I’ll defer to your superior knowledge of what happened, seeing as you’re actually Russian and lived in the USSR, plus a History professor, and I’m just some pissant American who was about a year old when it dissolved.
But I do want to ask if there is another factor, which is the Soviet elite’s loss of faith in itself and its cause, which is, from what I’ve read, what made the late 1980s to early 1990s different from e.g. Hungary 1956 or Czechoslovakia 1968. If so, I consider this remarkable, an elite simply giving up the ghost — the one saving grace of the Soviet government.
I find myself hard-pressed to think up another example of this in history. Certainly an elite can give up its ideology de facto, like the Chinese Communists did; but an elite giving up being an elite? [Ok, lots of the individuals remained as far as I understand, but the real powers-that-be changed.] I’d like to understand better the conditions for such a remarkable event.
You mentioned the Afghan War also; do you see a similar role for e.g. The Gulag Archipelago (which I’m reading now) and/or One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich? What about the general loss of the Soviet government’s allies in the Western intelligentsia (first for *shudders* Maoist China, then abandoning classical Marxism altogether)?
Finally, do you think there is any chance of the same thing happening in e.g. the European Union?