THE REBIRTH OF THE RUSSIAN STATE
Soviet history ended in a struggle between a decaying central state and incipient states rising in the republics. To borrow Hirschman's language, politics in the USSR moved from loyalty to voice to exit. 1 Nationalists and democrats, whose voices fell on increasingly unsympathetic ears in the central state, gradually abandoned Soviet politics in favor of republican politics. This change of political venue, which promised remedies unavailable from the Soviet state, created a dozen or more political communities arrayed against the center. By the beginning of the 1990s, the war of laws between the center and the republics had become a war of states.
In this war of states, the decisive battle was between the Soviet Union and Russia. The skirmishes in the Baltic, important as a test of Western foreign policies and as an indication of the political will of Mikhail Gorbachev, were nonetheless a sideshow when set against the challenges posed by Russia, with its vast territory and population, its bold and charismatic president, Boris Yeltsin, and its historic role as the hegemonic nation in the region. Shortly after the popular election of Yeltsin as Russia's first president in June 1991, the authority of the Russian state began to encroach rapidly on that of the Soviet state. In a move that struck at the heart of the Soviet state's repressive machinery, President Yeltsin in July outlawed Communist Party organizations in the armed forces, the KGB, the MVD, and other legal institutions. The Russian parliament also mandated the transfer of ownership of land and enterprises in the republic to the Russian state.
Understanding the threat to the integrity of the Soviet Union posed by Russia's actions and by a forthcoming union treaty, which was designed to shift political power from the center to the republics, a group of military, law enforcement, and economic leaders launched a coup to restore the authority of the Soviet