The cataclysmic collapse 20 years ago of the Soviet Union, an empire which bound republics from Europe to Asia for seven decades, unleashed conflict, instability and poverty that are still felt today.
After a year of protests and economic misery, leaders of three key Soviet states on 8 December, 1991 agreed to dissolve the USSR. By the end of the year, the red hammer-and-sickle flag was taken down from the Kremlin and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned.
It was the end of one of the most extraordinary empires in world history, which had defeated Nazi Germany and put the first man in space but had also caused the deaths of millions under a succession of tyrannical leaders.
The disintegration of the USSR left most of its 15 republics independent for the first time in their history, facing the challenge of founding a national identity and sustainable economy that many have yet to resolve.
Russia, deprived of an empire for the first time in modern times, struggled to adapt to its new status as an individual state and still craved the superpower status it lost with the end of the Cold War.
"Twenty years of independence became a very heavy burden for many ex-Soviet states," said Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Centre in Moscow.