Primary Sources

The Winter of the Soviet Military


By the end of December 1991, the Soviet Union was administratively dissolved. A few weeks beforehand, the United States' Central Intelligence Agency issued this report, assessing the state of the Soviet Military after its failed coup attempt in August of that year. The CIA observed that the Soviet Military suffered from two problems simultaneously. It was being starved of its traditionally huge budget, causing serious hardship for rank and file soldiers and thus disrupting the traditional chain of command. It was also suffering from general disorientation due to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the end of the Cold War. The report predicted that, despite hardships, the Soviet military would continue on in compromised form, mainly because it was still preferable to civilian life for most of its soldiers and employees.


Central Intelligence Agency, "The Winter of the Soviet Military: Cohesion or Collapse?" 5 December 1991, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Forces unleashed by the collapse of the Soviet system are breaking up its premier artifact--the Soviet military; the high command cannot halt this process. While a centralized command and control system continues to operate, political and economic collapse is beginning to fragment the military into elements loyal to the republics or simply devoted to self-preservation. . . .

Prospects for the Winter

Over the winter it is likely that the armed forces will maintain cohesion. We expect cohesion to hold whether the armed forces continue to decay under the nominal control of central authorities or whether agreements among republics lead to division of the armed forces among them. The latter case would mean the end of the traditional Soviet military. Even in a situation where its basic structures are maintained, however, the military will likely lose control of some units to republics and localities, or even collapse. Such loss of control could lead to incidents of localized violence. . . .

Our conclusion that the armed forces are likely to maintain cohesion over the winter reflects the following:

Military service, for all its problems, will continue to be more appealing to many than a return to civilian life. The availability of resources in military supply channels and reserve stockpiles, in contrast to bleak civil prospects, will keep many units largely intact. . . .

Alternative Outcomes

Though unlikely, there is still a significant chance of outcomes involving the severe degradation or destruction of organizational cohesion. These include widespread local unit autonomy and total collapse of the armed forces. . . .

Least likely are conditions, much better than we anticipate, that could halt the decay and breakup of the Soviet armed forces. Such an outcome would require major improvement in the economic conditions now affecting the military and countering the centrifugal forces at work in the former USSR.

How to Cite this Source

Central Intelligence Agency, "The Winter of the Soviet Military," Making the History of 1989, Item #128, (accessed August 24 2019, 8:05 pm).