Today marks the 20th anniversary of the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union after nearly 70 years.
On December 8, 1991, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus -- Boris Yeltsin, Leonid Kravchuk, and Stanislav Shushkevich -- met in the Belavezha Forest in Belarus and declared that the Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics had "ceased to exist" as "a subject of international law" and a "geopolitical reality."
The leaders signed the so-called Belavezha Accords, establishing a voluntary successor union called the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and effectively marking the end of the Cold War.
Between March 1990 and the end of 1991, all 15 Soviet republics had declared independence.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union followed moves aimed at increasing political and economic liberalization in the Communist Party-ruled state but eventually resulted in the end of communist rule there.
In 2005, then-Russian President Vladimir Putin described the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century.