General acquitted of 1991 coup plot

MOSCOW - The Russian Supreme Court yesterday acquitted General Valentin Varennikov of high treason for joining top Soviet Communists in their attempt to seize power from Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, writes Helen Womack.

At the time of the coup attempt, the general believed he had been trying to save the Soviet Union from disintegrating as a result of the Gorbachev reforms. The verdict was a foregone conclusion after the prosecution dropped its case earlier this week.

General Varennikov is the only coup plotter who refused a parliamentary amnesty and insisted on seeing his trial through to the end. He was jubilant at the result but said his acquittal was proof of Mr Gorbachev's guilt. The former Soviet leader has little reason to fear prosecution as the end of the Varennikov trial is almost certainly the last chapter of the 1991 coup story. Mr Gorbachev called the acquittal verdict a backward step for democracy. 'If such attempts (to take power) are not punished by the courts, then that only encourages those who would like to have another try,' he said.