Plotters who failed to stop the democratic rot

MISSING PERSONS NO 28: Dmitry Yazov and Vladimir Kryuchkov

For three days in August 1991, they forced the world to hold its breath. They locked up the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, put tanks on the streets of Moscow and, in effect, defied the world to do its worst. Then, almost as suddenly, they were gone - apparently condemned to eternal disgrace.

The collapse of the Soviet coup - four years ago this week - meant dramatic humiliation for the gang who had tried to get rid of President Gorbachev (a group that included several of his closest colleagues). Some took the hasty way out. Boris Pugo, the little-loved interior minister, shot himself in the mouth, after shooting his wife.

Others seemed bewildered by their catastrophic failure. Anatoly Lukyanov, a close associate of Mr Gorbachev's since law school days, flew down to Mr Gorbachev's dacha-prison to assure him that he had nothing to do with the coup. In reality, as would soon become clear, Mr Lukyanov's contribution had been crucial. The surviving coup plotters were promptly arrested. Their future looked bleak. It was not long, however, before they regained their bold-as-brass self-confidence.

For more than two years, the trial was continually postponed - because of the defendants' alleged illnesses and a string of legal difficulties. By the time the case finally began to be heard, time was clearly on the plotters' side. The depth of popular disillusion with life in the new Russia was so great that the plotters' actions began to seem almost justified. What crime, people began to ask, had the plotters committed? Might they have not prevented the chaos which Russians now had to live with?

In the early days after the coup, there had been talk of capital punishment for the plotters' crimes. But that was soon forgotten. While still in custody, in the Sailor's Silence prison in Moscow, the plotters began to release defiant statements from behind bars.

In 1993, while still theoretically awaiting their trial, the now released plotters - including the former defence minister, Dmitry Yazov - felt able to pose for a proud group photograph in a pro-Communist daily.

Eventually, last year, the Russian parliament amnestied the plotters, to get rid of the problem altogether. President Boris Yeltsin pretended to be angry but may have been secretly relieved there were, after all, few votes to be gained by prosecuting the coup plotters.

The plotters themselves remain entirely unrepentant. Vladimir Kryuchkov, former head of the KGB, regularly takes part in hard-line Communist demonstrations. Mr Lukyanov managed to get himself elected as an MP. Valentin Pavlov, Mr Gorbachev's hedgehog-haircut prime minister - who spent much of the coup in a drunken daze - has made a new life for himself as a Moscow financier.

Perhaps the cheekiest of all is Valentin Varennikov, former commander of Soviet ground forces, who refused to accept last year's amnesty, and instead demanded that the trial go ahead. He was duly acquitted. Not satisfied, he pressed for compensation - which he duly received. He, too, now seems keen to return to active politics.

Paradoxically, however, the prospects for those coup plotters who seek a political comeback may be rosier than for Mr Gorbachev.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
News
David Ryall in Harry Potter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015