|1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt|
|Part of the Cold War, the Revolutions of 1989|
and dissolution of the Soviet Union
Liberal Democratic Party
|Commanders and leaders|
Mikhail Gorbachev (under house arrest)|
Konstantin Kobets Gavriil Popov Pavel Grachev Anatoly Sobchak
Vytautas Landsbergis Gediminas Vagnorius
|Casualties and losses|
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 civil resistance, mainly in Moscow, 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. 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. 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, people had to stand in long lines to buy even essential goods, fuel stocks were up to 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. In 1990, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Armenia 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.
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).
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.
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.
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. On 11 December 1990, KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, made a "call for order" over the Moscow Programme. That day, he asked two KGB officers 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, and CPSU Central Committee Secretary Oleg Shenin into the conspiracy.
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).
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.
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.
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, 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Gorbachev has always claimed that he refused point-blank to accept the ultimatum. Varennikov has insisted that Gorbachev said: "Damn you. Do what you want. But report my opinion!" 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. 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!" 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.
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.
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.
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.
23.25: Yanaev signs a decree on entrusting himself with presidential powers.
The members of the GKChP ordered 250,000 pairs of handcuffs from a factory in Pskov to be sent to Moscow 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.
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 ( ? ? , ?, 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". However, Russian investigators later identified Kryuchkov as the key planner of the coup. These eight collectively became known as the "Gang of Eight".
The GKChP banned all newspapers in Moscow, except for nine Party-controlled newspapers. The GKChP also issued a populist declaration which stated that "the honour and dignity of the Soviet man must be restored."
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").
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. Yanayev instructed Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh to make a statement requesting formal diplomatic recognition from foreign governments and the United Nations.
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. The failure to arrest Yeltsin proved fatal to their plans. 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.
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. The declaration called for a general strike with the demand to let Gorbachev address the people. 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. Workers at Izvestia threatened to go on strike unless Yeltsin's proclamation was printed in the newspaper.
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, Buryatiya, and North Ossetia all sided with the GKChP.
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.
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. 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.
In the afternoon, the citizens of Moscow began to gather around the White House and erect barricades around it. In response, Gennady Yanayev declared the state of emergency in Moscow at 16:00. 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. Gorbachev's security detail managed to create a makeshift television antenna so he and his family could watch the press conference. 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 (1⁄3 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.
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. Yeltsin climbed one of the tanks and addressed the crowd. Unexpectedly, this episode was included in the state media's evening news.
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.
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. 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. The makeshift White House defense headquarters was headed by General Kobets, a Russian SFSR people's deputy. Outside Eduard Shevardnadze, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Yelena Bonner delivered speeches in support of Yeltsin.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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." 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. During the final day of her family's exile Raisa Gorbacheva suffered a minor stroke.
At 8 am the troops begin to leave Moscow.
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, 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.
At 1 pm, Cabinet of Ministers of the USSR circulates a statement about its non-involvement in the putsch. 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.
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.
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.
At 16.08 that afternoon the plane with a delegation from the GKChP lands in Crimea. Around 16:00, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, chaired by the heads of the chambers of the union parliament, 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, and in this connection demanded that Vice-President Yanaev cancel the decrees and the emergency orders based on them as legally invalid from the moment they were signed.
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.
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. At the same time Yanaev signed a decree in which the State Emergency Committee was declared dissolved, and all his decisions were invalid.
Later, at 7.16, the plane of the Russian delegation led by Rutskoi landed in Crimea.
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.
From 21.40-22.10, 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.
Around 10 pm, the Prosecutor General of the RSFSR Valentin Stepankov signed a resolution on the arrest of members of the Emergency Committee.
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. 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. In the evening, as news of the failure of the coup reached the republic, the paratroopers departed from the tower and left the capital.
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.
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.
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, 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. 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.
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. Gorbachev resigned as CPSU General Secretary on 24 August. Vladimir Ivashko replaced him as acting General Secretary but resigned on 29 August when the Supreme Soviet of the USSR suspended the activities of the party throughout the country. Yeltsin decreed the transfer of the CPSU archives to the state archive authorities, as well as nationalizing all CPSU assets in the Russian SFSR (which included not only the headquarters of party committees but also educational institutions, hotels, etc.). The Central Committee headquarters were handed over to the Government of Moscow. On 6 November, Yeltsin issued a decree banning the party in Russia.
On 24 August, Mikhail Gorbachev created the so-called "Committee for the Operational Management of the Soviet Economy" (? ? ? ?), to replace the USSR Cabinet of Ministers 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 28, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR dismissed Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov and entrusted the functions of the government of the USSR to Committee for the Operational Management of the Soviet Economy. The next day, Supreme Soviet Chairman Anatoly Lukyanov was arrested.
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 ( ) and the Soviet of Republics ( )--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.
Also created was the Soviet State Council ( ?), 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 ( ? ? ?), 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. 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. 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 Council 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.
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. 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). 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.
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. The trial in the Military Chamber of the Russian Supreme Court began on 14 April 1993. 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. They all accepted the amnesty, except for General Varennikov, who demanded the continuation of the trial and was finally acquitted on 11 August 1994. The Russian Procuracy also wanted to charge former Deputy Defense Minister Vladislav Achalov, but the Russian Supreme Soviet refused to lift his immunity. Additionally, the Procuracy refrained from charging numerous other individuals alleged of complicity in the coup, including Army Chief of Staff.
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.".
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.
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.
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."
On 2 September 1991, the United States re-recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania when Bush delivered the press conference in Kennebunkport. 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.
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."
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.
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.
Yeltsin: Three Days in August (. ? ?) is a 2011 Russian film that dramatized the coup.