June 17, 1991: Treaty envisions a new Soviet Union

By Will Englund

A year of difficult negotiations finally wrapped up on the night of June 17, 1991. For weeks, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had rarely been seen in public, because he was so occupied with hammering out an agreement on a new treaty that would fundamentally redefine the U.S.S.R. Significant amounts of power would devolve to the republics — Russia, Ukraine and the rest — and they in turn would freely join in creating a new union. That was the idea, anyway.

Non-Russian nationalism, suppressed since Stalin’s day, erupted all over the country. Gorbachev had wanted to make the Soviet system more modern and efficient, and instead he had Lithuanians demanding their freedom.

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