Ussr eastern Europe

The August 1991 Coup in Moscow

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The August 1991 Coup in Moscow

On August 19, 1991 an announcement was made by the so-called Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP), as USSR state television replaced regular programming with the ominous chords of “Swan Lake,” that Gorbachev was allegedly sick and the Committee was taking power in the country.  The coup pre-empted the scheduled August 20 signing of the new Union Treaty, intended to create a new decentralized and democratic Union.  The plotters, led by KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov and Minister of Defense Dmitry Yazov, held Gorbachev under house arrest at his dacha in Foros, Crimea; but as the diary of Gorbachev aide Anatoly Chernyaev shows, Gorbachev refused to cooperate with the coup plotters and demanded that he return to Moscow and face the Supreme Soviet.

 However, already on August 19, demonstrators surrounded the tanks sent by the coup plotters to guard the White House – the building of the democratically elected Russian Parliament.  The freshly elected Russian President Boris Yeltsin assumed leadership of the opposition and demanded that Gorbachev be reinstalled as the lawful President of the Soviet Union.  Yeltsin standing on a tank (actually an armored personnel carrier) outside the White House became the symbol of the Russian democratic revolution, which prevented the right-wing takeover, but also led directly to the collapse of the Union.  In effect, the coup plotters speeded up the outcome they were trying to prevent.

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