largest republic in the Soviet Union effectively seceded, this is not the case. Rather, the RSFSR appeared to take the line that it was not possible to secede from an entity that no longer existed.
However, in the aftermath of the failed coup in August 1991, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had been effectively dissolved and the republics were scrambling to pull free of Moscow. By the end of the summer of 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev could no longer influence events outside of the Kremlin. He was being challenged even there by Yeltsin, who by the end of the fall had taken over most of the Soviet government.
The preamble of the document stated that "the USSR, as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality, is ceasing its existence." It also invited other republics to join the three founding members.
These attempts to dissolve the Soviet Union were seen as illegal by what remained of the Soviet federal government. Gorbachev himself described the moves thus:
...The fate of the multinational state cannot be determined by the will of the leaders of three republics. The question should be decided only by constitutional means with the participation of all sovereign states and taking into account the will of all their citizens. The statement that Unionwide legal norms would cease to be in effect is also illegal and dangerous; it can only worsen the chaos and anarchy in society. The hastiness with which the document appeared is also of serious concern. It was not discussed by the populations nor by the Supreme Soviets of the republics in whose name it was signed. Even worse, it appeared at the moment when the draft treaty for a Union of Sovereign States, drafted by the USSR State Council, was being discussed by the parliaments of the republics.
All doubts about whether the Soviet Union still existed were removed on December 21, 1991, when the representatives of 11 of the 12 remaining Soviet republics—all except Georgia—signed the Alma-Ata Protocol, which confirmed the extinction of the Soviet Union and restated the establishment of the CIS. Given that 11 of the republics now agreed that the Soviet Union no longer existed, the plurality of member-republics required for its continuance as a federal State was no longer in place. The summit of Alma-Ata also provisionally accepted Gorbachev's resignation as president of the Soviet Union and agreed on several other practical measures consequential to the extinction of the Union. Gorbachev stated that he would resign as soon as he knew the CIS was a reality. Three days later, in a secret meeting with Yeltsin, he accepted the fait accompli of the Soviet Union's dissolution.
However, for four more days a rump Soviet federal government continued to exist, and Gorbachev continued to hold control over the Kremlin. This ended in the early hours of December 25, 1991, when Gorbachev resigned and turned control of the Kremlin and the remaining powers of his office over to the office of the president of Russia, Yeltsin.
Gorbachev's televised resignation speech and the subsequent lowering of the flag of the Soviet Union and hoisting of the flag of Russia on the flagpole in front of the Kremlin was broadcast around the world. On this day, President of the United States George H. W. Bush, a former head of the CIA, gave a short speech on national TV in the United States to commemorate the ending of the Cold War and to recognize the independence of the former states of the Soviet Union.
Also on December 25, 1991, the Russian SFSR, now no longer a sub-national entity of the Soviet Union but a sovereign nation in its own right, adopted a law renaming itself the "Russian Federation" or "Russia" (both being equally official).
Gorbachev's speech and the lowering of the Soviet flag marked the end of the Soviet Union in the eyes of the world. However, the final legal step in the dissolution came a day later, when the Soviet of the Republics, the upper house of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, recognized the collapse of the Union and voted both itself and the Union out of existence. The lower house, the Soviet of the Union, had not met since 12 December when Russia recalled its deputies from both chambers, leaving it without a quorum.
The Summit of Alma-Ata also issued a statement on December 21, 1991 supporting Russia's claim to be recognized as the successor state of the Soviet Union for the purposes of membership of the United Nations. On December 25, 1991, Russian President Yeltsin informed UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar that the Soviet Union had been dissolved and that Russia would, as its successor state, continue the Soviet Union's membership in the United Nations. The document confirmed the credentials of the representatives of the Soviet Union as representatives of Russia, and requested that the name "Soviet Union" be changed to "Russian Federation" in all records and entries. This was a move designed to allow Russia to retain the Soviet Union's permanent Security Council seat, which wouldn't have been possible if the former republics were all reckoned as equal successors of the Soviet Union, or if the Soviet Union was regarded as having no successor state for the purpose of continuing the same UN membership. (see Russia and the United Nations). The Secretary General circulated the request, and there being no objection from any Member State, the Russian Federation took the Soviet Union's UN seat. On January 31, 1992, Russian Federation President Yeltsin personally took part in a Security Council meeting as representative of Russia, the first Security Council meeting in which Russia occupied the permanent Security Council seat originally granted to the Soviet Union by the UN Charter.
Stanislav Shushkevich, the former leader of Belarus was told by the country's foreign ministry that the original accords have gone missing as of February 7, 2013. He tried to obtain the original copy to assist in writing his memoirs.
- Boris Yeltsin (1931–2007) — President of Russia (1991–1999)
- Gennady Burbulis (born 1945) — State Secretary of Russia (1991–1992)
- Leonid Kravchuk (born 1934) — President of Ukraine (1991–1994)
- Vitold Fokin (born 1932) — Prime Minister of Ukraine (1991–1992)
- Stanislav Shushkevich (born 1934) — Chairman of Supreme Soviet of Belarus (1991–1994)
- Vyacheslav Kebich (born 1936) — Prime Minister of Belarus (1991–1994)
- Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev (2000). On my country and the world. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-11514-8.
- "Bush on the Commonwealth of Independent States". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31.
- "Document proclaiming death of Soviet Union missing". The Daily Telegraph. London. February 7, 2013.
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