War Scare: Russia and America on the Nuclear Brink

By Peter Vincent Pry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
Democracy of the Generals

Gravestones stood around them like soldiers; gray granite sentinels, hard and cold, in parade formation, row upon row, forever at attention. Within this honor guard of stone, hundreds of Russian military officers, brightly festooned with ribbons, stood at attention around a single grave. Carved upon the stone was a name--Akhromeyev.

Marshal Sergey Fedorovich Akhromeyev: master strategist, coup plotter, and suicide. Days after hanging himself to atone for the failure of the August 1991 coup, "pro-democracy" vandals exhumed Akhromeyev's grave, stripped off his marshal's uniform, and left his desecrated corpse lying naked in the dirt.

Now, one year later, the marshal was again a hero.

Time had transformed Akhromeyev into a farsighted prophet and martyr. Akhromeyev's reputation, large in life, loomed even larger in death. The disintegration of the Soviet Union, the agonized withering of the Russian Army, and the unfulfilled promises of Boris Yeltsin's new Russia had drawn a cadre of military officers and others to Akhromeyev's resting place. They came on August 19, 1992, the anniversary of the failed coup.

"Some regard this as a day of victory," muttered Colonel Stanislav Terekhov, leader of the militant Officer's Union, "but we see it as a day of mourning in a degraded country."

Red flags lowered over Akhromeyev's grave in an overgrown cemetery, near the ruins of a church. Pink roses brightened a grim portrait of the marshal, dressed in full uniform, his chest heavy with his country's highest honors.

A black leather trenchcoat stepped forward: Colonel Viktor Alksnis, the "Black Colonel," so dubbed by Russian democrats for his fierce, authoritarian attitude. "I stand before you a reactionary, a hawk, a bastard," he had once defiantly told the Russian parliament. Now he called upon the silent mourners to swear an oath upon the grave of the fallen Akhromeyev, an oath that they would one day restore the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. As if from one voice, the chanting of hundreds boomed into a sky dark with clouds: "I vow, I vow!" The officers punched the air with their fists: "I vow, I vow!"

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev stared hard at the page. Anarchy, civil war, and world war stared back at him. In March 1993, Grachev sat in

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