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The August putsch: how they tried to return the USSR
The August putsch: how they tried to return the USSR

On August 19-21, 1991, an attempt was made to return the Soviet Union in the form in which we knew it.

“Compatriots! Citizens of the Soviet Union! At a difficult hour, critical for the fate of the Fatherland and our peoples, we turn to you! A mortal danger looms over our great Motherland! The reform policy launched at the initiative of Mikhail Gorbachev, conceived as a means of ensuring the country's dynamic development and democratization of public life, has reached a dead end for a number of reasons.

Taking advantage of the freedoms granted, trampling on the sprouts of democracy that had just appeared, extremist forces arose that took a course towards the elimination of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the state, the seizure of power at any cost. " Soviet citizens heard these alarming words from the State Committee for a State of Emergency (GKChP) in the USSR on August 19. It was then that they first learned about the existence of the GKChP itself.

Three days of confrontation

The committee, created the day before, included representatives of the highest leadership of the USSR: the head of the KGB, the prime minister, the vice-president of the USSR. The latter, Gennady Yanayev, issued a decree, which assumed the duties of the head of state, explaining this by the poor health of President Gorbachev. Gorbachev himself, who was then preparing essentially a new draft of the union constitution, which turned the USSR into a loose confederation, was blocked by the participants in the coup in Crimea, where he was on vacation.

GKChP introduced censorship, limited television broadcasting. On TV, having changed the broadcasting grid, they constantly played the ballet "Swan Lake", which many still associate with those events. Troops were brought into Moscow. However, all this did not help the participants in the coup.

On August 19, a state of emergency was declared in Moscow, troops and equipment were brought into the city

The committee lasted only three days. "Putschists", as the GKChP members began to be called by the supporters of the then popular Boris Yeltsin, could not cope with the center of resistance to the GKChP, which in those days became the White House, where the Russian government was located. The members of the committee did not dare to storm the building. Meanwhile, Yeltsin's entourage managed to bring Gorbachev to Moscow from Crimea. GKChP members were arrested.

Boris Yeltsin addresses the people from the tank

Boris Yeltsin, who was elected president of the RSFSR two months earlier, received most of the political dividends from the defeat of the putsch. The authority of his main political rival - Gorbachev (and with him the entire leadership of the USSR and the Union itself as a political project) - was irreversibly undermined.

Yeltsin's supporters, and in the days of the State Emergency Committee, the White House came to defend thousands of Muscovites, perceived the coup attempt as a desire to return to the past, in the pre-perestroika period of the Soviet Union. However, is it so? What would have happened if the State Emergency Committee nevertheless remained in power, and was it possible at all?

Extension of the "agony of the USSR"

Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev

Political scientist Alexei Zudin is sure that this was impossible, since by the time of the coup the process of the collapse of the USSR had already acquired irreversible inertia - "the success of the coup would only prolong the agony." According to the analyst, the USSR was doomed, no matter what the GKChP members did. And, therefore, were doomed to failure and any steps of the committee members who wanted to preserve the Union.

According to him, the essence of the USSR's problem was that even before Gorbachev, the Soviet leaders had lost the strategic goals for the country's development, which had previously been formulated within the framework of communist ideology. “These people [the leaders of the Union] did not believe in the goals they proclaimed, and this was the main reason [for the collapse of the USSR]. The meaning and purpose of its existence have disappeared from the country,”Zudin said. The GKChP did not have this image of the future either.

Members of the Emergency Committee from left to right: Deputy Prime Minister of the USSR Alexander Tizyakov, Chairman of the Peasant Union of the USSR Vasily Starodubtsev, Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR Boris Pugo, acting

Modest Kolerov, a former employee of the Presidential Administration and head of the Regnum news agency, also does not see how the GKChP could do anything.In his opinion, "the centralized state was destroyed during the last years of Perestroika" - in 1989-1991. A number of republics - in the Baltics and Transcaucasia - have already declared their unwillingness to remain part of the USSR. Kolerov also points to the lack of a program of transformations among the putschists.

GKChP could win

There is, however, the opinion that the GKChP had a chance of success if only the committee members were better prepared for the seizure of power. In 1991, from a military point of view, everything was done very badly, believes Dmitry Andreev, a historian and political scientist from Moscow State University.

However, he does not believe that the State Emergency Committee did not have a program. The committee's appeal to Soviet citizens declared about freedom of entrepreneurship, democracy, the fight against crime, etc.

Boris Yeltsin at a rally of Muscovites in support of democracy near the building of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR

Viktor Militarev, a member of the Council for National Strategy, a non-governmental expert organization, is also sure that the State Emergency Committee had chances. At the same time, the expert is convinced that the GKChP would pursue a policy that was not fundamentally different from Gorbachev's. “The fact that the GKChP had unsuccessful PR at the time when they were in power for several days, their public speeches were perceived as threatening. However, this does not mean that they really wanted some kind of dictatorship. They, in fact, wanted the same thing as Gorbachev [preservation of the reformed USSR],”the expert believes.

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