The Failed Coup

Eltsin addresses the People from the Tank (1991)
Eltsin addresses the People from the Tank (1991)

In 1991 the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse. Economic stagnation crippled the economy. Centralized planning was no longer a viable economic option. The republics under Soviet domination began moving towards independence from the USSR. This state of emergency led to the final upheaval of power in the Soviet Union.

Fearful of the consequences of any dissolution or any change in the structure of the USSR, a band of conspirators from the highest levels of the Soviet government. On August 18th the deputy head of the security council, minister of defense, prime minister, head of the KGB, and a political unionist placed Gorbachev under house arrest. These five men formed the Committee on the State of Emergency. The Committee’s goal was to reinstate Soviet rule and law across the USSR. Gorbachev’s policies were used as the scapegoat for the diminished Soviet economy. Shortly after taking power, military and KGB units were sent to Moscow to keep order in the streets.

During the previous tumultuous years, Boris Yeltsin had risen to hold a considerable amount of power in Russia. His political agenda of ending the Soviet Union was viewed favorably by many of the Russian people. During the military occupation of Moscow, he gained considerable influence because of his leadership in the resistance against the government forces. The Committee was feeling their power disappear rapidly. When government forces were ordered to open fire on protestors, they refused. Without military support, the Committee was forced to admit defeat.

Gorbachev’s return to power was short. Yeltsin had grown so powerful during the coup that he was able to publicly humiliate Gorbachev and force him to disband the Communist party. Without a legitimate government, the declarations of independence from former satellite states, and continued economic woes, the Soviet Union soon collapsed.

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