All news

Ex-Soviet leader Gorbachev urges nation to learn from aborted August 1991 coup

Ex-Soviet leader Gorbachev stresses forced attempts to throw the country off the path of normal development are unacceptable
Ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev Mikhail Metzel/TASS
Ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
© Mikhail Metzel/TASS

MOSCOW, August 17. /TASS/. Ex-Soviet leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev said on Wednesday that lessons should be learnt from the August 1991 ‘putsch’ or coup d’etat attempt that precipitated the demise of the Soviet Union.

"What lessons have we learned from what happened at that time? First of all, that plots, overthrowing authorities and forced attempts to throw the country off the path of normal development are unacceptable," Gorbachev told TASS on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the August 1991 aborted coup in the Soviet Union.

"Such attempts have catastrophic consequences. Whatever difficulties may emerge, it is necessary to stay on the course within the constitutional, democratic framework," the last Soviet leader advised.

On the morning of August 19, 1991 instead of broadcasting the usual news programs, Soviet central TV channels showed Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet. People thought that someone had died in the country’s leadership. But soon a report hit the airwaves that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev could not continue running the country due to health reasons and that his power would pass over to the State Committee on the State of Emergency. This self-proclaimed body suspended the activity of political parties and some newspapers, imposed censorship and banned rallies and strikes.

The ad hoc committee comprising a group of high-level hardline members from the USSR Communist Party attempted a coup d’etat on August 19-21, 1991 to take control of the country and seize power from then-Soviet President Gorbachev. The putsch occurred just a day before Gorbachev intended to sign a new union treaty with Soviet republics on democratic principles.

Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin and his team refused to obey the committee’s decrees. Thousands of Muscovites blocked entries to the Russian parliament building where Yeltsin and his close associates had been staying during the putsch. The committee was demoralized and decided against storming the Supreme Soviet of Russia to avoid casualties.

On August 21, 1991, former Vice-President of Russia Alexander Rutskoi flew to Crimea where Gorbachev had been vacationing and was isolated by the ad hoc committee. The Soviet president returned to Moscow that night but the fate of the entire Soviet Union and his own were already sealed. In the following months the former Soviet republics proclaimed their independence one after another and the Soviet Union eventually ceased to exist in December 1991.

The former Soviet leader still qualifies the events as "an unconstitutional action and a plot."

"Importantly, this has to be remembered that this was an anti-constitutional action, a plot. The investigation and the indictment submitted by the Prosecutor General’s Office to a court established that an attempt to commit a state coup d’etat was carried out," the last Soviet leader explained.

Gorbachev said he regretted that "the court had not been authorized to pass a ruling on this case." ‘The State Duma elected after the October 1993 events simultaneously decided on terminating the investigation into the mass deaths of people during these developments and on amnesty that was extended to the GKChP committee members," the ex-Soviet president said.

Had it not been for the putsch on August 19, 1991, most republics would have signed a new union treaty, Gorbachev remarked.