The Soviet Union Was Dissolved 20 Years Ago Today

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Girl standing atop Soviet tank in Red Square during the Communist hard liners' coup attempt in August 1991. © David Turnley/CORBIS

Twenty years ago today, on December 8, 1991, a group of Soviet leaders got together in a house in snowy Belarus to declare the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The resulting treaty, the Belavezha Accords, split the former USSR into a series of independent states.

To mark the two-decade anniversary, here’s a collection of numbers that illustrate a very small portion of the history of the USSR, and what’s happened in the former Soviet states since its collapse.

Number of times the last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, used the words “free,” “freed” or “freedom” in his ten minute resignation speech on December 25, 1991: 12
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Days after Gorbachev resigned that U.S. President George H. W. Bush recognized the former Soviet Republics as independent states: 0
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Advertisements for Pizza Hut and Louis Vuitton that Mikail Gorbachov has subsequently starred in: 2
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Episodes of Saturday Night Live where Danny DeVito plays Gorbachev and Phil Hartman plays Reagan: 1
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Number of years after Gorbachev’s resignation that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin referred to the collapse of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and a “genuine tragedy”: 14
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Putin’s publicly declared net worth, in addition to two classic cars, a garage and some real estate: $314,000
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Putin’s actual estimated net worth, based on economic analyses and U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks: $40,000,000,000

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Amount spent by the Soviet Union on defense in 1965, as a percentage of gross national product, according to CIA estimates: 16
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Amount spent by Russia on defense in 2010, as percentage of gross domestic product: 2.8
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Combined number of scientists employed at U.S. and U.S.S.R military/industrial complexes in 1980: 750,000
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Estimated number of nuclear warheads produced by the Soviet Union between 1949 and 1991: 55,000
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Estimated number of nuclear warheads produced by the United States since 1949: 70,000
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Estimated number of nuclear warheads in Russia today, including those awaiting dismantlement: 11,000
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Estimated number of nuclear warheads in the United States today, including those awaiting dismantlement: 8,500
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Estimated number of people who Joseph Stalin suspected of “disloyalty” and sent to the brutal labor camps, or gulags, in the 1930s: 18,000,000
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Estimated number of people historians think were killed during Stalin’s violent “purges”: 20,000,000
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Number of Ukrainians killed by Stalin’s “forced famine” in 1932-33: 7,000,000
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Current populations of the cities of Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta, Washington D.C., St. Louis and Baltimore combined: 7,000,000
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Facebook users who have “liked” Joseph Stalin’s page: 17,555
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Years since the body of Vladimir Lenin, was embalmed and placed on display in a glass sarcophagus near the Kremlin: 88
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Percentage of Russians who participated in an online poll in January 2011 who said it was time to bury Lenin: 70
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Per capita GDP across all Soviet republics in 1970: $1,785
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Per capital GDP of the poorest former Soviet state, Tajikistan, in 2010: $2,000
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Per capital GDP of the richest former Soviet state, Estonia, in 2010: $19,100
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Number of billionaires in the Russian Federation in 2011:  114 
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Percentage of seats in the current State Duma, Russia’s national parliament, held by members of Russia’s current Communist Party: 12.6
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Average male life expectancy in the Soviet Union in 1980: 62
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Average male life expectancy in the Russian Federation in 2008: 59
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Estimated number of liters of alcohol consumed annually on average per person in 1979 in the Soviet Union: 15.2
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Percentage of Soviet revenues in 1970 received from domestic taxes on vodka and other alcohol: 33
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Percentage of absences from work in the Soviet Union in the 1980s attributed to alcohol-related problems: 75 to 90
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Liters of vodka consumed on average annually per person in Russia today: 18

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December 8, 2011 - 4:24am
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