In a week where the ghosts of Christmas past haunt geopolitics, like the years of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that sort of led to the Taliban wars, an anniversary is missing the headlines.
This Thursday (19) marks the 30th anniversary of the start of the failed coup against what remained of the government of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The coup, orchestrated by the formidable KGB (secret services and political police of the regime) and by the top of the Communist Party, was the last cry of agony of the supporters of the hard line of a regime that did not exist. not for a few years.
Historians debate the decisive or inevitable relay role played by Gorbachev in the fall of the Soviet Union, but one thing emerges from his interviews and documentaries of the time.
Picking up on the heavy structures left by the years of stagnation under Leonid Brezhnev (1964-82) and his two short-lived successors in 1983, he actually seemed to believe that the Soviet Union was viable in the modern world.
This was not the case, as the combination of economic exhaustion fueled by low international oil prices, Ronald Reagan’s American arms race, and the realization that Soviet socialism and freedom were compatible.
Initially, the world surrendered to the charm of a Kremlin leader who did not threaten to wipe out the West and was affable, with a glamorous First Lady and undisputed interpersonal skills.
But economic restructuring (“perestroika”) and political openness (“glasnost”) have uncovered a pressure cooker that has been closed for decades, shifting uncontrollable forces into a system far less monolithic than it first appeared.
The Communist bloc in Eastern Europe quickly collapsed from 1989, with Gorbachev’s fateful decision to let Germany take its course and reunite the following year. Alarms have broken out among senior regime officials, who have never accepted the leader’s liberality.
Soviet federalism allowed the gap opened by the claims of independence of the Baltic and Armenian republics to be considerably increased by Ukraine, the second most important Soviet republic, which refused to sign the treaty that would re-found the Union in March 1991.
This only made the sclerotic leadership below Gorbachev fearful that the empire was collapsing. They were right but wrong in the recipe, which proved fatal to the regime they wanted to defend.
Either way, they applied the formula. On the afternoon of August 18, 1991, Gorbachev was enjoying a vacation he strangely did not give up in Crimea at dacha number 3 in Foros.
The city, nestled in a corner of mountains that descend to the Black Sea, is a beautiful place and has always attracted the Soviet dome.
Nikita Khrushchev owned one of these summer residences there, inherited by Vladimir Putin after having conquered in 2014 the peninsula that his former predecessor had given to his Ukrainian compatriots.
At 4:30 p.m., the communication lines were cut and the tension started to rise. Gorbachev was finally informed late in the evening that a junta made up of die-hard bigwigs, Vice President Gennady Yandeev at the front, would take power if he did not renounce the union reform treaty.
The text would be signed on 22. Gorbachev said no and was arrested the next morning when KGB and Interior Ministry forces surrounded the dacha.
“Nobody passed by here, soldiers everywhere,” Diliaver Kubedinov told Folha in 2019, a taxi driver who in 1991 was a young man who graduated from military service.
At 1 a.m. on the 19th, the State Emergency Committee issued its first decree, informing the Soviets that Gorbachev was out of the game for non-existent health reasons – ironically, at 91 today he is the only one alive among the protagonists of the drama.
The story unfolded in a dizzying fashion, to use the adjective applied to the reconquest of Afghanistan by the Taliban. In three days, political resistance backed by sectors of the Armed Forces, led by the first president of still Soviet Russia, Boris Yeltsin, dismantled the coup.
It happened with more than 50,000 Muscovites taking to the streets to confront armored vehicles and tanks, military betrayals in favor of Yeltsin and a succession of shuttles that left the West breathless. At that time, after all, the Soviet Union looked like an indestructible colossus mounted on nuclear weapons.
The clashes killed three civilians and three putschists – they committed suicide, including Interior Minister Boris Pugo (who took his wife with him, who has nothing to do with the story). The rest of the so-called “gang of eight” leaders of the “putsch” were arrested and then pardoned.
Ultimately, Gorbachev was fearfully disembarked in Moscow at 2 a.m. on the 22nd, with Ielstin being hailed as the savior of the homeland. It was the end of his reign, in practice.
The Soviet character of the union was fading: the following night, residents of Moscow forced the overthrow of the statue of the creator of the political police who gave birth to the KGB, Felix Djerzinski.
With Yeltsin strengthened, a Gorbachev with no residual political muscle went to a melancholy end of government, resigning and putting an end to Vladimir Lenin’s project initiated in 1917 on the night of December 25, 1991.