ON CHRISTMAS DAY, 1991, Mikhail S. Gorbachev resigned his post as president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The red flag with the hammer-and-sickle emblem of the Soviet Union was lowered for the last time, and only the white, blue, and red flag of Russia flew over the Kremlin and the vast territories of Russia. Gorbachev’s resignation was a dramatic, somewhat poignant formality marking the end of the Soviet system. The Soviet Union had formally ceased to exist on December 21, when the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was created by agreement of eleven of the fifteen republics of the Soviet Union.