The Full Wiki

August Coup: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


(Redirected to 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

1991 Soviet coup d'etat attempt
August Coup/August Putsch
Russian: Августовский путч
Part of the Fall of Communism, Cold War, and Dissolution of the Soviet Union
1991coup2 ST.jpg
Mass demonstration in Moscow against the 1991 coup attempt
Date August 19-21, 1991
Location Soviet Union Soviet Union, mostly Moscow, and Leningrad, Russia Russia
Result Coup defeated, but it precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union State Committee of the State of Emergency
Red Army flag.svg Soviet Army

Emblema KGB.svg Committee for State Security of Soviet Union

Union republics, in support of the coup:
 Byelorussian SSR[1]
Azerbaijan Republic of Azerbaijan[1]

Russia Russia:

Anti-Communist demostrators in union republics
Republics, against the coup[1]:
 Moldavian SSR
International support:
United States United States of America
European Union European Parliament

Soviet Union Gennady Yanayev
Soviet Union Dmitry Yazov
Soviet Union Vladimir Kryuchkov
Russia Boris Yeltsin
Russia Alexander Rutskoy
Russia Konstantin Kobets

The 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt (August 19 - August 21, 1991), also known as the August Putsch or August Coup (Russian: Августовский путч, Translit: Avgustovskiy Pytch), was an 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 (CPSU) who felt that Gorbachev's reform program had gone too far and that a new union treaty that he had negotiated dispersed too much of the central government's power to the republics. Although the coup collapsed in only three days and Gorbachev returned to government, the event destabilised the Soviet Union and is widely considered to have helped in bringing about both the demise of the Communist Party and the collapse of the Soviet Union.



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 Communist system. 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 to overthrow the legitimate Latvian authorities by local pro-Soviet forces. There were continuing armed ethnic conflicts in Nagorny Karabakh and South Ossetia.

Russia declared its sovereignty on June 12, 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 March 17, 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 August 20, 1991.

The conspiracy

On December 11, 1990, the Chairman of the KGB, Vladimir Kryuchkov, made a "call for order" over Central television in Moscow.[3] That day, he asked two KGB officers[4] to prepare a plan of measures that could be taken in case a state of emergency was declared in the USSR. Later, Kryuchkov involved the USSR Defense Minister, Dmitriy Yazov, the Internal Affairs Minister, Boris Pugo, the Prime Minister, Valentin Pavlov, the Vice President, Gennady Yanayev, the deputy Chief of the USSR Defence Council Oleg Baklanov, the head of Gorbachev's secretariat, Valeriy Boldin, and a CPSU Central Committee Secretary Oleg Shenin in the conspiracy.[5][6]

The conspirators hoped that President Mikhail Gorbachev could be persuaded to declare the state of emergency and to "restore order".

On July 23, 1991, a number of party functionaries and literati published in the hardline newspaper 'Sovetskaya Rossiya' an anti-Perestroika manifesto entitled A Word to the People.

On July 29, 1991, 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. This conversation was eavesdropped on by the KGB and became known to Vladimir Kryuchkov[7] who had placed Gorbachev under close surveillance as Subject 110 several months earlier.[8][9]

On August 4, 1991, Gorbachev went on holiday to his dacha in Foros in the Crimea. He planned to return to Moscow on August 20, 1991, when the union treaty was to be signed.

On August 17 the conspirators met in a KGB guesthouse in Moscow. There they read of the new union treaty, which they believed would pave the way to the Soviet Union's breakup, and decided that it was time to act. On August 18 Sunday, Oleg Baklanov, Valeriy Boldin, Oleg Shenin, and Deputy USSR Defense Minister General Valentin Varennikov flew to the Crimea for a meeting with Gorbachev. At the same time, all communications lines from the Foros dacha (which were controlled by the KGB) were shut down. Additional KGB security guards with orders not to allow anybody to leave the dacha were placed at its gates. Baklanov, Boldin, Shenin and Varennikov demanded that Gorbachev either declare a state of emergency or resign and name Vice President Gennady Yanayev as acting president so as to allow the conspirators "to restore order" in the country.[6][10][11]

Gorbachev has always claimed that he refused point blank to accept the ultimatum.[10][12] 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.[10]

The conspirators ordered 250,000 pairs of handcuffs from a factory in Pskov to be sent to Moscow[13] and 300,000 arrest forms. Kruchkov 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.[8]

The August Coup

Tanks on Red Square during the 1991 coup attempt
Yeltsin stands on a tank to defy the August Coup in 1991.

After the return of Baklanov, Boldin, Shenin and Varennikov from the Crimea the conspirators met in the Kremlin. Gennady Yanayev, Valentin Pavlov and Oleg Baklanov signed the so-called "Declaration of the Soviet Leadership" in which they declared the state of emergency on "some" (unspecified) territories 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) was created "to manage the country and to effectively maintain the regime of the state of emergency". The GKChP included the following members:

Gennady Yanayev signed the decree naming himself as acting USSR president on the pretext of Gorbachev's inability to perform presidential duties due to "illness".[14]

These eight collectively became known as the "Gang of Eight".

The GKChP banned all newspapers in Moscow, except for nine communist-controlled newspapers.[14] The GKChP also issued a populist declaration which stated that "the honour and dignity of a Soviet man must be restored", promised that "the new union treaty will be discussed by all the people", that "the streets of the cities will be purged of crime", and that the GKChP will focus on solving the problem of food shortages. At the same time, the GKChP assured the citizens that it supported "genuine democratic processes" and reforms, and supported free enterprise.[14]


August 19

"Declaration of the Soviet Leadership", the decree of Yanayev and the GKChP documents were broadcast by the state radio and television starting from 7 a.m. Radio Rossii radio station and Televidenie Rossi TV channel controlled by the Russian SFSR authorities and "Ekho Moskvy", the only independent political radio station were cut off the air.[15] Tanks, IFVs and APCs of Tamanskaya motorized infantry division and Kantemirovskaya tank division rolled into Moscow. Paratroopers also took part in the operation. Four Russian SFSR people's deputies (who for some reason were considered the most "dangerous") were detained by the KGB and held on an army base near Moscow.[5] The conspirators considered detaining Russian SFSR president Boris Yeltsin upon his arrival from a visit to Kazakhstan on August 17, 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.[5][16][17]

Boris Yeltsin arrived at the White House, Russia's parliament building, and at 9 a.m. of August 19. He, together with the Russian SFSR Prime Minister Ivan Silaev and the acting Chairman of Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR Ruslan Khasbulatov, 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.[18] 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.[18] In response Gennady Yanayev declared the state of emergency in Moscow at 4 p.m.[11][14] Yanayev declared at the press conference at 5 p.m. that Gorbachev was "resting". He said: "Over these years he has got very tired and needs some time to get his health back." Yanayev said GKChP was committed to continuing the reforms. However, his weak posturing, trembling hands and shaky expressions made his words unconvincing.[11]

Meanwhile, Major Evdokimov, chief of staff of a tank battalion of Tamanskaya motorized infantry division who had orders to guard the White House declared his loyalty to the leadership of the Russian SFSR.[18][19] Yeltsin climbed one of the tanks and addressed the crowd. Unexpectedly, this episode was included in the evening news program broadcast by the state TV.[20]

August 20

Tanks on Red Square during the 1991 coup attempt
Tanks on Red Square during the 1991 coup attempt

At noon General Kalinin, the commander of Moscow military district who had been appointed by Yanayev military commandant of Moscow, declared the curfew in Moscow from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., effective from August 20.[6][15][18] This was understood as the sign that the attack on the White House was imminent.

The defenders of the White House prepared themselves. Some of them were armed but most of the volunteers were unarmed. The tank company which had been under command of Major Evdokimov who had declared his loyalty to the leadership of the Russian SFSR was moved from the White House in the evening.[11][21] The makeshift White House defense headquarters was headed by General Konstantin Kobets, a Russian SFSR people's deputy. He had at his disposal a number of generals and senior officers (some of them retired) who volunteered for the defense of the White House.[21][22]

In the afternoon of August 20 Kryuchkov, Yazov and Pugo finally decided to attack the White House. This decision was supported by other GKChP members. KGB general Ageev, the deputy of Kryuchkov, and Army general Achalov, the deputy of Yazov, planned "Operation Grom" (Thunder) which was to be carried out by Alpha Group and Vympel Group, the KGB's special forces detachments, with the support of the paratroopers, Moscow OMON, Dzerzhinsky division of Internal Troops, three tank companies and a helicopter squadron. Alpha Group commander General Viktor Karpukhin and other senior officers of Alpha Group together with General Alexander Lebed, deputy commander of the Airborne Troops, mingled through the crowds near the White House and assessed the possibility of undertaking such an operation. After that, Viktor Karpukhin and Vympel Group commander Colonel Beskov tried to convince Ageev that the operation was impossible, as it would result in bloodshed.[5][6][7][23] Alexander Lebed, with the consent of Pavel Grachev, the commander of the Airborne Troops, returned to the White House and secretly informed the defense headquarters that the attack would begin at 2 a.m.[7][23]

August 21

At about 1 a.m., not far from the White House, a column of IFVs of Tamanskaya motorized infantry division was blocked in a tunnel by barricades made of trolleybuses and street cleaning machines. Dmitriy Komar climbed one IFV and tried to "blind" the observation slit with a piece of tarpaulin but either fell to his death from the IFV or was shot. Then Vladimir Usov, who tried to help him, was shot (possibly unintentionally by a ricocheting bullet). At about the same time a third young man, Ilya Krichevskiy, was also shot under unclear circumstances. Several other men were wounded. The IFV was set on fire by the crowd but no soldiers were killed.[11][22][24]

Alpha Group and Vympel Group did not move to the White House as it had been planned. When Yazov learned about this, he ordered the troops to pull out from Moscow.

The troops began to move from Moscow at 8 A.M. The GKChP members met in the Defence Ministry and, not knowing what to do, decided to send a delegation to the Crimea in order to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev for negotiations. Vladimir Kryuchkov, Dmitriy Yazov, Oleg Baklanov, Alexander Tizyakov, chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet Anatoliy Lukianov and Deputy CPSU General Secretary Vladimir Ivashko flew to the Crimea. At 5 P.M. the delegation arrived at the Foros dacha but Mikhail Gorbachev refused to meet with it. Instead Gorbachev, after the communication with the dacha was restored, declared void all the decisions of GKChP and dismissed its members from their state offices. The USSR General Prosecutors Office started the investigation of the coup attempt.[7][18]

The aftermath

Mikhail Gorbachev and the GKChP delegation flew to Moscow. When Kryuchkov, Yazov, and Alexander Tizyakov arrived in Moscow in the early hours of August 22 they were arrested at the airport. In the morning of August 22 Pugo was arrested in his office. Pugo and his wife committed suicide on August 23. On the same day Pavlov and Vasily Starodubtsev were arrested. Oleg Baklanov, Valeriy Boldin, and Oleg Shenin were arrested on August 24.[7]

Since a number of heads of the regional executive committees supported GKChP, on August 21 Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR by its Decision No.1626-1 authorized Russian President Boris Yeltsin to appoint heads of regional administrations, though the Russian constitution effective at that moment did not provide such a right to the President.[25]

On August 22 the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR by its Decision No.1627/1-1 declared the historical Russian white-blue-red national flag the official national flag of Russia, instead of the Soviet red flag (21).

In the night of 23/24 August the monument to Feliks Dzerzhinskiy, the head of Vecheka, in front of the KGB building at Dzerzhinskiy Square (Lubianka) was dismantled.

On August 24 thousands of Moscow citizens took part in the funeral of Dmitriy Komar, Vladimir Usov and Ilya Krichevskiy. Mikhail Gorbachev posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union to them. Boris Yeltsin asked their relatives to forgive him for not being able to prevent their deaths.[7]

End of the CPSU

On August 24 Mikhail Gorbachev resigned from the office of the CPSU General Secretary.[7] Vladimir Ivashko was acting CPSU General Secretary until August 29 and then also resigned.

On August 24 Russian President Boris Yeltsin by his Decree No. 83 transferred the archives of the CPSU to the state archive authorities. On August 25 Boris Yeltsin by his Decree No. 90 nationalized the property of the CPSU in Russia (which included not only the headquarters of party committees but also educational institutions, hotels, etc.).[25]

On November 6 Boris Yeltsin by his Decree No.169 terminated the activity of the CPSU in Russia.[25]

Disintegration of the USSR

On August 24 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 (government) headed by Valentin Pavlov, a GKChP member. Russian prime minister Ivan Silaev headed this committee.

On August 24 the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine adopted the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine and called for a referendum on support of the Declaration of Independence.

On August 27 the Supreme Soviet of Moldova declared the independence of Moldova from the Soviet Union. On 30/31 August the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan and the Supreme Soviet of Kyrgyzstan respectively did the same.

On September 5 the Congress of People's Deputies adopted the Soviet Law No.2392-1 "On the Authorities of the Soviet Union in the Transitional Period" under which the USSR Supreme Soviet was reformed. Instead of the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities (previous two chambers), both elected by the USSR Congress of Peoples Deputies, the new two chambers were the Soviet of the Union (Совет Союза) and the Soviet of Republics (Совет Республик). The Soviet of the Union was to be formed by the USSR people's deputies elected by the citizens. The Soviet of Republics was to include 20 deputies from republic plus one deputy for each autonomous region in 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 the USSR State Council (Государственный совет СССР) which included the USSR President and the presidents of union republics was created. The "Committee for the Operational Management of the Soviet Economy" was replaced by the USSR Interrepublican Economic Committee (Межреспубликанский экономический комитет СССР), also headed by Ivan Silaev.[26]

On September 6 the newly created Soviet State Council recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.[27]

On September 9 the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan declared the independence of Tajikistan from the Soviet Union.

In September over 99% percent of voters in Armenia on a referendum approved the republic's commitment to independence. The immediate aftermath of that vote was the Armenian Supreme Soviet's declaration of independence, on September 21.

On October 27 the Supreme Soviet of Turkmenistan declared the independence of Turkmenistan from the Soviet Union.

By November the only Soviet Republics that had not declared independence were Russia, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In November seven republics (Russia, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan) agreed to a new union treaty that would form a confederation called the Union of Sovereign States. However this confederation never materialized.

On December 1 Ukraine held a referendum, in which more than 90% of residents supported the Act of Independence of Ukraine.

On December 8 the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (which adopted that name in August 1991) Boris Yeltsin, Leonid Kravchuk and Stanislav Shushkevich, 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 legitmacy of the signing that took place on December 8th, so another signing ceremony was held in Alma-Ata on December 21 to expand the CIS to include the five republics of Central Asia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Georgia joined in 1993, only to withdraw in 2008 after conflict between Georgia and Russia; the three Baltic states never joined.

On December 25, 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 following day on December 26, 1991 Soviet Union offically ceased to exist.

Beginning of radical economic reforms in Russia

On November 1, 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.[25]

On November 6, 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 November 15, 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).[25]

On December 3, 1991 Boris Yeltsin issued Decree No.297 On the Measures to Liberalize Prices whereby from January 2, 1992 most previously existing price controls were abolished.[25]

Trial of the conspirators

The arrested 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 April 14, 1993.[28]

On February 23, 1994 the State Duma declared amnesty for the GKChP members and their accomplices, as well as for the participants of October 1993 events.[25] They all accepted the amnesty, except for General Valentin Varennikov who demanded the continuation of the trial and was finally acquitted on August 11, 1994.[7]

Parliamentary commission

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.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c Ольга Васильева, «Республики во время путча» в сб.статей: «Путч. Хроника тревожных дней». // Издательство «Прогресс», 1991. (in Russian). Accessed 2009-06-14. Archived 2009-06-17.
  2. ^ a party led by the nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky - Accessed 2009-09-13. Archived 2009-09-16.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ KGB Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Zhizhin and KGB Col. Alexei Yegorov, The State within a state, p. 276-277.
  5. ^ a b c d (Russian) September 1991 internal KGB report on the involvement of KGB in the coup
  6. ^ a b c d (Russian) "Novaya Gazeta" No. 51 of July 23, 2001 (extracts from the indictment of the conspirators)
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h (Russian) Timeline of the events, by Artem Krechnikov, Moscow BBC correspondent
  8. ^ a b 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.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ a b c (Russian) "Novaya Gazeta" No. 59 of August 20 2001 (extracts from the indictment of the conspirators)
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Kommersant", August 18, 2006 (Russian)
  12. ^ Gorbachev's interview to the Russian Service of BBC of August 16, 2001 (Russian)[1]
  13. ^ Revolutionary Passage by Marc Garcelon p. 159
  14. ^ a b c d e (Russian) GKChP documents
  15. ^ a b (Russian) another "Kommersant" article, August 18, 2006
  16. ^ (Russian) "Novaya Gazeta" No. 55 of August 6, 2001 (extracts from the indictment of the conspirators)
  17. ^ (Russian) "Novaya Gazeta" No. 57 of August 13, 2001 (extracts from the indictment of the conspirators)
  18. ^ a b c d e A Russian book on August 1991 events
  19. ^ "Izvestia", August 18, 2006 (Russian)[2]
  20. ^ "Moskovskie Novosty", 2001, No.33 (Russian)[3]
  21. ^ a b (Russian) "Nezavisimoe Voiennoye Obozrenie", August 18, 2006
  22. ^ a b Russian site on Heroes of the Soviet Union
  23. ^ a b "Argumenty i Facty", August 15, 2001
  24. ^ A Russian site on Ilya Krichevskiy[4]. Accessed 2009-08-15. Archived 2009-08-17.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g Konsultant+ (Russian legal database)
  26. ^ Russian legal database
  27. ^ Site of RIA-Novosti (Russian news agency)
  28. ^ "Vzgliad", August 18, 2006 (Russian)[5]

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address