This treaty, also known as the Minsk Agreement, brought about the end of the Soviet Union. It was concluded on December 8, 1991, by President Boris Yeltsin of Russia, President Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus Stanislav Shushkevich, who met secretly in a resort in Belovezhska Pushcha, just outside of Brest, Belarus. According to most reports, the three leaders had no common consensus on the future of the Soviet Union prior to the meeting, but, once they assembled, they decided to shelve plans to preserve some sort of reformed Soviet state, as preferred by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and instead pressed for its dissolution. In the days that followed, Gorbachev would try in vain to preserve the USSR, but there was little mass or elite support for its continued existence, at least in these three republics.
The treaty noted that "the USSR has ceased to exist as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality" and stated that the activities of bodies of the former USSR would be henceforth discontinued. Its drafters asserted the authority to do this by noting that Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus were the three surviving original founders of the Soviet state in 1922. In its stead, these three republics agreed to form a new organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which was designed to foster a variety of forms of economic, political, social, and military cooperation. Specifically, the accords guaranteed equal rights and freedoms to all residing in those states, provided for the protection of ethnic and linguistic minorities, recognized each state's borders, emphasized the need for arms control, preserved a united military command and common military-strategic space, and pledged cooperation on the Chernobyl disaster. Later that December, eight more former Soviet republics would join the CIS, and by December 25, 1991, the Soviet flag was at last removed from the top of the Kremlin.
No participant has produced a definitive and detailed account of the meeting in Belovezhska Pushcha, and the accords remain the subject of some controversy, particularly in Russia. At the time of its signing, the agreement was widely celebrated, with only five deputies in the Russian legislature voting against its ratification, and Ukraine adding twelve reservations to its ratification, directed toward weakening any sort of new union or commonwealth. However, over the course of time, many, especially in Russia and Belarus, have disputed the right of the three leaders to conclude this treaty and have lamented the lack of open debate and popular input into its conclusion. In March 1996, the Russian Duma voted overwhelmingly to annul it, and this action led many to fear possible Russian attempts to reestablish the Soviet Union or some other form of authority over other republics. Moreover, in the 1990s the accord began to lose popularity among the Russian population, which, public opinion polls repeatedly revealed, began to regret the breakup of the Soviet Union.
See also: commonwealth of independent states; union of soviet socialist republics
Library of Congress. "The Minsk Agreement." (n.d.) <http://memory.loc.gov/frd/cs/belarus/by_appnb.html>.
Norwegian Institute of International Affairs–Centre for Russian Studies. (n.d.). "Belovezh Agreement, Creating the CIS." <http://www.nupi.no/cgi-win/Russland/krono.exe?895>.
Norwegian Institute of International Affairs–Centre for Russian Studies. (n.d.). "Reactions to Creation of CIS." <http://www.nupi.no/cgi-win/Russland/krono.exe?2149>.
Olcott, Martha Brill. (1999). Getting It Wrong: Regional Cooperation and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Paul J. Kubicek