War Scare: Russia and America on the Nuclear Brink

By Peter Vincent Pry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Kryuchkov's Coup, August 18, 1991

Vladimir Kryuchkov was only vaguely conscious of the soft whir of the air conditioning. He was reflecting on the events he had set into motion that could, once announced to the world tomorrow, bring on a global nuclear war.

Sitting around a table in the Kremlin with Kryuchkov were his key fellow conspirators: Gennadiy Yanayev, vice president of the Soviet Union; Minister of Defense Dimitry Yazov; and General Boris Pugo. General Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kryuchkov, chairman of the KGB, was the most intelligent and knowledgeable of the group. Articulate and always armed with facts, or what he believed to be or represented as facts, Kryuchkov was a man of compelling yet subtle arguments. He never bludgeoned his intellectual prey into submission; rather he prodded, cajoled, and, most of all, insinuated. In the end, men moved in Kryuchkov's direction less because they were defeated or even persuaded than because they felt that they had independently arrived at some new insight.

Kryuchkov was not a profound theoretical thinker, but he had the enigmatic intelligence of a man accustomed to living in a world of conspiracy. He possessed the quick brilliance of a KGB salesman, whose stock in trade was persuading others to betray their countries. Although the leader of the coup against Gorbachev--no one would have been in the Kremlin bunker for that purpose were it not for Kryuchkov's salesmanship--the KGB chief was too indirect and ill at ease in broad daylight to be a natural leader. Realizing this deficiency in himself, he looked to Vice President Yanayev to serve as a civilian figurehead for the new government, and to Defense Minister Yazov to deliver the loyalty of the Army.

Yanayev and Yazov owed Gorbachev everything. Perhaps they owed him too much. Men too deeply in debt, or too extravagantly rewarded, often come to abhor their benefactor.

Gennadiy Ivanovich Yanayev, vice president of the USSR, had been rejected by the Congress of People's Deputies on the first ballot for the vice presidency. He was elected on the second vote only because President Gorbachev appealed to the Congress, insisting, "I need someone I can trust." Smooth, urbane, and personable, Yanayev was a politician who was good at making people like him. Yet he had not been particularly successful in his career, having held no posts of great importance before now. For over twenty years, from the 1960s until 1986, he worked as a propagandist in

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