Russia Marks 1991 ‘Coup’ That Led to USSR Breakup

Posted August 19th, 2011 at 9:20 am (UTC-5)
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Russia is marking the 20th anniversary of the failed coup attempt that hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On August 19, 1991, a small group of Communist hardliners placed Soviet leader Mikhail 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 Russian government headquarters in Moscow, 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 U.S.S.R. ( – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – ) was dissolved in December, 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.

National television networks in Russia are broadcasting 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.