The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

THE END OF THE COUP SPELLS THE END OF THE EMPIRE AUGUST 1991

The abortive coup stands as the perfect metaphor for the Soviet experience:
poorly timed, poorly organized, ideologically bankrupt, and, ultimately,
doomed to failure. Here we see the Soviet Union entering its final phase.
Only future snapshots will reveal what types of systems will emerge on the
territory once known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

It is difficult to exaggerate the historical consequences of the aborted coup in Moscow. The Soviet empire has lost its last, best chance for the restoration of order, and ultimately, for its survival.

The Soviet people have anticipated this coup for years. According to polls conducted in 1989 by the Center of Public Opinion Studies, over two-thirds of the Soviet population believed that a military coup was possible. Even those who vigorously championed the ideals of democracy and freedom could not deny that, under certain conditions, the terrible medicine of a coup might be necessary to prevent the country from the worst of all social ills--chaos and disorder.

Still, neither the Soviet people nor all the experts (including the current author) who have, for the last two years, been predicting a coup, would have guessed that the coup would be so poorly conceived and executed. In the end, the coup appeared to be simply another in a long line of Soviet initiatives that have been botched over the last two decades.

The KGB, for example, is highly respected both in the Soviet Union and abroad. It was generally assumed that if the KGB started something, they would not only finish it, but do so quite handily. In fact, KGB technology and training has been the Soviet Union's most consistent quality export to many Third World countries. Thus, when it was announced that the KGB had participated in the coup, it seemed that the conservatives would have the country under control in record time. Of course, this never happened.

Although the coup failed for several reasons, primary among them was the junta's lack of both self-confidence and any real program for the country. At the first sign of resistance, the junta simply disintegrated.

As they have moved toward independence, the national republics have been haunted by the specter of a coup. Gorbachev regularly used the possibility of a coup to persuade the national leaders to curb their demands,

____________________
This article appeared in The Detroit News on August 22, 1991, and as "The Last Chance for the Empire to Strike Back" in The Arizona Republic on August 25, 1991.

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