Dec 26, 2016
The man who hosted the meeting that ended the Soviet Union is proud to say he was the first to sign the declaration, followed by Russia's Boris Yeltsin and Ukraine's Leonid Kravchuk.
“I did not think about it when I was signing, but when I studied the 'Yugoslavia variant,' I am pretty convinced that we prevented civil war on the territory of the Soviet Union,” says Stanislav Shushkevich to VOA in his home office.
The Soviet Union's last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, told Russia's Interfax news agency the three men wanted to get rid of him and were power hungry.
“Complete rubbish! I was never obsessed to hold power,” says Shushkevich. “And believe me, I could have maintained power, but I would have acted against my conscience.”
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.
“It is not the Soviet Empire that he wants to restore, but the Russian one,” argues Shushkevich. “He wants to make Russia dominate those lands and those countries that it used to dominate.”
Many in former Soviet bloc states worry that Putin's actions in Ukraine show how far he is willing to go.
Russia defends its annexation of Crimea as following the will of the people there, and denies meddling in its neighbors' affairs.
"I am absolutely not concerned about that (here),” says Shushkevich. “Because it was already done in Belarus. Russia has got all the tools of power here and manages our illegitimate president (Alexander Lukashenko) the way it wants.”
Supporters say Lukashenko is balancing relations with Russia and the West to the benefit of Belarus.
As long as Russian state propaganda continues, says Shushkevich, it will be difficult for the region to come to terms with the Soviet Union's collapse.
Daniel Schearf, VOANEWS, Minsk.