1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt
|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the Russian Wikipedia. (November 2012)|
|1991 Soviet coup d'etat attempt
August Coup/August Putsch
Russian: Августовский путч
|Part of the Revolutions of 1989, Cold War, and Dissolution of the Soviet Union|
| State Committee of the State of Emergency
|Commanders and leaders|
| Gennady Yanayev
| Boris Yeltsin
The 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt (19–21 August 1991), also known as the August Putsch or August Coup (Russian: Августовский путч, Translit: Avgustovsky Putch), was a coup d'état attempt by a group of members of the Soviet Union's government to take control of the country from Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. The coup leaders were hard-line members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) who were opposed to Gorbachev's reform program and the new union treaty that he had negotiated which decentralised much of the central government's power to the republics. They were opposed, mainly in Moscow, by a short but effective campaign of civil resistance. Although the coup collapsed in only two days and Gorbachev returned to government, the event destabilised the Soviet Union and is widely considered to have contributed to both the demise of the CPSU and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
It was the last event of the Cold War.
Since assuming power in 1985, Gorbachev had embarked on an ambitious program of reform, embodied in the twin concepts of perestroika and glasnost, meaning economic/political restructuring and openness, respectively. These moves prompted resistance and suspicion on the part of hardline members of the establishment. The reforms also unleashed some forces and movements that Gorbachev did not expect. Specifically, nationalist agitation on the part of the Soviet Union's non-Russian minorities grew, and there were fears that some or all of the union republics might secede. In 1991, the Soviet Union was in a severe economic and political crisis. There were shortages of almost all products, and people had to stand in long lines to buy even essential goods.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Georgia had already declared their independence from the Soviet Union. In January 1991, there was an attempt to return Lithuania to the Soviet Union by force. About a week later, there was a similar attempt by local pro-Soviet forces to overthrow the Latvian authorities. There were continuing armed ethnic conflicts in Nagorno Karabakh and South Ossetia.
Russia declared its sovereignty on 12 June 1990 and thereafter limited the application of Soviet laws, in particular the laws concerning finance and the economy, on Russian territory. The Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR adopted laws which contradicted Soviet laws (the so-called War of Laws).
In the unionwide referendum on 17 March 1991, boycotted by the Baltic states, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova, the majority of the residents of the rest of the republics expressed the desire to retain the renewed Soviet Union. Following negotiations, eight of the nine republics (except Ukraine) approved the New Union Treaty with some conditions. The treaty would make the Soviet Union a federation of independent republics with a common president, foreign policy, and military. The Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan were to sign the Treaty in Moscow on 20 August 1991.
On 11 December 1990, KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, made a "call for order" over Central television in Moscow. That day, he asked two KGB officers to prepare a plan of measures that could be taken in case a state of emergency was declared in the USSR. Later, Kryuchkov brought Soviet Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov, Internal Affairs Minister Boris Pugo, Premier Valentin Pavlov, Vice-President Gennady Yanayev, Soviet Defense Council deputy chief Oleg Baklanov, Gorbachev secretariat head Valeriy Boldin, and CPSU Central Committee Secretary Oleg Shenin into the conspiracy.
The members of the conspiracy, also known as the State Committee on the State of Emergency, or GKChP, hoped that Gorbachev could be persuaded to declare the state of emergency and to "restore order".
On 23 July 1991, a number of party functionaries and literati published in the hardline newspaper 'Sovetskaya Rossiya' as a prime factor to an anti-Perestroika manifesto entitled A Word to the People.
Six days later, Gorbachev, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev discussed the possibility of replacing such hardliners as Pavlov, Yazov, Kryuchkov and Pugo with more liberal figures. Kryuchkov, who had placed Gorbachev under close surveillance as Subject 110 several months earlier, eventually got wind of the conversation.
On 17 August the members of the GKChP met at a KGB guesthouse in Moscow and studied the treaty document. They believed the pact would pave the way to the Soviet Union's breakup, and decided that it was time to act. The next day, Baklanov, Boldin, Shenin, and USSR Deputy Defense Minister General Valentin Varennikov flew to the Crimea for a meeting with Gorbachev. They demanded that Gorbachev either declare a state of emergency or resign and name Yanayev as acting president to allow the members of the GKChP "to restore order" in the country.
Gorbachev has always claimed that he refused point blank to accept the ultimatum. Varennikov has insisted that Gorbachev said: "Do what you think is needed, damn you!" However, those present at the dacha at the time testified that Baklanov, Boldin, Shenin, and Varennikov had been clearly disappointed and nervous after the meeting with Gorbachev. With Gorbachev's refusal, the conspirators ordered that he remain confined to the Foros dacha; at the same time the dacha's communication lines (which were controlled by the KGB) were shut down. Additional KGB security guards were placed at the dacha gates with orders to stop anybody from leaving.
The members of the GKChP ordered 250,000 pairs of handcuffs from a factory in Pskov to be sent to Moscow and 300,000 arrest forms. Kryuchkov doubled the pay of all KGB personnel, called them back from holiday, and placed them on alert. The Lefortovo prison was emptied to receive prisoners.
The August Coup 
The members of the GKChP met in the Kremlin after Baklanov, Boldin, Shenin and Varennikov returned from the Crimea. Yanayev, Pavlov and Baklanov signed the so-called "Declaration of the Soviet Leadership" in which they declared the state of emergency in all of the USSR and announced that the State Committee of the State of Emergency (Государственный Комитет по Чрезвычайному Положению, ГКЧП, or Gosudarstvenniy Komitet po Chrezvichaynomu Polozheniyu, GKChP) had been created "to manage the country and to effectively maintain the regime of the state of emergency". The GKChP included the following members:
- Gennady Yanayev
- Valentin Pavlov
- Vladimir Kryuchkov
- Dmitriy Yazov
- Boris Pugo
- Oleg Baklanov
- Vasily Starodubtsev, chairman of the USSR Peasant Union
- Alexander Tizyakov, president of the Association of the State Enterprises and Conglomerates of Industry, Transport, and Communications
Yanayev signed the decree naming himself as acting USSR president on the pretext of Gorbachev's inability to perform presidential duties due to "illness". These eight collectively became known as the "State Committee on the State of Emergency" (GKChP).
The GKChP banned all newspapers in Moscow, except for nine Party-controlled newspapers. The GKChP also issued a populist declaration which stated that "the honour and dignity of a Soviet man must be restored."
19th of August 
All of the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP) documents were broadcast over the state radio and television starting from 7 a.m. The Russian SFSR-controlled Radio Rossii and Televidenie Rossii, plus "Ekho Moskvy", the only independent political radio station, were cut off the air. Armor units of the Tamanskaya Division and the Kantemirovskaya tank division rolled into Moscow along with paratroops. Four Russian SFSR people's deputies (who were considered the most "dangerous") were detained by the KGB at an army base near Moscow. The conspirators considered detaining Russian SFSR President Boris Yeltsin upon his arrival from a visit to Kazakhstan on 17 August, or after that when he was on his dacha near Moscow, but for some reason they did not do so. The failure to arrest Yeltsin was to prove fatal to their plans.
Yeltsin arrived at the White House, Russia's parliament building, at 9am on 19 August. Together with Russian SFSR Prime Minister Ivan Silayev and Supreme Soviet Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov, Yeltsin issued a declaration in which it was stated that a reactionary anti-constitutional coup had taken place. The military was urged not to take part in the coup. The declaration called for a general strike with the demand to let Mikhail Gorbachev address the people. This declaration was distributed around Moscow in the form of flyers.
In the afternoon the citizens of Moscow began to gather around the White House and to erect barricades around it. In response Gennady Yanayev declared the state of emergency in Moscow at 16:00. Yanayev declared at the press conference at 17:00 that Gorbachev was "resting". He said: "Over these years he has got very tired and needs some time to get his health back."
Meanwhile, Major Evdokimov, chief of staff of a Tamanskaya tank battalion guarding the White House, declared his loyalty to the leadership of the Russian SFSR. Yeltsin climbed one of the tanks and addressed the crowd. Unexpectedly, this episode was included in the state media's evening news.
20th of August 
At noon, Moscow military district commander General Kalinin, whom Yanayev appointed as military commandant of Moscow, declared a curfew in Moscow from 23:00 to 5:00, effective from 20 August. This was understood as the sign that the attack on the White House was imminent.
The defenders of the White House prepared themselves, most of them being unarmed. Evdokimov's tanks were moved from the White House in the evening. The makeshift White House defense headquarters was headed by General Konstantin Kobets, a Russian SFSR people's deputy.
In the afternoon of 20 August, Kryuchkov, Yazov and Pugo finally decided to attack the White House. This decision was supported by other GKChP members. Kryuchkov and Yazov's deputies, KGB general Ageyev and Army general Achalov, respectively, planned the assault, codenamed "Operation Grom" (Thunder), which would gather elements of the Alpha Group and Vympel Groups, with the support of the paratroopers, Moscow OMON, the Internal Troops of the Dzerzhinsky division, three tank companies and a helicopter squadron. Alpha Group commander General Viktor Karpukhin and other senior officers of the unit together with Airborne Troops deputy commander Gen Alexander Lebed mingled with the crowds near the White House and assessed the possibility of such an operation. After that, Karpukhin and Vympel commander Colonel Beskov tried to convince Ageyev that the operation would result in bloodshed and should be canceled. Lebed, with the consent of his immediate superior, Pavel Grachev, returned to the White House and secretly informed the defense headquarters that the attack would begin at 2:00.
21st of August 
At about 1:00, not far from the White House, trolleybuses and street cleaning machines barricaded a tunnel against oncoming Taman Guards IFVs. Three men were killed in the incident with several others wounded. Two of the victims were trying to cover an IFV's observation slit. The crowd later burned the IFV, but no soldiers were killed. Alpha Group and Vympel did not move to the White House as had been planned and Yazov ordered the troops to pull out from Moscow.
The troops began to move from Moscow at 8:00. The GKChP members met in the Defence Ministry and, not knowing what to do, decided to send Kryuchkov, Yazov, Baklanov, Tizyakov, Anatoly Lukyanov, and Deputy CPSU General Secretary Vladimir Ivashko to the Crimea to meet Gorbachev, who refused to meet them when they arrived. With the dacha's communications to Moscow restored, Gorbachev declared all the GKChP's decisions void and dismissed its members from their state offices. The USSR General Prosecutors Office started the investigation of the coup.
Gorbachev and the GKChP delegation flew to Moscow, where Kryuchkov, Yazov, and Tizyakov were arrested upon arrival in the early hours of 22 August. Pugo was arrested in his office several hours later and committed suicide along with his wife the next day. Pavlov, Vasily Starodubtsev, Baklanov, Boldin, and Shenin would be in custody within the next 48 hours.
Since several heads of the regional executive committees supported the GKChP, on 21 August the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR adopted Decision No. 1626-1, which authorized Russian President Boris Yeltsin to appoint heads of regional administrations, although the Russian constitution did not empower the president with such authority. It passed another decision the next day which declared the old imperial colors as Russia's national flag. It eventually replaced the Russian SFSR flag two months later.
On the night of 24 August the Felix Dzerzhinskiy statue in front of the KGB building at Dzerzhinskiy Square (Lubianka) was dismantled, while thousands of Moscow citizens took part in the funeral of Dmitry Komar, Vladimir Usov and Ilya Krichevsky, the three citizens who died in the tunnel incident. Gorbachev posthumously awarded them with the Hero of the Soviet Union medal. Yeltsin asked their relatives to forgive him for not being able to prevent their deaths.
End of the CPSU 
Gorbachev resigned as CPSU general secretary on 24 August. Vladimir Ivashko replaced him as acting general secretary but resigned on 29 August. Around the same time, Yeltsin decreed the transfer of the CPSU archives to the state archive authorities, as well as nationalizing all CPSU assets in Russia (which included not only the headquarters of party committees but also educational institutions, hotels, etc.). Yeltsin decreed the termination and banning of all Party activities in Russia.
Dissolution of the Soviet Union 
On 24 August Mikhail Gorbachev created the so-called "Committee for the Operational Management of the Soviet Economy" (Комитет по оперативному управлению народным хозяйством СССР), to replace the USSR Cabinet of Ministers headed by Valentin Pavlov, a GKChP member. Russian prime minister Ivan Silayev headed this committee. On the same day the Verkhovna Rada adopted the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine and called for a referendum on support of the Declaration of Independence.
On 5 September the Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union adopted Soviet Law No. 2392-1 "On the Authorities of the Soviet Union in the Transitional Period" under which the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union had replaced Congress of People's Deputies and was reformed. Two new legislative chambers—the Soviet of the Union (Совет Союза) and the Soviet of Republics (Совет Республик)—replaced the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities (both elected by the USSR Congress of Peoples Deputies). The Soviet of the Union was to be formed by the popularly elected USSR people's deputies. The Soviet of Republics was to include 20 deputies from each union republic plus one deputy to represent each autonomous region of each union republic (both USSR people's deputies and republican people's deputies) delegated by the legislatures of the union republic. Russia was an exception with 52 deputies. However, the delegation of each union republic was to have only one vote in the Soviet of Republics. The laws were to be first adopted by the Soviet of the Union and then by the Soviet of Republics.
Also created was the USSR State Council (Государственный совет СССР), which included the USSR President and the presidents of union republics. The "Committee for the Operational Management of the Soviet Economy" was replaced by the USSR Inter-republican Economic Committee (Межреспубликанский экономический комитет СССР), also headed by Ivan Silayev.
In September over 99% percent of voters in Armenia voted for a referendum approving the republic's commitment to independence. The immediate aftermath of that vote was the Armenian Supreme Soviet's declaration of independence, issued on 21 September.
By November, the only Soviet Republics that had not declared independence were Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. That same month, seven republics (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) agreed to a new union treaty that would form a confederation called the Union of Sovereign States. However, this confederation never materialized.
On 1 December Ukraine held a referendum, in which more than 90% of residents supported the Act of Independence of Ukraine.
On 8 December Boris Yeltsin, Leonid Kravchuk and Stanislav Shushkevich—respective leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (which adopted that name in August 1991)—as well as the prime ministers of the republics met in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where they created the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and annulled the 1922 union treaty that had established the Soviet Union. Doubts remained about legitimacy of the signing that took place on 8 December, so another signing ceremony was held in Alma-Ata on 21 December to expand the CIS to include Armenia, Azerbaijan and the five republics of Central Asia. Georgia joined in 1993, only to withdraw in 2008 after conflict between Georgia and Russia; the three Baltic states never joined.
On 24 December 1991 the Russian Federation, with the concurrence of the other republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States, informed the United Nations that it would succeed the Soviet Union in its membership in the UN and in its seat on the UN Security Council. No member state of the UN formally objected to this step. The legitimacy of this act has been questioned by some legal scholars as the Soviet Union itself was not constitutionally succeeded by the Russian Federation, but merely dissolved. Others argued that the international community had already established the precedent of recognizing the Soviet Union as the legal successor of the Russian Empire, and so recognizing the Russian Federation as the Soviet Union's successor state was valid.
On 25 December 1991, Gorbachev announced his resignation as Soviet president. The red hammer and sickle flag of the Soviet Union was lowered from the Senate building in the Kremlin and replaced with the tricolor flag of Russia. The next day, 26 December 1991, the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist.
Beginning of radical economic reforms in Russia 
On 1 November 1991 the RSFSR Congress of People's Deputies issued Decision No. 1831-1 On the Legal Support of the Economic Reform whereby the Russian president (Boris Yeltsin) was granted the right to issue decrees required for the economic reform even if they contravened the laws. Such decrees entered into force if they were not repealed within 7 days by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR or its Presidium.
On 6 November 1991 Boris Yeltsin in addition to the duties of the President assumed the duties of the prime minister. Yegor Gaidar became deputy prime minister and simultaneously economic and finance minister.
On 15 November 1991 Boris Yeltsin issued Decree No. 213 On the Liberalization of Foreign Economic Activity on the Territory of the RSFSR whereby all Russian companies were allowed to import and to export goods and to acquire foreign currency (previously all foreign trade had been tightly controlled by the state).
Trial of the members of the GKChP 
The GKChP members and their accomplices were charged with treason in the form of a conspiracy aimed at capturing power. However, by the end of 1992 they were all released from custody pending trial. The trial in the Military Chamber of the Russian Supreme Court began on 14 April 1993.
On 23 February 1994 the State Duma declared amnesty for all GKChP members and their accomplices, along with the participants of the October 1993 crisis. They all accepted the amnesty, except for General Varennikov, who demanded the continuation of the trial and was finally acquitted on 11 August 1994.
Parliamentary commission 
Further fate of GKChP members 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (August 2011)|
- Gennadiy Yanayev, amnesty of the Russian State Duma of 1994 (Head of Department of History and International Relations for the Russian International Academy of Tourism)
- Valentin Pavlov, amnesty of the Russian State Duma of 1994 (financial expert for several banks and other financial institutions, chairman of Free Economic Society)
- Vladimir Kryuchkov, amnesty of the Russian State Duma of 1994 (Movement in support of army)
- Dmitriy Yazov, amnesty of the Russian State Duma of 1994 (adviser to Ministry of Defense and the Academy of General Staff)
- Boris Pugo, suicide
- Oleg Baklanov, amnesty of the Russian State Duma of 1994 (chairman of board of directors for "Rosobshchemash")
- Vasiliy Starodubtsev, freed from under arrest in 1992 due to health complications (deputy to the Federation Council of Russia 1993-95, governor of Tula Oblast 1997-05, member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation since 2007)
- Aleksandr Tizyakov, amnesty of the Russian State Duma of 1994 (member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, founder of series of enterprises such as "Antal" (machinebuilding), "Severnaya kazna" (insurance company), "Vidikon" (production of electric arc furnace), "Fidelity" (production of fast moving consumer goods))
See also 
- Civil resistance
- Dissolution of the Soviet Union
- History of the Soviet Union
- 1993 Russian constitutional crisis
Notes and references 
- Ольга Васильева, «Республики во время путча» в сб.статей: «Путч. Хроника тревожных дней». // Издательство «Прогресс», 1991. (in Russian). Accessed 2009-06-14. Archived 17 June 2009.
- Solving Transnistria: Any Optimists Left? by Cristian Urse. p. 58. Available at http://se2.isn.ch/serviceengine/Files/RESSpecNet/57339/ichaptersection_singledocument/7EE8018C-AD17-44B6-8BC2-8171256A7790/en/Chapter_4.pdf
- a party led by the nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky - http://www.lenta.ru/lib/14159799/full.htm. Accessed 13 September 2009. Archived 16 September 2009-.
- Mark Kramer, "The Dialectics of Empire: Soviet Leaders and the Challenge of Civil Resistance in East-Central Europe, 1968-91", in Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (eds.), Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, Oxford University Press, 2009 pp. 108-9.
- "''Gorbachev and Perestroika''. Professor Gerhard Rempel, Department of History, Western New England College, 1996-02-02, accessed 2008-07-12". Mars.wnec.edu. Retrieved 31 March 2010.
- Yevgenia Albats and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia - Past, Present, and Future. 1994. ISBN 0-374-52738-5, pages 276-293.
- KGB Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Zhizhin and KGB Col. Alexei Yegorov, The State within a state, p. 276-277.
- (Russian) September 1991 internal KGB report on the involvement of KGB in the coup
- (Russian) "Novaya Gazeta" No. 51 of 23 July 2001 (extracts from the indictment of the conspirators)
- (Russian) Timeline of the events, by Artem Krechnikov, Moscow BBC correspondent
- Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin (2000). The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West. Gardners Books. ISBN 0-14-028487-7, pages 513-514.
- The KGB surveillance logbook included every move of Gorbachev and his wife Raisa Gorbacheva, Subject 111, such as "18:30. 111 is in the bathtub."The State within a state, page 276-277
- (Russian) "Novaya Gazeta" No. 59 of 20 August 2001 (extracts from the indictment of the conspirators)
- "Kommersant", 18 August 2006 (Russian)
- Gorbachev's interview to the Russian Service of BBC of 16 August 2001 (Russian)
- В.Варенников. "Неповторимое", Книга 7
- Revolutionary Passage by Marc Garcelon p. 159
- (Russian) GKChP documents
- (Russian) another "Kommersant" article, 18 August 2006
- (Russian) "Novaya Gazeta" No. 55 of 6 August 2001 (extracts from the indictment of the conspirators)
- (Russian) "Novaya Gazeta" No. 57 of 13 August 2001 (extracts from the indictment of the conspirators)
- A Russian book on August 1991 events
- "Izvestia", 18 August 2006 (Russian)
- "Moskovskie Novosty", 2001, No.33 (Russian)
- (Russian) "Nezavisimoe Voiennoye Obozrenie", 18 August 2006
- Russian site on Heroes of the Soviet Union
- "Argumenty i Facty", 15 August 2001
- A Russian site on Ilya Krichevsky . Accessed 15 August 2009. Archived 17 August 2009.
- Konsultant+ (Russian legal database)[full citation needed]
- Russian legal database
- Site of RIA-Novosti (Russian news agency)
- "Vzgliad", 18 August 2006 (Russian)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt|
- Russia at the barricades: Eyewitness accounts of the Moscow coup (August 1991), ed. Victoria Bonnell, Ann Copper, and Gregory Freidin. Introduction by Victoria E. Bonnell and Gregory Freidin (M.E. Sharpe, 1994). Includes the chronology of the coup, photos, and accounts from a broad cross-section of participants and eyewitnesses, including the editors.
- IRC logs: Transcript of internet chat from the time of the coup
- TASS transmissions at the time of the coup (captured from short-wave radio transmissions, contains decoding errors)
- Andrew Coyne: Getting to the Roots of a Deserved Failure
- The St. Petersburg Times #696(63), 17.08.2001 The issue of The St. Petersburg Times devoted to the 10th anniversary of the coup attempt.
- The Collapse of Stalinism Chronology of the Coup The USSR in 1991: The Implosion of a Superpower by Dr Robert F. Miller
- 1991 Diplomatic Bluebook, Section 4. The Soviet Union by the Japanese Foreign Ministry
- Moscow Coup, August 1991, Anonymous: Memories of an anonymous Russian in Wiki Memory Archive
- Memories of Sam Lafranco in Wiki Memory Archive
- Personal account and photographs of historian Douglas Smith, eyewitness to the coup
- Vadim Anatov, a programmer for Relcom (the first public ISP in the USSR) talking about the role of the Internet in resistance to the coup.
- Adventures of the "Nuclear Briefcase": A Russian Document Analysis, Strategic Insights, Volume III, Issue 9 (September 2004), by Mikhail Tsypkin