This Day In History: Gorbachev is Arrested In Coup (1991)

Thus day, in history,  Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is placed under house elements trying to take control of the Soviet State. Gorbachev was a reformer and he wanted to improve both the economy and people’s lives. The average Soviet citizen had a hard life with poor conditions and food shortages.

Gorbachev initiated perestroika (“restructuring”) to boost the economy. This included opening up the socialist Soviet economy to market forces. There was also a greater emphasis on openness and transparency and this was known as glasnost (“openness”). Gorbachev revolutionized international affairs. He improved relations with the west and did much to defuse tension with the west.

In 1989 he did not intervene in eastern Europe as the local communist regimes fell. He even refused to intervene even when the Berlin Wall collapsed and so too did East Germany.

Gorbachev and President Bush signing an agreement (1990)

Meanwhile, though, within the USSR, Gorbachev faced powerful critics, these were hard-line communists and those who believed that Gorbachev  was bringing the Soviet Union to the verge of destruction. On the other side were even more radical reformers–such as the unpredictable Boris Yeltsin, president of Russia–who complained that Gorbachev was not doing enough.

The hardliners carried out a coup in 1991. It was backed by elements in the army and the KGB. Gorbachev was placed under arrest as he vacationed at a villa in the Crimea.

Here he was put under  pressure to announce his resignation, which he refused.  The coup leaders claimed that Gorbachev was ill and the coup leaders took control of the country and they declared a state of emergency. It seemed that the Soviet Union was going back to the bad old days under Brezhnev and many feared a return to the tensions of the Cold War between the East and West.

Yeltsin and his backers from the Russian parliament then staged a series of protests against the coup and its leaders. Yeltsin led massive crowds out onto the streets and they defied the army. The soldiers and the police were unwilling to shot on the protestors and many were sympathetic to Yeltsin. This led to the coup collapsing and the coup leaders escaping. Some tried to flee to Central Asia. This was Boris Yeltsin greatest triumph and he was seen as a hero around Russian and indeed the world.

Gorbachev was released from house arrest and returned to Moscow. However, power had passed to Yeltsin. Technically Gorbachev was still the leader of the Soviet Union but that entity was falling apart. Ironically, the coup leaders had accelerated the breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of the reformers. The Communists were soon to be removed from all positions of power and the various nations of the USSR began to declare independence.