History of the Soviet Union

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1991 Aug 19 - Aug 22

1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt

Moscow, Russia

The 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt, also known as the August Coup,was a failed attempt by hardliners of the Soviet Union's Communist Party to forcibly seize control of the country from Mikhail Gorbachev, who was Soviet President and General Secretary of the Communist Party at the time. The coup leaders consisted of top military and civilian officials, including Vice President Gennady Yanayev, who together formed the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP). They opposed Gorbachev's reform program, were angry at the loss of control over Eastern European states and fearful of the USSR's New Union Treaty which was on the verge of being signed. The treaty was to decentralize much of the central Soviet government's power and distribute it among its fifteen republics.

The GKChP hardliners dispatched KGB agents, who detained Gorbachev at his holiday estate but failed to detain the recently elected president of a newly reconstituted Russia, Boris Yeltsin, who had been both an ally and critic of Gorbachev. The GKChP was poorly organized and met with effective resistance by both Yeltsin and a civilian campaign of anti-Communist protestors, mainly in Moscow. The coup collapsed in two days, and Gorbachev returned to office while the plotters all lost their posts. Yeltsin subsequently became the dominant leader and Gorbachev lost much of his influence. The failed coup led to both the immediate collapse of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the dissolution of the USSR four months later. Following the capitulation of the GKChP, popularly referred to as the "Gang of Eight", both the Supreme Court of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and President Gorbachev described its actions as a coup attempt.