Russia at the Barricades: Eyewitness Accounts of the August 1991 Coup

By Victoria E. Bonnell; Ann Cooper et al. | Go to book overview

IAIN ELLIOT


1 Three Days in August: On-the-Spot Impressions

Iain Elliott served for many years as an editorial and feature writer for The Times of London and an editor of Soviet Analyst. In 1988 he moved to Munich as Associate Director of Radio Liberty. It was in this capacity that he witnessed the events of August 1991 in Moscow. His account appeared in Report on the USSR, a publication of the Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty Research Institute, in September 1991.

In the steady rain of Monday afternoon on August 19, I watched the indignant crowds on Kalinin Bridge and the Smolensk embankment building barricades and thrusting leaflets into the hands of young, confused tank crewmen. Workers dragged concrete blocks into place with their trucks. Young lads carried up stretches of railings. Middle-aged academics, briefcase in one hand, scaffolding pole in the other, delayed their return home to add their contribution to the defense of the White House and their elected representatives. The first barriers of trolley- buses with slashed tires grew stronger by the minute. Building sites were ransacked, and a vast supply of long steel rods for ferroconcrete construction gave the barricades the appearance of some ancient phalanx of spears. A veteran of the Afghan War said that such rods were the most effective defense available against the tanks. At five o'clock a familiar sound caught my attention: the news from Radio Liberty emerged loud and clear from the center of a large cluster of umbrellas at the end of the bridge.

At 5:15 P.M., troop transport vehicles, which were trying to force their way through to the makeshift barrier on the bridge, abandoned the attempt, and in a dangerous operation, turned around amid the crowds

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