Vasily Starodubtsev: Politician who tried to topple Gorbachev in 1991


As head of the Collective Farms Council – and not a disaffected general or security chief – Vasily Starodubtsev made an unlikely putschist. Yet there he sat at the Foreign Ministry Press Centre on the afternoon of 19 August 1991, one of the eight members of the "State Committee for Emergency Situations" as that clumsily named body tried to explain the short-lived coup to topple President Mikhail Gorbachev while he was on holiday by the Black Sea.

But his animosity to the last leader of the Soviet Union was no secret to anyone. The plot must have been among the most telegraphed such enterprises ever. Rumours that the old guard was scheming to remove Gorbachev had been rife in Moscow for months, and that July, Starodubtsev's signature, along with those of several top military and Interior Ministry officials involved in the coup, appeared beneath an extraordinary manifesto in the Sovetskaya Rossiya newspaper, tribune of the hardliners. It warned of the "unprecedented tragedy" that was about to overtake the motherland. "How can it be," it asked, "that we have let people come to power who do not love their country, who kowtow to foreign patrons...?"

In the event, the attempted takeover collapsed not in bloodshed but in ridicule. The plot might have been in the offing for months, but its architects did not round up likely opponents before the big day, or even bother to sever international phone and telex lines. At the press conference, "acting president" Gennady Yanayev cut a pathetic figure, his hands trembling from excessive intake of vodka. Within three days, Gorbachev was back in the capital, and within barely four months the plotters' beloved Soviet Union was itself no more.

For Starodubtsev, the purpose of the committee had been to stop the collapse of the state, and save people from the "terrible experiment" of glasnost and perestroika. Implausibly, he even denied that the Soviet leader had been held against his will: "No telephone lines were cut," he told an interviewer in 2011. "Gorbachev could have left whenever he wanted, he was just too scared to return to Moscow."

As the coup unravelled, Starodubtsev fled the capital, but was arrested on 23 August. The following year he was released from prison and was never tried for his involvement in the plot. His relatively small role was one reason: "And who are you?" a reporter for Izvestia asked him as the 1991 drama unfolded, "Who invited you here?" Primarily, Starodubtsev served as a symbol of the peasant farmers, so harshly treated by various occupants of the Kremlin, but central to the Soviet Union's founding mythology.

Even so, his treatment was astoundingly generous, given Russia's brutal political tradition. He left prison on condition that he would not engage in politics – but in 1993 was elected to the Russian Parliament, and later served two four-year terms as governor of the Tula Region south of Moscow, where he had once been president of a collective farm.

And his views never changed. His business card identified him as a Hero of Soviet Labour. As for Gorbachev, "He's a traitor, pure and simple," Starodubtsev insisted a few months before he died of a heart attack shortly after celebrating his 80th birthday. "He always talked, he never actually did anything to help the people."

Vasily Alexandrovich Starodubtsev, politician: born Volovchik, Russia 25 December 1931; Member, "State Committee for Emergency Situations" August 1991; Governor, Tula Region 1997-2005; died Novomoskovsk, Russia 30 December 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?