RAE CORELLI September 2 1991



RAE CORELLI September 2 1991



To the roving crowd of thousands, euphoric over having defeated a coup by Communist hard-liners, the bronze statue of Soviet secret-police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky in front of Moscow’s KGB headquarters was an irresistible target. First, they painted the word “executioner” on the red granite base. Then, the demonstrators tried to topple the 14-ton figure using cables attached to a small bus. Finally, shortly before midnight, while jubilant onlookers waved the historic white, blue and red flag of the Russian republic, five cranes hoisted the statue by one arm and lowered it onto a flatbed truck that hauled it away to be melted down. Watching it go, Irina Chernova, a retired schoolteacher whose father died in a Stalinist forced-labor camp in 1940, declared: “We cannot have monuments to the murderers of millions of people.” On Sunday, crowds prepared to tear down an even more venerable icon, the statue of the founder of the Communist state, Vladimir Lenin, near the Kremlin. The scenes were reminiscent of the breaching of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989. And at the end of the tumultuous week, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev made his own dramatic break from the Communist party: he resigned as its leader and called for its dismemberment.


The Soviets’ week of destiny not only overturned the right-wing coup, but destroyed 73 years of Communist rule—all in 72 historic hours. In addition to recommending the dissolution of the Communist party’s policy-making Central Committee, Gorbachev also ordered the confiscation of all party property and banned party activity in the armed forces and the KGB. At the same time, the president asked his government to resign and he named Ivan Silayev, the liberal Russian prime minister, to form a new one.

Clearly, the week’s biggest single winner

was Boris Yeltsin. The silver-haired president of Russia earned lavish praise from Western leaders and his own countrymen for his leadership of the resistance that drove the hard-liners from the Kremlin. The biggest losers were the eight conspirators. One of them, Interior Minister Boris Pugo, shot himself to death; the other seven, including the gang’s nominal leader, former vice-president Gennady Yanayev, are now awaiting trial (page 27).

Shaken: But for Gorbachev, whose six years in power had reshaped Soviet society and ended the Cold War, the political future was uncertain despite his dramatic break with communism. “Gorbachev’s days are over,” declared Latvian Foreign Minister Janis Jurkans when the coup ended. “He is finished as a political leader in the Soviet Union.” Although Gorbachev kept his presidency, flying back to Moscow from the Crimean vacation compound where the plotters had kept him under house arrest for three days, he immediately found himself in Yeltsin’s heroic shadow (page 32). In fact, at the end of the week, Russian legislators heckled him, Yeltsin upstaged him and a plainly shaken Gorbachev announced that if he should ever have to relinquish power again, Yeltsin would automatically take his place. Yeltsin, in a series of sweeping decrees, suspended the Russian republic’s Communist party and shut


Sunday, Aug. 18

At 4:50 p.m., KGB-led emissaries of eight senior Soviet officials call on President Mikhail Gorbachev at his Crimean

summer home near the Black Sea town of Foros. He spurns a demand to hand power to Vice-President Gennady Yanayev. Gorbachev and family members are held under house arrest by encircling forces, but his 32 bodyguards remain loyal.

Monday, Aug. 19

At about 6 a.m., TASS news agency transmits a decree, dated Aug. 18 and signed by Yanayev, declaring that “for health reasons” Gorbachev’s powers have been assumed by the State Committee for the State of Emergency in the U.S.S.R. Tanks and troops enter central Moscow. Officials either close or impose cen-

sorship on news media. At the Russian republic’s parliament building, Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s president, mounts a tank outside and calls on the people and the military to

resist the “right-wing coup.” Vast crowds erect barricades on approaches to the parliament. Yanayev, at a Moscow press conference, denounces Yeltsin’s moves. Yeltsin declares that coup leaders and collaborators will be brought

down the Communist newspaper Pravda. And although Gorbachev at first insisted that he could reform the party, he stepped down as its leader on Saturday night. “I do not consider it possible to continue to carry out the functions of general secretary,” he said in a statement read on Soviet television. The party Central Committee, added Gorbachev pointedly, “did not oppose the coup d’état.”

In a sense, the party self-destructed. The coup leaders were inept, the army and the

KGB—the Communists’ legendary enforcers— were fatally hesitant and the once-cowed Soviet people carried the day. In the aftermath, the rebellious republics of Estonia, Latvia and later Ukraine, the nation’s breadbasket, followed Lithuania in declaring outright independence from the Soviet Union. The push for autonomy among the other 11 republics, notably Georgia and Moldova, is now likely to intensify.

The European Community, which had reacted to the coup by suspending $2 billion in aid for

the Soviet economy, reversed its position when the takeover collapsed. Germany and Italy urged other Western European nations to join them in a massive effort to rescue the stumbling Soviet economy (page 38). And democratic leaders had a major reason for relief at the coup’s failure: Soviet reports said that the conspirators seized Gorbachev’s briefcase containing the codes that would be used to launch a nuclear missile strike.

Among the people of Moscow last week,

to justice. Amid foreign expressions of support for Gorbachev and Yeltsin, Canada suspends aid.

Tuesday, Aug. 20

On the day that Gorbachev had been scheduled to sign a constitutional treaty to grant

wide new powers to the republics, leaders in Ukraine and Kazakhstan decry the coup. Soviet troops tighten pressure on the Baltic republics, but Estonia declares independence. (Latvia follows suit on Wednesday; Lithuania proclaimed its independence last year.) In Leningrad and Kishiniev, the capital of Moldova, huge crowds hold pro-democracy rallies.

Moscow’s military command announces a curfew to run from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. Wednesday, but crowds at the Russian parliament defy the order. U.S. President George Bush suspends economic aid to Moscow but telephones Yeltsin and tells him that he supports his efforts to restore Gorbachev to the Soviet Union’s presidency.

Wednesday, Aug. 21

Soon after midnight, Yeltsin supporters attack tanks with Molotov cocktails. Soviet troops open fire and three civilians are killed. By midday, military forces are leaving central Moscow. A group of coup leaders that includes KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov and Defence Minister Dmitri Yazov avoids a pursuing task force led by Russian Vice-President Alexander Rutskoi, a military general, and fly to Crimea in a bid to talk to Gorbachev. The president orders his guards to arrest them.

The Rutskoi group arrives to the happy relief of the Gorbachevs, who, 72 hours after their confinement, are free again.

In the following 72 hours, with Yeltsin setting the pace, Gorbachev and the Russian leader instituted a coup of their own. They took steps to reorganize the government, to restructure the nation’s federal system—and to dismantle the power of the Soviet Communist party.


complaints about food shortages and economic uncertainty were swept away. On Staraya Square, the site of Communist party headquarters, a crowd of 2,000 people cheered as Moscow city officials sealed off the building and legal investigators prepared to search for evidence linking party officials to the coup. The crowds ripped a plaque commemorating 50 years of Communist rule from its site near the Kremlin walls. And to the familiar slogan “Workers of the world, unite” on the base of a statue of Karl Marx, someone had added the

words, "... in the fight against communism.”

The atmosphere of celebration had dispelled the nightmare that briefly revived the Cold War’s chilling spectre early on Monday morning, Aug. 19. At 6 a.m., Soviet state television broadcast a TASS news agency announcement of Yanayev’s declaration that he was assuming the office of acting president because Gorbachev was ill. In a brooding nation scarred for decades by power struggles, it was a stunning moment: exactly 55 years earlier, Josef Stalin had placed on trial the two men who had shared power with him before and after Lenin’s death in 1924. Those two, Grigori Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, were accused of plotting with foreign powers and shot six days later.

Details of the latest political intrigue swiftly followed. At 7:30 a.m., TASS reported that an eight-member group identified as the State Committee for the State of Emergency, head-

ed by Yanayev, had taken control of the central government because of Gorbachev’s “inability for health reasons” to carry on. The announcement added that the committee had declared a national state of emergency, shutting down the opposition—the country’s fledgling non-Communist political parties and newspapers, radio and television stations imbued by glasnost with the courage to criticize the government. At the same time, employees arriving at the state broadcasting centre found the entrance barred by armed guards. In Moscow’s northern sub-

urbs, workers going to their jobs saw armored personnel carriers rolling towards Red Square and the Kremlin under cloudy skies threatening rain.

Force: From midmoming, events moved rapidly. The coup leaders issued a long, rambling statement which said that Gorbachev’s reform policy had “entered for several reasons a blind alley,” had left the country ungovernable and had let loose “extremist forces that have embarked on the course towards liquidating the Soviet Union.” That was a thinly veiled reference to a treaty giving the Soviet Union’s 15 republics greater autonomy, which Gorbachev had originally planned to sign the next day. Shortly after, Soviet troops appeared at the Russian republic’s parliament building overlooking a wide bend in the Moscow River, 3V2 km west of the Kremlin.

For the men holding shakily to power, that

show of force ultimately failed against a population recently emboldened to speak its mind. Sudden transfers of power were much simpler in the pre-glasnost age. In October, 1964, the party leadership simply replaced Nikita Khrushchev (who had also been on vacation, at a seaside villa) with Leonid Brezhnev as Communist party chief and Alexei Kosygin as prime minister—and did not tell the world until two days later. Last week’s well-publicized power grab could not have been more different.

Although the organizers had cut off the phones in Gorbachev’s luxurious and heavily guarded vacation compound near the Crimean village of Foros, they made no attempt to block telephone communication in other parts of the country or internationally. The result was that Yeltsin, when he was not haranguing his boisterous supporters, kept President George Bush, British Prime Minister John Major, other Western leaders—and, indirectly, the jittery stock markets of New York City, London and Tokyo—up to date on his struggle.

Absurd: There were other missteps, as well. The rebellious leaders effectively shut down critics among the Soviet media and suspended domestic airline travel. Yet they allowed international flights, carrying hundreds of U.S., Canadian, British, French, German and Japanese journalists, to conË, tinue landing at Moscow’s è Sheremetyevo II airport, y The Moscow spectacle 2 was broadcast to the enQ tire world. And not all So< viet journalists were sig lenced. Several who had z worked for six banned ^ newspapers began secretly publishing bulletins that they distributed at the city’s subway stations. Muscovites with portable radios tuned to Moscow Echo, an independent station that continued broadcasting until paratroopers seized its transmission centre on Wednesday—when the coup was already crumbling.

A sense of the absurd was evident elsewhere, too. As Soviet security forces deployed across the rebellious Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Estonian officials in the capital of Tallinn said that the troops, trying to find out from civilians what was happening in Russia, eagerly read copies of a Yeltsin statement. Between 30 and 50 Soviet paratroopers stormed Estonian television’s 22-storey broadcast tower early Wednesday, but Estonian militiamen charged with defending the building took the elevators to the top floor and jammed the doors with wads of paper. The paratroopers then trudged up 21 flights of stairs, only to

Purging the plotters

Swift post-coup purges swept away dozens of senior officers of the Soviet government, the Communist party and official news organs. Most of the coup’s eight public leaders were rounded up for trial within hours of the coup’s collapse.

Gennady Yanayev, the

Soviet vice-president who assumed duties as acting president and signed a decree that set up the eight-man “state of emergency” committee: arrested by security officials.

Valentin Pavlov, Soviet prime minister: under arrest in a Moscow hospital with high blood pressure, which had disabled him early in the attempted coup. Gorbachev dismissed

Vladimir Kryuchkov,

chairman of the Soviet KGB security forces: detained in Crimea

a group that sought to talk to Gorbachev. Flown to Moscow for formal arrest and dismissal.

Dmitri Yazov, Soviet defence minister: detained in Crimea, then arrested in Moscow and fired. He and Kryuchkov later expressed regret for their actions in I public statements.

Boris Pugo, Soviet interior minister: shot himself fatally in the mouth as security officials went to his Moscow apartment to arrest him. His wife was found gravely wounded nearby.

Oleg Baklanov, first deputy chairman of the Soviet defence council and a member of the Soviet parliament: detained in Crimea, arrested after legal action lifted his parliamentary immunity.

Alexander Tizyakov,

president of the Soviet association of state enterprises: detained in Crimea with Kryuchkov, Yazov and Baklanov, then taken back to Moscow for formal arrest.

Vasily Starodubtsev,

chairman of the Soviet farmers’ union and a member of the Soviet parliament: reported arrested outside Moscow after his immunity was removed by legal action.

find the doors locked. They elected not to shoot their way in, and Estonian officials eventually persuaded them to leave.

But the biggest mistake of all was the failure to neutralize Yeltsin. After dispatching troops to detain Gorbachev, the KGB sent a detachment to arrest the republican president as well. But when the soldiers arrived at his apartment in central Moscow at about 6 a.m., they found that the Russian president had spent the week-

end at a dacha outside the city. From there, he went to the parliament building, where thousands of people had gathered. Around noon, 12 T-72 tanks of the elite Kantimirovsky Guards Division trundled up to the building and were swiftly engulfed in the crowd, which had been growing hourly. When the commander told the demonstrators that he had no intention of shooting Yeltsin, the president appeared, climbed onto the lead tank and demanded that

the coup leaders permit Gorbachev to speak to the nation on television.

As reports of the takeover spread across the Soviet Union late Monday and early Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, defying tanks and soldiers, went into the streets of Leningrad and other cities in the republics of Kazakhstan, Moldova, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, whose leaders had condemned the seizure of power. Coal miners in Siberia and


LITHUANIA Pop. 3.7 million

other industrial workers responded to Yeltsin’s earlier call for a general strike. But from start to finish, the central drama belonged to the people of Moscow and their vigil around Yeltsin. Maclean ’s Moscow Bureau Chief Malcolm Gray went to the parliament building and found it shielded by a growing tangle of wire, steel and wood. Gray reported:

Two light tanks, flying the Russian tricolor from their radio antennas, sat in the centre of the barricade. The crews lounged nearby, chatting with civilians who gave them bouquets of red carnations, which the soldiers placed on the gun barrels of the tanks.

At the entrance to the building, Russian police officers armed with automatic rifles and submachine-guns cheerfully admitted anyone who claimed to be a journalist. Said one guard: “We make sure that they are not KGB members with concealed weapons, but anyone who says that he is a journalist gets in. We want to have as many witnesses here as possible.”

While soldiers on both sides looked on, Russian legislators, using loudspeakers, broadcast appeals for army veterans to help defend the building.

Yeltsin supporters began barricading streets with commandeered city buses, trucks and other vehicles. Ivan Lemikov, a 32-year-old electronics technician, was assembling concretereinforcing rods from a nearby construction site to strengthen a barrier on Kutozovsky Prospekt. Said Lernikov: “I served in Afghanistan, and I will go to the parliament after I have finished here. I hope that we can convince the boys in the tanks not to attack us, but we will fight if we have to.” He jerked his thumb in the

direction of the Kremlin and added: “Those fools down there are out of touch. They do not realize that things have changed and we are not going to stay home just because they have sent soldiers into the streets.”

On Tuesday, the initially tentative Western response to Gorbachev’s arrest gave way to

outraged condemnation, while at the Moscow barricades the crowds continued to swell. An armored column of more than 100 tanks rolled to within a kilometre of Yeltsin’s parliamentary headquarters and stopped. Yanayev, apparently trying to placate the demonstrators, issued a statement in which he said that the tanks would not open fire.

Assault: The people, huddling under umbrellas and clear plastic sheeting as protection from the heavy rains, remained silent. In the gathering dusk, about 50,000 of them walked slowly around the muddied parliamentary grounds. Above the smoke from a few small campfires floated a large grey blimp, its tether streaming the flags of Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia and Estonia. As Russian legislators delivered speeches of encouragement from the balcony, rumors of an imminent tank assault swept through the crowd. The rumors became more intense after Yanayev’s committee announced that a curfew would take effect at 11 p.m. Russian lt; security officials said that Soviet army special forces and KGB units might u even attack the building through sew| er tunnels.

8 Inside the legislature, the mood was ^ equally strained. In one room, volun“ teers made Molotov cocktails, pouring gasoline into empty Soviet champagne bottles and other glass containers. From time to time, Russian radio and television announcers talked encouragingly over the building’s internal broadcast system, which also carried classical music played by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who had flown from Paris to spend the night with his countrymen under siege. People passed the time talking,

drinking well-sugared tea and nervously fingering gas masks that had been distributed throughout the building. Chairs and tables had been collected for a barricade. Some people wore bulletproof vests, fearing the worst.

That night, rumors persisted in the face of repeated denials that first one and then another of the conspirators had either fallen ill or resigned. Around midnight, about two blocks from the Russian legislature, a light tank and an armored personnel carrier tried to break through a barrier of 12 buses blocking Moscow’s inner ring road. Pro-democracy supporters swarmed around the vehicles, demanding that the crews turn back. Ilya Krichevsky, a 23year-old architect, shouted through a megaphone: “I am unarmed. Stop.” Moments later, he and two other men died under the treads of a wildly manoeuvring vehicle. A soldier was

killed in a separate incident. As it happened, the coup was already unravelling—and it collapsed on Wednesday afternoon.

Later, a shaken Gorbachev talked publicly about his three days in captivity. He said that at 4:50 p.m. on Aug. 18, a delegation arrived at his Crimean dacha and demanded that he resign and allow Vice-President Yanayev to become president. Gorbachev refused. He told them: “You and those who sent you, you will kill yourselves, but the hell with you. Do what you want to do, but you will also kill the country.” The house was surrounded by troops, the telephone lines severed. Inside the dacha, along with Gorbachev, were his wife, Raisa, daughter Irina, granddaughter Anastasia and 32 loyal, armed bodyguards. Some of the guards hooked up old radio receivers, and the captives listened to reports of the coup from domestic and foreign broadcasts, including those of the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Voice of America. Gorbachev said that he

laughed at the conspirators’ claim that he was ill.

Finally, as the coup began to come apart, four members of the junta flew to the Crimea to see Gorbachev in an apparent attempt to salvage their careers. He refused to meet them and ordered them detained. Once phone service was restored, his first call was to Yeltsin. In the early-morning hours of Thursday, Gorbachev, dressed in rumpled casual clothes rather than the Savile Row suits that he normally wears in public, flew back to Moscow along with his family and resumed charge of the government. But the ordeal exacted a toll. His wife, he said, “took it very hard,” and a presidential spokesman reported on the weekend that she was ill and in hospital.

The presidium of the Soviet parliament convened a special session to restore Gorbachev to the presidency and declare that the coup had been illegal. Foreign Minister Alexander Bess-

mertnykh, who had also pleaded illness during the uprising, reappeared to predict a return “to common-sense policies.” He was too late: the following day, Gorbachev fired him for not having openly opposed the attack.

Triumph: Western leaders were generous in their praise of Yeltsin and the Soviet people. The conspirators, said Bush, “underestimated the power of the people, what a taste of freedom and democracy means.” In Brussels, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said that the Soviets “have shown they are not prepared to see the rewinding of history.” Declared Prime Minister Brian Mulroney: “President Yeltsin has been tested in the last 72 hours as none of us has ever been tested.” Italian President Francesco Cossiga said that the coup was doomed from the start by the reforms of perestroika. Private citizens rejoiced, as well. Five hundred cheering people jammed into the central marketplace in Dresden, formerly in East Germany. And at Tel

Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, Soviet tourists broke into applause when they learned that the coup had disintegrated. Said Moscow jazz musician Arkady Chikloper: “This is a great day for democracy.”

Meanwhile, the troops, tanks, trucks and armored vehicles that had remained at their bases in central Moscow since before dawn on Monday began leaving the capital on Wednesday afternoon, and the menace that they had represented dissolved into triumph. With their engines spewing diesel smoke, the vehicles rolled out of Manezh Square, close by the redbrick walls of the Kremlin, past cheering bystanders who shouted “Yeltsin! Yeltsin!” and “Spasebo”—“Thank you.” Grinning tank crews raised their arms in salute and their fingers in V-for-victory signs. “We’re leaving,” a soldier yelled. “We’re leaving forever.”

On Saturday, thousands of Muscovites

turned out for the funeral of the three resisters killed in the confrontation in front of the Russian legislature earlier in the week. The coffins were decked with carnations, and the crowds carried Russian flags and black-bordered portraits of the victims. “I bow low to them for all that they did,” said Gorbachev, visibly moved. “And they did everything—they gave their lives.” Yeltsin, protected by a bulletproof shield, added a benediction: “Sleep well, our heroes, let the soil be your soft pillow.” For the Soviet Union, even in the coup’s emotional aftermath, the future promised no rest from political upheaval and economic chaos. But it was also possible to believe that a second Russian revolution—perhaps more promising than the first—was under way.




RAE CORELLI with MALCOLM GRAY and CAROL PATTERSON in Moscow, PEETER KOPVILLEM in Toronto and correspondents’ reports