1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt

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1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt
Part of the Cold War, the Revolutions of 1989
and dissolution of the Soviet Union
August Coup montage.png
(Clockwise from top left)
Date19–22 August 1991 (3 days)

Coup fails


Soviet Union State Committee on the State of Emergency

Supporting republics:[1]

Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Communist Party of the RSFSR
Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic Communist Party of Estonia (CPSU)
Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic Communist Party of Latvia
Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic Communist Party of Lithuania
Liberal Democratic Party[3]

Soviet Union Govt. of the USSR

Govt. of the RSFSR

Supporting republics:[1]

Russian nationalists and monarchists
Azerbaijan Popular Front of Azerbaijan
Belarus BPF "Adradžeńnie"

Commanders and leaders

Soviet Union Gennady Yanayev Surrendered
Soviet Union Dmitry Yazov Surrendered
Soviet Union Vladimir Kryuchkov Surrendered
Soviet Union Valentin Pavlov Surrendered
Soviet Union Boris Pugo 
Soviet Union Oleg Baklanov Surrendered
Soviet Union Vasily Starodubtsev Surrendered
Soviet Union Alexander Tizyakov Surrendered

Vladislav Ardzinba
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic Anatoly Malofeyev
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic Nikolay Dementey
Stepan Topal
Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic Qahhor Mahkamov
Mintimer Shaimiev
Igor Smirnov
Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic Saparmurat Niyazov
Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic Islam Karimov
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Valentin Kuptsov
Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic Alfrēds Rubiks
Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic Mykolas Burokevičius
Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev (under house arrest)
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist RepublicRussia Boris Yeltsin
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist RepublicRussia Alexander Rutskoy
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist RepublicRussia Ruslan Khasbulatov
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist RepublicRussia Ivan Silayev
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist RepublicRussia Konstantin Kobets
Gavriil Popov
Pavel Grachev
Anatoly Sobchak
Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic Levon Ter-Petrosyan
Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic Edgar Savisaar
Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic Zviad Gamsakhurdia
Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic Nursultan Nazarbayev
Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic Askar Akayev
Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic Ivars Godmanis
Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic Vytautas Landsbergis
Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic Gediminas Vagnorius
Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic Mircea Snegur
Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic Valeriu Muravschi
Heydar Aliyev
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic Leonid Kravchuk
Azerbaijan Abulfaz Elchibey
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic Stanislav Shushkevich
Belarus Zianon Pazniak
Flag of the UNA-UNSO Yuriy Shukhevych
Casualties and losses
  • 3 civilians killed on 21 August
  • The 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt, also known as the August Coup,[a] was a failed attempt made by communist hard-liners of the Soviet Union to take control of the country from Mikhail Gorbachev, who was Soviet President and General Secretary of the party. The coup leaders consisted of top military and civilian officials who formed the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP). They were hard-line opponents of Gorbachev's reform program, angry at the loss of control over Eastern European states, and fearful of the new union treaty that was about to be signed. The treaty decentralized much of the central government's power to the 15 republics. The hard-liners were very poorly organized. They met defeat by a short but effective campaign of anticommunist protestors, mainly in Moscow,[11] led by Russian president Boris Yeltsin, who had been both an ally and critic of Gorbachev. The coup collapsed in only two days and Gorbachev returned to office, while all the plotters lost office. Yeltsin became the dominant leader and Gorbachev lost much of his influence. The failed coup led to both the immediate collapse of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the USSR four months later.

    Following the capitulation of the GKChP, popularly referred to as the "Gang of Eight", both the Supreme Court of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and the President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev described their actions as a coup attempt.


    Since assuming power as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union 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.[12] These moves prompted resistance and suspicion on the part of hardline members of the nomenklatura. The reforms also unleashed some forces and movements that Gorbachev did not expect.[citation needed] 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. Scarcity of food, medicine, and other consumables was widespread,[13] people had to stand in long lines to buy even essential goods,[14] fuel stocks were as much as 50% less than the estimated need for the approaching winter, and inflation was over 300% per year, with factories lacking in cash needed to pay salaries.[15] In 1990, Estonia,[16] Latvia,[17] Lithuania[18] and Armenia[19] had already declared the restoration of 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.[citation needed]

    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 that contradicted Soviet laws (the so-called War of Laws).[citation needed]

    In the unionwide referendum on 17 March 1991, boycotted by the Baltic states, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova, the supermajority of the residents of the rest of the republics expressed the desire to retain the renewed Soviet Union, with 77.85% voting in favor. 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 called the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics with a common president, foreign policy, and military. Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan were to sign the Treaty in Moscow on 20 August 1991.[20][21]

    According to British historian Dan Stone:

    The coup was the last gasp of those who were astonished at and felt betrayed by the precipitous collapse of the Soviet Union's empire in Eastern Europe and the swift destruction of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon that followed. Many feared the consequences of Gorbachev's German policies above all, not just for leaving officers unemployed but for sacrificing gains achieved in the Great Patriotic War to German revanchism and irredentism - after all this had been the Kremlin's greatest fear since the end of the war.[22]


    The KGB began to consider attempting a coup in September 1990, while Alexander Yakovlev began warning Gorbachev about the possibility of one after the 28th Party Congress in June 1990.[23] On 11 December 1990, KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, made a "call for order" over the Moscow Programme.[24] That day, he asked two KGB officers[25] 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 Dmitry Yazov, Internal Affairs Minister Boris Pugo, Premier Valentin Pavlov, Vice-President Gennady Yanayev, Soviet Defense Council deputy chief Oleg Baklanov, Gorbachev secretariat head Valery Boldin [ru], and CPSU Central Committee Secretary Oleg Shenin into the conspiracy.[26][27]

    Beginning with the January Events in Lithuania, members of Gorbachev's Cabinet hoped that he could be persuaded to declare the state of emergency and to "restore order," and formed the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP).[28]

    On 17 June 1991, Pavlov requested extraordinary powers from the Supreme Soviet, although Gorbachev condemned the move. Several days later, Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov informed U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack F. Matlock Jr. that a coup against Gorbachev was being planned. When Matlock tried to warn him, Gorbachev falsely assumed that his own Cabinet was not involved and underestimated the risk of a coup.[28]

    On 23 July 1991, many party functionaries and literati published in the hardline newspaper Sovetskaya Rossiya a piece entitled "A Word to the People" which called for decisive action to prevent calamity.[29]

    Six days later, on July 29, 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,[30] with Nazarbayev as Prime Minister (In Pavlov's place). Kryuchkov, who had placed Gorbachev under close surveillance as Subject 110 several months earlier, eventually got wind of the conversation from an electronic bug planted by Gorbachev's bodyguard Vladimir Medvedev.[23][31][32] Yeltsin also prepared for a coup by establishing a secret defense committee ordering military and KGB commands to side with RSFSR authorities and by establishing a "reserve government" in Sverdlovsk under Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Lobov.

    On 4 August, Gorbachev went on holiday to his dacha in Foros, Crimea.[30] He planned to return to Moscow in time for the New Union Treaty signing on 20 August. On August 15, the text of the draft Union Treaty was published.[33]

    On 17 August, the members of the GKChP met at a KGB guesthouse in Moscow and studied the treaty document. Decisions are made to introduce a state of emergency from August 19, to form a State Emergency Committee, to require Gorbachev to sign the relevant decrees or to resign and transfer powers to Vice President Gennady Yanayev.[30] 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 Crimea for a meeting with Gorbachev. Yazov ordered General Pavel Grachev, the commander of the Soviet Airborne Forces, to begin coordinating with KGB Deputy Chairmen Viktor Grushko and Genii Ageev to implement martial law.[23]

    At 4:32 pm on 18 August, the GKChP cut communications to Gorbachev's dacha, including telephone landlines and the nuclear command and control system.[30] Eight minutes later, Lieutenant General Yuri Plekhanov of the Ninth Chief Directorate allowed them into Gorbachev's dacha. Gorbachev realized what was happening after discovering the telephone outages. 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.[27][34][35][28]

    Gorbachev has always claimed that he refused point-blank to accept the ultimatum.[34][36] Varennikov has insisted that Gorbachev said: "Damn you. Do what you want. But report my opinion!"[37] 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.[34] Gorbachev is also said to have insulted Varennikov by pretending to forget his name, and told his former trusted advisor Boldin "Shut up, you prick! How dare you give me lectures about the situation in the country!"[28] 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.[citation needed]

    19.30: Baklanov, Shenin, Boldin and Varennikov fly to Moscow, accompanied by the head of the KGB Security Service, Yuri Plekhanov. His deputy Vyacheslav Generalov remains "on the farm" in Foros.[30]

    20:00: Yanaev, Pavlov, Kryuchkov, Yazov, Pugo, Lukyanov gather in the Kremlin cabinet of the Prime Minister, discuss and edit the documents of the State Emergency Committee.[30]

    22.15: They are joined by Baklanov, Shenin, Boldin, Varennikov, Plekhanov. It was decided to declare Gorbachev ill. Yanayev hesitates, the others convince him that leadership and responsibility will be collective.[30]

    23.25: Yanaev signs a decree on entrusting himself with presidential powers.[30]

    The members of the GKChP ordered 250,000 pairs of handcuffs from a factory in Pskov to be sent to Moscow[38] 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.[31]

    The coup chronology[edit]

    The members of the GKChP met in the Kremlin after Baklanov, Boldin, Shenin and Varennikov returned from Crimea. Yanayev (who had only just been persuaded to join the plot), 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 on 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:

    Yanayev signed the decree naming himself as acting USSR president on the pretext of Gorbachev's inability to perform presidential duties due to "illness".[40] However, Russian investigators later identified Kryuchkov as the key planner of the coup.[23] These eight collectively became known as the "Gang of Eight".

    The GKChP banned all newspapers in Moscow, except for nine Party-controlled newspapers.[39] The GKChP also issued a populist declaration which stated that "the honour and dignity of the Soviet man must be restored."[39]

    19 August[edit]

    01:00: Yanayev signs documents on the formation of the State Committee for the State of Emergency, consisting of himself, Pavlov, Kryuchkov, Yazov, Pugo, Baklanov, Tizyakov and Starodubtsev (including these documents "Appeal to the Soviet people").[30][41]

    The GKChP members present sign the GKChP Resolution No. 1, which says about the introduction of a state of emergency for six months "in certain areas of the USSR" for a period of six months from 04:00 Moscow time on August 19, about the prohibition of rallies, demonstrations and strikes, about the suspension of the activities of political parties, public organizations and mass movements that impede the normalization of the situation, as well as the allocation of 6 hectares (15 acres) of land to all interested city residents for personal use.[30][39]

    04:00: The Sevastopol regiment of the border troops of the KGB of the USSR blocks the presidential dacha in Foros. By order of the Chief of Staff of the USSR Air Defense Forces, Colonel-General Maltsev, two tractors blocked the runway on which the President's flight facilities are located - the Tu-134 aircraft and the Mi-8 helicopter.[42]

    All of the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP) documents were broadcast over the state radio and television starting from 6 a.m.[30] The KGB immediately issued an arrest list including Russians SFSR President Boris Yeltsin, his allies, and the leaders of the umbrella activist group Democratic Russia.[23] The Russian SFSR-controlled Radio Rossii and Televidenie Rossii, plus "Ekho Moskvy", the only independent political radio station, were cut off the air. However, the station later resumed transmitting and became a source of information during the coup, and the BBC World Service and Voice of America were also able to provide continuous coverage. Gorbachev and his family heard the news from a BBC bulletin on a small Sony transistor radio that had not been taken away. For the next several days he refused to take food from outside his dacha to avoid being poisoned and took long outdoor strolls to dispute reports of his ill health.[43][28]

    Armour units of the Tamanskaya Division and the Kantemirovskaya tank division rolled into Moscow along with paratroops. Around 4000 soldiers, 350 tanks, 300 armoured personnel carriers and 420 trucks were mobilised to Moscow. Four Russian SFSR people's deputies (who were considered the most "dangerous") were detained by the KGB at an army base near Moscow.[26] However, almost no other arrests were made by the KGB during the coup. Ulysse Gosset and Vladimir Federovski later alleged that the KGB was planning to carry out a much larger wave of arrests two weeks after the coup, after which it would have abolished almost all legislative and local administrative structures under a highly centralized Council of Ministers.[23] Yanayev instructed Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh to make a statement requesting formal diplomatic recognition from foreign governments and the United Nations.[23]

    The conspirators considered detaining Yeltsin upon his arrival from a visit to Kazakhstan on 17 August but failed when Yeltsin redirected his flight from Chkalovsky Air Base to Moscow Vnukovo Airport. After that, they considered catching him when he was at his dacha near Moscow. The KGB Alpha Group surrounded Yeltsin's dacha with Spetsnaz, but for an undisclosed reason did not apprehend him. The commanding officer Viktor Karpukhin later alleged that he had received an order from Kryuchkov to arrest Yeltsin but disobeyed it, although his account has been questioned.[23] The failure to arrest Yeltsin proved fatal to their plans.[26][44][45] After the announcement of the coup at 06.30 Yeltsin began inviting prominent Russian officials to his dacha, including Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, Moscow Deputy Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Colonel-General Konstantin Kobets, RSFSR Prime Minister Ivan Silayev, Vice President Alexander Rutskoy, and RSFSR Supreme Soviet Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov.[23][30]

    U.S. map of Moscow with 1980s street names

    Yeltsin initially wanted to remain at the dacha and organize a rival government, but Kobets advised them to travel to the White House, Russia's parliament building, in order to maintain communications with opponents of the coup. They arrived and occupied the White House at 9 am. Together with Silayev and Khasbulatov, Yeltsin issued a declaration "To the Citizens of Russia" that condemned the GkChP's actions as a reactionary anti-constitutional coup. The military was urged not to take part in the coup, and local authorities were asked to follow laws from the RSFSR President rather than the GKChP. Although he initially avoided this step to avoid beginning a civil war, Yeltsin also took command of all Soviet military and security forces in the RSFSR.[23] The declaration called for a general strike with the demand to let Gorbachev address the people.[46] This declaration was distributed around Moscow in the form of flyers, and was disseminated nationwide through medium wave radio and on Usenet newsgroups via the RELCOM computer network.[47] Workers at Izvestia threatened to go on strike unless Yeltsin's proclamation was printed in the newspaper.[48]

    The GKChP relied on regional and local soviets, which were still mostly dominated by the Communist Party, to support the coup by forming emergency committees to repress dissidence. The CPSU Secretariat under Boldin sent coded telegrams to local party committees to assist the coup. Yeltsin's authorities later discovered that nearly 70 percent of them either backed it or attempted to remain neutral. Within the RSFSR the oblasts of Samara, Lipetsk, Tambov, Saratov, Orenburg, Irkutsk, and Tomsk and the krai of Altai and Krasnodar all supported the coup and pressured raikom to do so as well, while only three oblasts aside from Moscow and Leningrad opposed it. However, some of the soviets faced internal resistance against emergency rule. The Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics of Tatarstan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Checheno-Ingushetia, Buryatia, and North Ossetia all sided with the GKChP.[23]

    The Soviet public was divided on the coup. A poll in the RSFSR by Mnenie on the morning of 19 April showed that 23.6 percent of Russians believed the GKChP could improve living standards, while 41.9 percent had no opinion. However separate polls by Interfax showed that many Russians, including 71 percent of residents of Leningrad, feared the return of mass repressions. The GKChP also enjoyed strong support in the Russian-majority regions of Estonia and Transnistria, while Yeltsin enjoyed strong support in Sverdlovsk and Nizhny Novgorod.[23]

    At 10 am Rutskoy, Silayev, and Khasbulatov delivered a letter to Soviet Supreme Soviet Chairman Anatoly Lukyanov demanding a medical exam of Gorbachev by the World Health Organization and a meeting between themselves, Yeltsin, Gorbachev, and Yanayev within 24 hours. Rutskoy later visited Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow, the spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, and convinced him to declare support for Yeltsin. Meanwhile, in Leningrad, Military District Commander Viktor Samsonov ordered the formation of an emergency committee for the city chaired by Leningrad First Secretary Boris Gidaspov to circumvent Sobchak's democratically elected municipal government. Samsonov's troops were ultimately blocked by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators supported by the police, which forced Leningrad Television to broadcast a statement by Sobchak. Workers at the Kirov Plant went on strike in support of Yeltsin. Moscow First Secretary Yuri Prokofev attempted to do the same but was rebuffed when Boris Nikolskii refused to accept the office of Mayor of Moscow.[23] At 11 am, RSFSR Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev held a press conference for foreign journalists and diplomats and gained the support of most of the West for Yeltsin.[23]

    In the afternoon, the citizens of Moscow began to gather around the White House and erect barricades around it.[46] In response, Gennady Yanayev declared the state of emergency in Moscow at 16:00.[35][39] 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." Yanayev's shaking hands led some people to think he was drunk, and his trembling voice and weak posture made his words unconvincing. Victoria E. Bonnell and Gregory Frieden noted that the press conference had allowed spontaneous questioning from journalists who openly accused the GKChP of carrying out a coup and a news crew that did not censor Yanayev's erratic motions in the same way it had with past leaders such as Leonid Brezhnev, making them appear even more incompetent to Soviet audiences.[49] Gorbachev's security detail managed to create a makeshift television antenna so he and his family could watch the press conference.[35] After viewing the conference Gorbachev expressed confidence that Yeltsin would be able to stop the coup. That night his family smuggled out a videotape of Gorbachev condemning the coup.

    Yanayev and the rest of the State Committee ordered the Cabinet of Ministers to alter the then-current five-year plan to relieve the housing shortage. All city dwellers were given 1,000 square metres (13 acre) each to combat winter shortages by growing fruit and vegetables. In connection with the illness of Valentin Pavlov, the duties of the head of the government of the USSR were entrusted to First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Doguzhiyev.[50][30]

    Meanwhile, Major Evdokimov, chief of staff of a tank battalion of the Tamanskaya Division guarding the White House, declared his loyalty to the leadership of the Russian SFSR.[46][51] Yeltsin climbed one of the tanks and addressed the crowd. Unexpectedly, this episode was included in the state media's evening news.[52]

    20 August[edit]

    Tanks at the Red Square

    At 8 am, the Soviet General Staff ordered the Cheget controlling Soviet nuclear weapons to be returned to Moscow. Although he discovered that the GKChP's actions had cut off communications with the nuclear duty officers, the Cheget was returned to Moscow by 2 pm. However, Soviet Air Force Commander-in-Chief Yevgeny Shaposhnikov opposed the coup and claimed in his memoirs that he and the commanders of the Soviet Navy and the Strategic Rocket Forces told Yazov that they would not follow orders for a nuclear launch. After the coup, Gorbachev refused to admit that he had lost control of the nuclear weapons.[28]

    At noon, Moscow military district commander General Nikolai Kalinin, whom Yanayev appointed as military commandant of Moscow, declared a curfew in Moscow from 23:00 to 5:00, effective from 20 August.[27][53][46] 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.[35][54] The makeshift White House defense headquarters was headed by General Kobets, a Russian SFSR people's deputy.[54][55][56] Outside Eduard Shevardnadze, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Yelena Bonner delivered speeches in support of Yeltsin.[23]

    In the afternoon, Kryuchkov, Yazov and Pugo finally decided to attack the White House. This decision was supported by other GKChP members (minus Pavlov, who had been sent to his dacha and his wife due to drunkenness). Kryuchkov and Yazov's deputies, KGB general Ageyev and Army general Vladislav Achalov, respectively, planned the assault, codenamed "Operation Grom" (Thunder), which would gather elements of the Alpha Group and Vympel elite special forces units, with the support of paratroopers, Moscow OMON, the Internal Troops of the ODON, 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 cancelled.[26][27][30][57] Lebed, with the consent his superior Grachev, returned to the White House and secretly informed the defense headquarters that the attack would begin at 2:00.[30][57]

    While the events were unfolding in the capital, Estonia's Supreme Council declared at 23:03 the full reinstatement of the independent status of the Republic of Estonia after 51 years.

    State-controlled TASS dispatches from this day emphasize a hardline approach against crime, especially economic crimes and the Russian mafia, which the GKChP blamed on increasing trade with the West. Draft decrees were later discovered which would have allowed military and police patrols to shoot "hooligans," including pro-democracy demonstrators.[23]

    21 August[edit]

    At about 1:00, not far from the White House, trolleybuses and street cleaning machines were used to barricade a tunnel against oncoming Taman Guards infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs). Three men were killed in the incident, Dmitry Komar, Vladimir Usov, and Ilya Krichevsky, while several others were wounded. Komar, a 22-year-old Soviet-Afghan War veteran, was shot and crushed trying to cover a moving IFV's observation slit. Usov, a 37-year-old economist, was killed by a stray bullet whilst coming to Komar's aid. The crowd set fire to an IFV and Krichevsky, a 28-year-old architect, was shot dead as the troops escaped.[35][55][58][59] According to Sergey Parkhomenko, a journalist and democracy campaigner who was in the crowd defending the White House, "Those deaths played a crucial role: Both sides were so horrified that it brought a halt to everything."[60] 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. Reports also surfaced that Gorbachev had been placed under house arrest in Crimea.[61][62] During the final day of her family's exile Raisa Gorbacheva suffered a minor stroke.[28]

    At 8 am the troops begin to leave Moscow.[30]

    Between 8am and 9am, 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 Crimea to meet Gorbachev,[30] who refused to meet them when they arrived.

    At 10 am, the session of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR opens in the White House, at which President Yeltsin speaks.[30]

    At 1 pm, Cabinet of Ministers of the USSR circulates a statement about its non-involvement in the putsch.[30] Then at 1.20 pm Kryuchkov, Yazov, Baklanov, Tizyakov, Lukyanov and Deputy General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU Vladimir Ivashko leave for the airport, on the way get stuck in a traffic jam created by the armored vehicles of the Taman division returning to the base.[30]

    At 14.00 the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CPSU issues a statement, demanding that the GKChP clarify the fate of the head of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev.[30]

    By 15.30, Minister of Internal Affairs USSR Boris Pugo signs the last GKChP order - a cypher telegram to the regional departments of internal affairs with a demand to strengthen the security of television and radio organizations and report on all violations of the GKChP Resolution on information control.[30]

    At 16.08 that afternoon the plane with a delegation from the GKChP lands in Crimea.[30] Around 16:00, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, chaired by the heads of the chambers of the union parliament,[63] adopted a resolution in which it declared illegal the actual removal of the President of the USSR from his duties and the transfer of them to the vice-president of the country,[64] and in this connection demanded that Vice-President Yanaev cancel the decrees and the emergency orders based on them[65] as legally invalid from the moment they were signed.[66]

    By 16.52, a group of Russian deputies and public figures led by vice-president of the RSFSR Alexander Rutskoi, as well as members of the Security Council USSR Yevgeny Primakov and Vadim Bakatin, fly to Foros. They are accompanied by 36 officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia armed with machine guns under the command of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of the republic Andrei Dunaev.[30]

    Eight minutes later at 5pm, a delegation of the GKChP arrived at the presidential dacha in Crimea. President Gorbachev refused to accept it and demanded to restore communication with the outside world.[30] At the same time Yanaev signed a decree in which the State Emergency Committee was declared dissolved,[67][68] and all his decisions were invalid.[69][65]

    Later, at 7.16, the plane of the Russian delegation led by Rutskoi landed in Crimea.[30]

    By 20.00, the General Prosecutor's Office USSR initiates a criminal case into the attempted coup.[30][46]

    At 20.10: Rutskoy and his delegation went to see Gorbachev. According to eyewitnesses, the meeting was cordial and joyful, forcing them to forget for a while about the contradictions between the Soviet and Russian authorities.[30]

    From 21.40 to 22.10, Gorbachev received Lukyanov and Ivashko in the presence of Rutskoy and Primakov, accuses the speaker of the Supreme Soviet USSR of treason, and the deputy for the party of inaction during the days of the putsch.[30]

    Around 10 pm, the Prosecutor General of the RSFSR Valentin Stepankov signed a resolution on the arrest of members of the Emergency Committee.[30]

    During that period, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia declared its sovereignty officially completed with a law passed by its deputies, confirming the independence restoration act of 4 May as an official act.[70] In Tallinn, just a day after the restitution of independence, the Tallinn TV Tower was taken over by the Airborne Troops, while the television broadcast was cut off for a while, the radio signal was strong as a handful of Estonian Defence League (the unified paramilitary armed forces of Estonia) members barricaded the entry into signal rooms.[71] In the evening, as news of the failure of the coup reached the republic, the paratroopers departed from the tower and left the capital.

    22 August[edit]

    At one minute past midnight Gorbachev, his family and assistants flew to Moscow on Rutskoi's plane. The GKChP members were sent on a different plane, only Kryuchkov flies through the second cabin of the presidential plane under police protection (according to Rutskoi, "they will definitely not be shot down with him on board"). Upon arrival, Kryuchkov, Yazov and Tizyakov were arrested on the airfield.[30]

    At 2 am, Gorbachev returns to Moscow (Vnukovo International Airport). Television shows the president in a knitted sweater walking down the gangplank live. Later, Gorbachev would be reproached for the fact that he did not go to the White House, but went to rest at his dacha.[30]

    At 6 am Vice-President of the USSR Gennady Yanayev was arrested in his office.[30][72]

    23 August[edit]

    Pugo committed suicide along with his wife the next day. Pavlov, Vasily Starodubtsev, Baklanov, Boldin, and Shenin were taken into custody within the next 48 hours.[30]


    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,[73] although the Constitution of the Russian SFSR 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.[74] It eventually replaced the Russian SFSR flag two months later.

    On the night of 24 August, the Felix Dzerzhinsky 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 title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin asked their relatives to forgive him for not being able to prevent their deaths.[30]

    End of the CPSU[edit]

    Gorbachev initially tried to defend the CPSU, proclaiming at a 22 August press conference that it still represented a "progressive force" despite its leaders' participation in the coup.[28] Gorbachev resigned as CPSU General Secretary on 24 August.[75][30] Vladimir Ivashko replaced him as acting General Secretary but resigned on 29 August[citation needed] when the Supreme Soviet of the USSR suspended the activities of the party throughout the country.[76] Yeltsin decreed the transfer of the CPSU archives to the state archive authorities,[77] as well as nationalizing all CPSU assets in the Russian SFSR[78] (which included not only the headquarters of party committees but also educational institutions, hotels, etc.).[citation needed] The Central Committee headquarters were handed over to the Government of Moscow.[28] On 6 November, Yeltsin issued a decree banning the party in Russia.[79]

    Dissolution of the Soviet Union[edit]

    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[80] headed by Valentin Pavlov, a GKChP member. Russian Prime Minister Ivan Silayev headed this committee. On the same day the Verkhovna Rada adopted the Act of Independence of Ukraine and called for a referendum on support of the Act of Independence.

    On August 25, the Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian SSR announced the Declaration of Sovereignty as a constitutional law.[81][82]

    On August 28, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR dismissed Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov[83] and entrusted the functions of the government of the USSR to Committee for the Operational Management of the Soviet Economy.[84] The next day, Supreme Soviet Chairman Anatoly Lukyanov was arrested.[30]

    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 and would consider only issues concerning civil rights and freedoms and other issues which didn't fall under the jurisdiction of the Soviet of Republics. Its decisions would have to be reviewed by the Soviet of Republics. 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, which would set procedures for the central government, approve the appointment of central ministers and consider inter-republican agreements.[85]

    Also created was the Soviet State Council (Государственный совет СССР), which included the Soviet 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),[85] also headed by Ivan Silayev.

    On 27 August, Supreme Soviet of Moldova declared the independence of Moldova from the Soviet Union. The Supreme Soviets of Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan did the same on 30 and 31 August, respectively. Afterwards, on 6 September the newly created Soviet State Council recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.[86] Estonia had declared re-independence on 20 August, Latvia on the following day, while Lithuania had done so already on 11 March 1990. Three days later, on 9 September the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan declared the independence of Tajikistan from the Soviet Union. Furthermore, 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 27 October the Supreme Soviet of Turkmenistan declared the independence of Turkmenistan from the Soviet Union. On 1 December Ukraine held a referendum, in which more than 90% of residents supported the Act of Independence of Ukraine.

    By November, the only Soviet Republics that had not declared independence were Russia, 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 8 December Boris Yeltsin, Leonid Kravchuk and Stanislav Shushkevich—respectively, 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 signed the Belovezha Accords. This document declared that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist "as a subject of international law and geopolitical reality." It repudiated the 1922 union treaty that established the Soviet Union and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in the Union's place. On 12 December, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR ratified the accords and recalled the Russian deputies from the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Although this has been interpreted as the moment that Russia seceded from the Union, in fact, Russia took the line that it was not possible to secede from a state that no longer existed. The lower chamber of the Supreme Soviet, the Council of the Union, was forced to halt its operations, as the departure of the Russian deputies left it without a quorum.

    Doubts remained about the legitimacy of the signing that took place on 8 December, since only three republics took part. Thus, on 21 December in Alma-Ata, the Alma-Ata Protocol expanded the CIS to include Armenia, Azerbaijan and the five republics of Central Asia. They also pre-emptively accepted Gorbachev's resignation. With 11 of the 12 remaining republics (all except Georgia) having agreed that the Union no longer existed, Gorbachev bowed to the inevitable and said he would resign as soon as the CIS became a reality (Georgia joined the CIS in 1993, only to withdraw in 2008 after conflict between Georgia and Russia; the three Baltic states never joined, instead going on to join the European Union and NATO in 2004.)

    On 24 December 1991, the Russian SFSR—now renamed the Russian Federation—with the concurrence of the other republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States, informed the United Nations that it would inherit the Soviet Union's membership in the UN—including the Soviet Union's permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.[87] 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 President of the Soviet Union. The red hammer and sickle flag of the Soviet Union was lowered from the Senate building in the Kremlin and replaced with the tricolour flag of Russia. The next day, 26 December 1991, the Soviet of Republics, the upper chamber of the Supreme Soviet, formally voted the Soviet Union out of existence (the lower chamber, the Council of the Union, had been left without a quorum after the Russian deputies withdrew), thus ending the life of the world's first and oldest socialist state. All former Soviet embassies became Russian embassies while Russia received nuclear weapons from the other former republics by 1996. A constitutional crisis occurred in 1993 had been escalated into violence and the new constitution finally abolished the last vestiges of the Soviet political system.

    Beginning of radical economic reforms in Russia[edit]

    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.[88] Five days later, 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).[88] Following the issuing of Decree No. 213, on 3 December 1991 Boris Yeltsin issued Decree No. 297 On the Measures to Liberalize Prices whereby from 2 January 1992 most previously existing price controls were abolished.[88]

    Trial of the members of the GKChP[edit]

    The GKChP members and their accomplices were charged with treason in the form of a conspiracy aimed at capturing power. However, by January 1993, they had all been released from custody pending trial.[89][90] The trial in the Military Chamber of the Russian Supreme Court began on 14 April 1993.[91] 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.[92] They all accepted the amnesty, except for General Varennikov, who demanded the continuation of the trial and was finally acquitted on 11 August 1994.[30] The Russian Procuracy also wanted to charge former Deputy Defense Minister Vladislav Achalov, but the Russian Supreme Soviet refused to lift his immunity.[23] Additionally, the Procuracy refrained from charging numerous other individuals alleged of complicity in the coup, including Army Chief of Staff.

    Commemoration of the civilians killed[edit]

    Russian stamps commemorating Ilya Krichevsky, Dmitry Komar and Vladimir Usov, respectively

    Thousands of people attended the funeral of Dmitry Komar, Ilya Krichevsky, and Vladimir Usov on 24 August 1991. Gorbachev made the three men posthumous Heroes of the Soviet Union, for their bravery "blocking the way to those who wanted to strangle democracy.".[93]

    Parliamentary commission[edit]

    In 1991, the Parliamentary Commission for Investigating Causes and Reasons of the coup attempt was established under Lev Ponomaryov, but in 1992, it was dissolved at Ruslan Khasbulatov's insistence.

    International reactions[edit]

    Five Eyes[edit]

    The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance consisting of the United States, and the core Anglosphere founded during World War II but quickly shifted focus towards the Eastern Bloc as the Cold War began. During the Cold War, the five nations were inexorably linked. Canada for example was and is part of the NORAD Aerospace Defense System and acknowledged that any US-Soviet Nuclear Confrontation would directly impact Canada as well. Canadian leaders believed the US and Canada would be treated as a single set of targets.[94] Meanwhile even though Australia and New Zealand were not NATO members (as membership is only open to North Atlantic Countries) they were allied to the US and the UK through ANZUS. New-Zealand had developed a more independent direction as negotiations to host American nuclear materials had broken down.[94]

    George H. W. Bush, left, is seen with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. Bush condemned the coup and the actions of the "Gang of Eight".
    •  Australia: Prime Minister of Australia Bob Hawke said "The developments in the Soviet Union ... raise the question as to whether the purpose is to reverse the political and economic reforms which have been taking place. Australia does not want to see repression, persecution or vindictive actions against Gorbachev or those associated with him."[6]
    •  Canada:Several reactions to the coup quickly happened such as the Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney had huddled with his top advisers discussed the toppling of Mikhail Gorbachev, but his officials said the Prime Minister will likely react cautiously to the stunning development. Mulroney condemned the coup and suspended food aid and other assurances with the Soviet Union.[95] External Affairs Minister Barbara McDougall suggested on 20 August 1991 that "Canada could work with any Soviet junta that promises to carry on Gorbachev's legacy, Lloyd Axworthy and Liberal Leader Jean Chretien said Canada must join with other Western governments to back Russian President Boris Yeltsin, former Soviet foreign minister and Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze and others fighting for Soviet democracy." McDougall met with the chargé d'affaires of the Soviet embassy, Vasily Sredin.[96] Canada was and is part of the NORAD Aerospace Defense System and acknowledged that any US-Soviet Nuclear Confrontation would directly impact Canada as well. Canadian leaders believed the US and Canada would be treated as a single set of targets.[97]
    •  New Zealand:
    •  United Kingdom: The British Prime Minister John Major had expressed feelings in a 1991 interview on behalf of the UK about the coup and said "I think there are many reasons why it failed and a great deal of time and trouble will be spent on analysing that later. There were, I think, a number of things that were significant. I don't think it was terribly well-handled from the point of view of those organising the coup. I think the enormous and unanimous condemnation of the rest of the world publicly of the coup was of immense encouragement to the people resisting it. That is not just my view; that is the view that has been expressed to me by Mr. Shevardnadze, Mr. Yakovlev, President Yeltsin and many others as well to whom I have spoken to the last 48 hours. The moral pressure from the West and the fact that we were prepared to state unequivocally that the coup was illegal and that we wanted the legal government restored, was of immense help in the Soviet Union. I think that did play a part."[98] Major met with his cabinet that same day on 19 August to deal with the crisis. He added, "There seems little doubt that President Gorbachev has been removed from power by an unconstitutional seizure of power. There are constitutional ways of removing the president of the Soviet Union; they have not been used. I believe that the whole world has a very serious stake in the events currently taking place in the Soviet Union. The reform process there is of vital importance to the world and of most vital importance of course to the Soviet people themselves and I hope that is fully clear. There is a great deal of information we don't yet have, but I would like to make clear above all that we would expect the Soviet Union to respect and honor all the commitments that President Gorbachev has made on its behalf", he said, echoing sentiments from a litany of other Western leaders.[6] However, the British Government had frozen $80 million in economic aid to Moscow, and the European Community scheduled an emergency meeting in which it was expected to suspend a $1.5 billion aid program.[99]
    •  United States: During his vacation in Walker's Point Estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, the President of the United States, George H. W. Bush made a blunt demand for Gorbachev's restoration to power and said the United States did not accept the legitimacy of the self-proclaimed new Soviet Government. He returned to the White House after rushing from his vacation home, receiving a letter from Kozyrev aboard Air Force One. Bush then issued a strongly-worded statement that followed a day of consultations with other leaders of the Western alliance and a concerted effort to squeeze the new Soviet leadership by freezing economic aid programs. He decried the coup as a "misguided and illegitimate effort" that "bypasses both Soviet law and the will of the Soviet peoples." President Bush called the overthrow "very disturbing," and he put a hold on U.S. aid to the Soviet Union until the coup was ended.[6][99] The Bush statement, drafted after a series of meetings with top aides at the White House, was much more forceful than the President's initial reaction that morning in Maine. It was in keeping with a unified Western effort to apply both diplomatic and economic pressure to the group of Soviet officials seeking to gain control of the country. On 2 September 1991, the United States re-recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania when Bush delivered the press conference in Kennebunkport.[100] The coup also led several members of Congress such as Sam Nunn, Les Aspin, and Richard Lugar to become concerned about the security of Soviet weapons of mass destruction and the potential for nuclear proliferation in the unstable conditions. Despite public opposition to further aid to the Soviet Union and ambivalence from the Bush administration, they oversaw the ratification of the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991 authorizing the Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program providing funding to post-Soviet states for the decommissioning of WMD stockpiles.[28][101] Former President Ronald Reagan had said:

    "I can't believe that the Soviet people will allow a reversal in the progress that they have recently made toward economic and political freedom. Based on my extensive meetings and conversations with him, I am convinced that President Gorbachev had the best interest of the Soviet people in mind. I have always felt that his opposition came from the communist bureaucracy, and I can only hope that enough progress was made that a movement toward democracy will be unstoppable."[6]

    • Meanwhile CPUSA Chairman Gus Hall supported the coup, causing division within an already shrinking party. The CPSU had broken ties with the CPUSA in 1989 because of the latter's condemnation of Perestroika.

    Other NATO members[edit]

    •  Denmark: Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen said the process of change in the Soviet Union could not be reversed. In a statement, he said, "So much has happened and so many people have been involved in the changes in Soviet Union that I cannot see a total reversal."[6]
    •  France: President François Mitterrand called on the new rulers of the Soviet Union to guarantee the life and liberty of Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who was "Gorbachev's rival in the changing Soviet Union." Mitterrand added, "France attaches a high price to the life and liberty of Messrs. Gorbachev and Yeltsin being guaranteed by the new Moscow leaders. These will be judged by their acts, especially on the fashion in which the two high personalities in question will be treated."[6] Mitterrand was criticized for his hesitant reaction to the coup after it ended, this possibly helped right wing opposition parties win the 1993 French legislative election.[102]
    •  Germany: Chancellor Helmut Kohl cut his vacation short in Austria and returned to Bonn for an emergency meeting. Kohl had said he was sure Moscow would withdraw its remaining 272,000 troops from the former East Germany on schedule.[103] Björn Engholm, leader of Germany's opposition Social Democratic Party, urged member states of the European Community "to speak with one voice" on the situation and said, "the West should not exclude the possibility of imposing economic and political sanctions on the Soviet Union to avoid a jolt to the right, in Moscow."[6]
    •  Greece: Greece described the situation in the Soviet Union as "alarming". The Communist-led Alliance of the Left and former Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou both issued statements condemning the coup.[6]
    •  Italy: Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti released a statement and said "I'm surprised, embittered and worried. We all know the difficulties that Gorbachev encountered. But I don't know how a new president, who, at least for now, doesn't have (Gorbachev's) prestige and international connections, can overcome the obstacles." Achille Occhetto, the head of the Democratic Party of the Left, direct heir of the Italian Communist Party, called the ouster of Gorbachev "a most dramatic event of world proportions (which) will have immense repercussions on international life. I am personally and strongly struck, not only for the incalculable burden of this event, but also for the fate of comrade Gorbachev."[6]
    •  Norway:
    •  Turkey:

    Communist states[edit]

    This includes reactions from nations that were officially Marxist-Leninist at the time. As consequence former Warsaw Pact Members that had begun a transition to a Multi-party system are not listed here.

    •  Afghanistan: The failure of the Coup resulted in the removal of Soviet political and military officers that favored continued aid to the DRA. at this time Afghanistan was still completely dependent on the Soviet Union for survival in the ongoing Afghan Civil War. The last Soviet military assistance arrived in October, with all Russian aid being halted by Boris Yeltsin in January 1992. Yeltsin hoped to repatriate Soviet prisoners of war still being held by the Mujahideen and was not interested in protecting a 'Soviet Legacy'.[104] In the aftermath of the Coup Mohammad Najibullah came to resent the Soviets for abandoning him, writing to former Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze "I didn't want to be president, you talked me into it, insisted on it, and promised support. Now you are throwing me and the Republic of Afghanistan to its fate." In the winter of 1992 newly independent Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan provided food aid to Mohammad Najibullah's on their own accord in an attempt to save the regime, they also made contacts with the Mujahideen at the same time. The end of Soviet weapons deliveries caused the defection of militia leader Abdul Rashid Dostum from Mohammad Najibullah to Ahmad Shah Massoud spelling the end of the DRA in April 1992.[105]
    •  Albania During the coup in Moscow the Communist Ramiz Alia was still in power having won the 1991 Albanian parliamentary election. Encouraged by the coup's unraveling, three opposition parties demanded expedited reforms . The 1992 Albanian parliamentary election resulted in a crushing defeat for the now democratic Socialist Party of Albania and Alia's resignation as president.[102]
    •  Angola: In December 1991 the ruling MPLA in its party congress changed its ideology from Marxism–Leninism to Social Democracy and committed to multi-party democracy. Angola–Russia relations became less relevant to both parties after the coup. Angola's ability to enforce its rule on some of its territories diminished due to the end of Soviet weapons deliveries and departures of Cuban personnel.[104]
    •  China: The Chinese government appeared tacitly to support the coup when it issued a statement saying the move was an internal affair of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of China released no immediate comment. Confidential Chinese documents have indicated that China's hardline leaders strongly disapprove of Gorbachev's program of political liberalization, blaming him for "the loss of Eastern Europe to capitalism." Western scholarship has alleged that Beijing had foreknowledge of the planned coup, this hypothesis is supported by two events; firstly that of General Chi Haotian's Moscow visit August 5 and August 12 to see GKChp member Dmitry Yazov and secondly the rapid and mostly positive coverage of the coup in the Chinese Media while the activities of Boris Yeltsin were ignored. When the coup began top CCP leaders were gathered to celebrate Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping's birthday, upon hearing the news CCP elder Bo Yibo cursed Gorbachev. Deng then said "The Soviet Coup is a good thing but we must not visibly be pleased but only delighted at the bottom of our hearts." China pronounced a policy of non interference but hoped 'stability' (a restoration of Communist rule) would return to the Soviet Union. Behind closed doors, the Politburo agreed the coup should be recognized as a 'Marxist' act and that Sino-Soviet relations should be strengthened. However Deng Xiaoping also encouraged CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin to be cautious because the coup had the potential for failure. The GKChP was also interested in resolving the Sino-Soviet split and improving diplomatic relations, dispatching Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Belonogov to Beijing request full recognition and support.[23] Deng met with Belonogov and asked "what do you plan to do with Gorbachev" to measure the probability of the Coup's success. After hesitating for a day, China was moments away from an official declaration in support for the GKChp when news arrived of its end. When the Coup failed, Gorbachev suspended exchanges with China; allegedly the coup plotters attempted to flee to China but this was flatly denied by both governments.[106] Several Chinese people said that a key difference between the Soviet coup leaders' failed attempts to use tanks to crush dissent in Moscow and the hard-line Chinese leaders' successful use of tank-led forces during the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre was that the Soviet people had a powerful leader like Russian President Boris Yeltsin to rally around, whereas the Chinese protesters did not. The Soviet coup collapsed in three days without any major violence by the Soviet Army against civilians; in June 1989, the People's Liberation Army killed hundreds of people to crush the democracy movement.[6][107]
    •  PR Congo: Congo was already moving away from Marxist Leninism and had organized a democratic conference in June.[108] All references to Communism were removed from the Congolese Constitution in April 1992, yet former Soviet protégé Sassou-Nguesso would regain power and rule Congo through the present.
    •  Cuba: On August 20, the Cuban Government issued a statement insisting on its neutrality, that the conflict was "not Cuba's to judge". In the same statement Cuba also criticized the West for inciting divisions within the Soviet Union. A Western diplomat alleged that in private Cuba's officials hoped the coup would succeed because the plotters would continue the special Soviet relationship with Cuba. In September 1991, three quarters of Cuba's consumer goods were from the USSR, underlining the gravity of Moscow's events to Cuba's leaders.[109] As events unfolded Cuban officials did not believe the Coup would prevail. While Gorbachev was in power Fidel Castro never agreed with Perestroika and reiterated his position in July that there would be no changes in Cuba saying “In this revolution there will be no changes of name or ideas.”[110] The end of Soviet Assistance began the Special Period that would continue for 10 years.
    •  North Korea: As the coup began, newspapers published documents from the GKChP without comment or statements of support otherwise. Privately the regime instructed officers to support the Coup to "defend Socialist achievements". North Korean diplomats were present in Moscow and kept informal contacts with Russians as events unfolded, including soldiers on the ground. By the end of the first day, North Korea's embassy in Moscow reported to Pyongyang that the coup would not succeed. Simultaneous with the Coup were changing attitudes toward South Korea and a brief shootout at the DMZ border.[111] After the Coup's failure, Vice President Pak Song-chol said "The invincible might of our own style of socialism is being highly demonstrated," and "North is basically stable" in a reference to Juche.[112] Pyongyang would later blame Perestroika for the fall of the USSR, calling it both "Revisionist" and "Gorbachev's wrong anti socialist policy".[113] The end of Soviet Assistance was a direct cause for the Arduous March that began in 1994.
    •  Vietnam: The Coup came at a time, when promised Soviet aid was being slowed and later halted. Vietnamese Communists decided to not embrace a multi-party system in Vietnam due to the experience of Perestroika.. An official unnamed quoted the following "“Vietnam would probably not feel sorry to see (the end of the Soviet president’s career) because Gorbachev has made many mistakes . . . too many compromises with the West, He has also made the position and the role of the Soviet Union in the world weaker.” said the official, who asked not to be identified. The unnamed official also said that Vietnam would benefit from a return to Communist rule in the Soviet Union. “These changes would also affect positively Vietnam’s economy because the West would carry out a hard policy towards the Soviet Union, then the latter would look for trade relations with such countries as Vietnam and China.”[114] After the coup top Communist Party official Thai Ninh was asked by foreign press if Vietnam felt betrayed by Gorbachev and Yeltsin, he said "It's better to let the Soviet people decide that".[115] The failed Coup prompted Vietnam to normalize relations with China in November, ending the Sino-Vietnamese conflicts of the 1980s. In a major political victory for China, Vietnam recognized The State of Cambodia. Increasingly, Beijing and Hanoi felt an ideological affinity with one another and a mutual desire to resist Peaceful Evolution. Vietnam would look to ASEAN for new trading partners in the aftermath of the Dissolution of the Soviet Union.[116]
    •  Yugoslavia: . Officially Slobodan Milošević in charge of Serbia and Montenegro was silent, unofficially there were many interactions between Yugoslavia and the USSR leading up to the start of the coup. The violent Breakup of Yugoslavia had begun the previous year. Political actors in both nations realized the similarities of the their political situations. On the Anti-Communist side, separatists in the USSR were building relations with Yugoslavia's breakaway republics. At the end of July, Lithuania recognized Slovenia and in August, Georgia recognized Slovenia and Croatia's independence. On the side of hardliners, both nations had factions embracing a red-brown coalition between traditional Communists and Ultranationalists to maintain the territorial integrity of both the USSR and Yugoslavia. In the weeks leading up to the Coup, conservatives in the USSR were using the precedence of Yugoslavia as an excuse to violently suppress uprisings of non-Russians. In fact, Yugoslavia may have been a major cause for the Gang of Eight to believe their actions were necessary to prevent the USSR's collapse. When Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Marković visited Moscow in early August, Gorbachev pointed out the parallels between problems looming in both countries. Croatian President Franjo Tudman claimed in October, that "Communist Yugoslav Generals" had openly supported the coup and that they had received instructions from Moscow. The victory of the democrats in the USSR, had major implications for Yugoslavia. Yeltsin remembered that Milosevic had secretly supported Soviet conservatives and relations between the two were dismal. By the time the USSR collapsed, the problem of Yugoslavia had become a part of the Russian political landscape. Yeltsin and liberal elites would publicly take an even handed approach and encourage international cooperation to solve the crisis. By contrast; Post-Soviet conservatives looked to create advantages for Russia by supporting Orthodox Serbs in their struggle to control the remaining Yugoslav nations. Sociology Professor Veljko Vujacic assessed the similarities and differences between the Breakup of Yugoslavia and the Dissolution of the Soviet Union. Both nations were multi national Marxist-Leninist states with majority Slavic rulers that were facing major secessionist movements. In Serbia patriotism was linked with state-hood. Milosevic told his nationalist followers that every generation of Serbs have had their own "Kosovo battle" dating back to the 14th century. By contrast Russian Nationalists including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn differentiated the 'patriotic' Russian People, and the 'oppressive' Russian State. Boris Yeltsin and his followers saw the USSR as an oppressor of Russia thereby accelerating the mostly peaceful division of the former Soviet Union.[117] In April 27 of 1992, Yugoslavia formally disintegrated and with it vanished any mention of Marxist Leninism in its successor state of Serbia.[118]

    Former Warsaw Pact members[edit]

    The Warsaw Pact had dissolved in July, and its members had changed rapidly, with Marxist Leninist Pro Soviet governments deposed or elected out of office. As a consequence they all criticized or expressed weary sentiments about Moscow's events. Some of the former pact members deployed their armed forces to strategically important areas.

    •  Bulgaria: President Zhelyu Zhelev has stated "Such anti-democratic methods can never lead to anything good neither for the Soviet Union, nor for Eastern Europe, nor for the democratic developments in the world."[6]
    • Czechoslovakia: Vaclav Havel, the Czechoslovak president, warned his nation could face a possible "wave of refugees" crossing its border with the Ukrainian SSR. However, Havel said "It is not possible to reverse the changes that have already happened in the Soviet Union. We believe democracy will eventually prevail in the Soviet Union."[6] Interior Ministry spokesman Martin Fendrych said an unspecified number of additional troops had been moved to reinforce the Czechoslovak border with the Soviet Union.[6]
    •  Hungary: Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mátyás Szűrös said the coup increased the risk of a civil war in the Soviet Union. "Undoubtedly, the Soviet economy has collapsed but this has not been the result of Gorbachev's policy but of the paralyzing influence of conservatives" Szűrös said. "Suddenly, the likelihood of a civil war in the Soviet Union has increased."[6]
    •  Poland: In a statement released by the President Lech Wałęsa, whose Solidarity union helped prompt the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, appealed for calm. "May unity and responsibility for our state gain the upper hand." Wałęsa said in a statement read on Polish radio by spokesman Andrzej Drzycimski, "The situation in the USSR is significant for our country, It can affect our bilateral relations. We want then to be friendly." But he emphasized Poland kept its hard-won sovereignty while it pursued its economic and political reforms.[6]
    •  Romania: Romanian Prime Minister Petre Roman said the coup was an attempt to re-establish hard-line communism in the most Stalinist manner.[114]

    Other sovereign states[edit]

    •  India: As the coup was ongoing, Indian leaders indicated a degree of sympathy for Soviet hardliners. Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao said "Mr. Gorbachev's ouster was a warning to people who favored reforms without controls." Likewise India's ambassador in Moscow remarked that he "brought about the disintegration of the [Communist] party". Chief Minister of West Bengal and Communist Party of India (Marxist) Jyoti Basu cofounder completely endorsed the coup. When the coup failed, India's government changed course, celebrating "the reassertion of democratic values and a triumph for the will of the people." Despite official support for Yeltsin's victory, Indian politicians feared of a spill-over effect from the Dissolution of the Soviet Union would encourage secession movements at home. The loss of an economic partner and ideological friend upset the Rao Administration and India's leftist movement as the Indian National Congress felt it shared some of the CPSU's values. The Christian Science Monitor wrote "India feels orphaned - ideologically, strategically, economically"[119]
    •  Iraq: Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a close ally of the Soviet Union until Gorbachev had denounced the invasion of Kuwait during the Gulf War. One Iraqi spokesman quoted by the official Iraqi News Agency: "“Iraq’s right and steadfastness was one of the main reasons behind the fall (of Gorbachev) . . . because it (Iraq) exposed (his) policy of treason and conspiracy. It is natural that we welcome such change like the states and people who were affected by the policies of the former regime." In other words Saddam Hussein seemingly took credit for inspiring the coup.[6][114]
    •  Israel: Israeli officials said they hoped Gorbachev's attempted removal had not derailed the conference held in Madrid or a slower Soviet Jewish immigration. The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, which has coordinated the massive flow of Jews arriving from the Soviet Union, called an emergency meeting to assess how the coup would affect Jewish immigration. "We are closely following what is happening in the Soviet Union with concern," Foreign Minister David Levy said. "One might say that this is an internal issue of the Soviet Union, but in the Soviet Union ... everything internal has an influence for the entire world."[6]
    •  Japan: Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu ordered the Foreign Ministry to analyze the developments. "I strongly hope that the leadership change will not influence the positive policies of perestroika and new thinking diplomacy." said Chief Cabinet Secretary Misoji Sakamoto.[6] In addition, Soviet aid and technical loans from Japan was frozen.[8] Japan left open the question of the coup's legitimacy“ They (the Soviet government) have the right to decide whether it (the coup) is constitutional or unconstitutional,” said Taizo Watanabe, a government spokesman.[114]
    •  Libya The government radio quoted leader Muammar Gaddafi as praising the coup leaders for their “brave historical action.”[114]
    •  Philippines: Philippine President Corazon Aquino expressed "grave concern" and said, "We hope that the progress toward world peace... achieved under the leadership of President Gorbachev will continue to be preserved and enhanced further."[6]
    •  South Africa: Foreign Minister Pik Botha said: "I very much hope that (developments in the Soviet Union) will neither give rise to large-scale turbulence within the Soviet Union itself or more widely in Europe, nor jeopardize the era of hard-won international cooperation upon which the world has embarked."[6]
    •  Argentina: President Menem visited soviet union before the coup and later dissolution, maintaining a good relation since the diplomat were established in 1946. In December 1991, Argentina recognized the Russian Federation as the successor state of the USSR.
    •  South Korea: President Roh Tae-woo welcomed the coup's collapse as a symbolic victory for the Soviet people. He quoted "It was a triumph of the courage and resolve of the Soviet citizens towards freedom and democracy."[8]

    Supranational bodies and organizations[edit]

    •  NATO: The alliance held an emergency meeting in Brussels condemning the Soviet coup. "If indeed this coup did fail, it will be a great victory for the courageous Soviet people who have tasted freedom and who are not prepared to have it taken away from them." the United States Secretary of State James A. Baker III said, "It will also, to some extent, be a victory, too, for the international community and for all those governments who reacted strongly to these events." NATO Secretary-General Manfred Wörner also said, "We should see how the situation in the Soviet Union develops. Our own plans will take into account what happens there."[6][120]
    •  Palestine Liberation Organization – The Palestinian Liberation Organization was satisfied with the coup. Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said he hoped the putsch "will permit resolution in the best interests of the Palestinians of the problem of Soviet Jews in Israel."[6]

    Further fate of GKChP members[edit]

    In popular media[edit]

    Yeltsin: Three Days in August (Ельцин. Три дня в августе) is a 2011 Russian film that dramatized the coup.

    The Event (2015 film) (Событие) is a 2015 Russian documentary by Sergei Loznitsa that uses footage shot on 19–24 August 1991 by the cameramen of the St. Petersburg Documentary film studio to tell the story of the coup as it unfolded in Lenningrad.

    See also[edit]

    Notes and references[edit]

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    See also: Bibliography of the Post Stalinist Soviet Union § The Dissolution of the Soviet Union and Bloc
    • Bonnell, Victoria E., and Gregory Freidin. "Televorot: The role of television coverage in Russia's August 1991 coup." Slavic Review 52.4 (1993): 810–838. online Archived 24 July 2020 at the Wayback Machine
    • Breslauer, George W. "Reflections on the Anniversary of the August 1991 Coup." Soviet Economy 8.2 (1992): 164–174.
    • Dunlop, John B. "The August 1991 coup and its impact on Soviet politics." Journal of Cold War Studies 5.1 (2003): 94–127. online Archived 4 December 2021 at the Wayback Machine
    • Gibson, James L. "Mass opposition to the Soviet putsch of August 1991: Collective action, rational choice, and democratic values in the former Soviet Union." American Political Science Review (1997): 671–684. online Archived 18 May 2021 at the Wayback Machine
    • Hamburg, Roger. "After the Abortive Soviet Coup and ‘What Is To Be Done?" The Post Soviet Military." Journal of Political & Military Sociology 20#2 (1992) pp. 305–322. online Archived 18 May 2021 at the Wayback Machine
    • Kyriakodis, Harry G. "The 1991 Soviet and 1917 Bolshevik Coups Compared: Causes, Consequences and Legality." Russian History 18.1-4 (1991): 317–362. online Archived 4 December 2021 at the Wayback Machine
    • Lepingwell, John W. R. "Soviet Civil-Military Relations and the August Coup." World Politics 44#4 (1992), pp. 539–572. online Archived 18 May 2021 at the Wayback Machine
    • McNair, Brian. "Reform and restructuring in the Soviet media before and after the August 1991 coup." in Getting the message: news, truth and power (1993): 53–72 excerpt Archived 29 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
    • Matthee, Heinrich. "A breakdown of civil-military relations: the Soviet coup of 1991." Scientia Militaria: South African Journal of Military Studies 29 (1999): 1–17. online Archived 11 July 2020 at the Wayback Machine
    • Meyer, Stephen M. "How the threat (and the coup) collapsed: the politicization of the soviet military." International Security 16.3 (1991): 5-38. online Archived 24 July 2020 at the Wayback Machine
    • Ogushi, Atsushi. The Demise of the Soviet Communist Party (Routledge, 2007).
    • Saar, Andrus, and Liivi Joe. "Polling, Under the Gun: Political Attitudes in Estonia, Surveyed at the Height of the Soviet Coup Attempt, August 1991." Public Opinion Quarterly 56#4 (1992), pp. 519–523. online Archived 18 May 2021 at the Wayback Machine
    • Varney, Wendy, and Brian Martin. "Lessons from the 1991 Soviet coup." Peace Research 32.1 (2000): 52–68. online Archived 24 July 2020 at the Wayback Machine
    • Vogt, William Charles. "The Soviet coup of August 1991: why it happened, and why it was doomed to fail. (MA thesis. Naval Postgraduate School, 1991). online Archived 21 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine
    • Ziemele, Ineta (2005). State Continuity and Nationality: The Baltic States and Russia. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 90-04-14295-9.
    • Zlotnik, Marc. "Yeltsin and Gorbachev: the politics of confrontation." Journal of Cold War Studies 5.1 (2003): 128–164. online

    Primary sources[edit]

    • Gorbachev, Mikhail (1991). The August Coup: The Truth and the Lessons. New York: HarperPerennial. Includes transcript of the videotaped statement made 19/20 August 1991 as his Foros dacha.
    • Bonnell, Victoria E. and Gregory Freidin, eds. Russia at the Barricades: Eyewitness Accounts of the Moscow Coup (August 1991), (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.

    External links[edit]