• 01 Jan. 1991
  • share:

The fall of the Wall


Dissolution of the Soviet Union announced at NATO meeting

The 1990s saw huge changes to the geopolitical landscape, some happening so fast that ambassadors and foreign ministers could hardly keep up.  On 20 December 1991, a new body composed of foreign ministers from NATO and central and eastern European nations met at NATO HQ to discuss peace and security in Europe.  The North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) was the first concrete example of NATO’s “hand of friendship,” extended after the London Summit in 1990.

Such was the pace of change in Europe that this inaugural meeting of the NACC itself witnessed an historic event: just as the final communiqué was being agreed, the Soviet ambassador announced that the Soviet Union had dissolved during the meeting and that he now only represented the Russian Federation.

Chris Donnelly, former Special Adviser to the Secretary General for Central and Eastern Europe, was present at this meeting. When asked about this dramatic moment in NATO’s history, he said the following:

Soviet Ambassador [Afanassievsky] was summoned in the middle of the meeting, out of the meeting, returned half an hour white-faced to say that he asked for the record to be withdrawn because the Soviet Union had just legally ceased to exist. I think that's perhaps the most dramatic moment of all.

Ambassador Afanassievky was adamant about the need to change the communiqué and remove any mention of the Soviet Union. However, the communiqué had already been written, agreed, and sent to the press. A footnote was added to later editions noting the change which had occurred.

The next day, 21 December 1991, the Alma-Ata Protocols were signed, formally ending the USSR and establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Federation, noted that his newly independent country would strive for NATO membership ...