Russia Marks 1991 ‘Coup’ That Led to USSR Breakup

Posted August 19th, 2011 at 8:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Russia has quietly marked the 20th anniversary of the attempted coup that led to the demise of the Soviet Union.

On Friday, neither President Dmitry Medvedev nor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin commented on the anniversary of the failed coup against then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Separately, only a few dozen people gathered in Moscow at the parliament building known as the White House to mark the anniversary.

On August 19, 1991, a small group of Communist hardliners placed Mr. Gorbachev under house arrest at his vacation home in the Crimea. Their aim was to block the Kremlin chief's program of broad political and economic reforms, including allowing greater autonomy for the Soviet republics.

Within hours, thousands of people gathered around the Russian government headquarters, where Russian President Boris Yeltsin stood atop a tank to denounce the coup plotters.

The coup collapsed three days later and Mr. Gorbachev returned to Moscow.

Within weeks, the republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania seceded from the Soviet Union. The entire USSR ( – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – ) was dissolved in December, 1991, less than 75 years after the Russian Revolution brought the communist state into existence.

To this day, Russians remain deeply divided over the Soviet collapse and the economic and political chaos that followed.

Many Russians agree with Prime Minister Putin, who has lamented that the collapse of the USSR is the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. But many analysts say Russia, with its aging and shrinking population, will eventually adjust to its post-Imperial status, the way the French and British did in the 1960s.

National television networks in Russia broadcast documentaries Friday about the tumult in 1991. The Russian Communist Party, which now has only a fraction of the membership and influence it held in years past, will hold several events across the country over the next few days.