Russia's 'man of integrity' has no regrets over coup attempt

'HOWEVER the court rules, Valentin Varennikov will go down in history as a man of integrity dedicated to his ideals,' said defence lawyer Dmitry Steinberg, as he summed up for his client earlier this week. Today the military bench of the Russian Supreme Court will judge the only 1991 coup plotter who refused an amnesty and insisted on a public hearing and verdict.

General Varennikov, 70, was a bit player in the attempt three years ago this month to sideline the then Kremlin leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. As commander of ground forces, he merely provided the tanks and men with which the conspirators, including the vice- president, prime minister, defence minister and KGB chief, intended to restore Soviet-style order.

By rejecting the easy way out - an amnesty by parliament in February to the coup plotters and the organisers of last year's hardline uprising against President Boris Yeltsin - General Varennikov has had his moment in the limelight and become an idol for those Russians who feel nostalgia for the certainties of Communism.

The general, who fought as a young man in the Second World War and later rose through the ranks of the army to become Deputy Defence Minister and a Hero of the Soviet Union, has used his trial as a platform to condemn Mr Gorbachev for ruining the empire with his perestroika reforms.

Rejecting the treason charges, General Varennikov told the court this week that the coup was intended to save the Soviet Union and his only regret was that it had failed. 'In August 1941,' he said. 'I gave the solemn oath to be faithful to my Motherland before leaving for the front. In August 1991 I confronted another enemy, a far more dangerously disguised enemy, who wanted to destroy my Motherland. I have no regrets . . . but I have a bitter feeling that we failed to save our country.'

He went on: 'The Soviet criminal code describes high treason as an action aimed at undermining the Soviet state. We on the contrary tried to save the state from attempts on it by the traitor who occupied the top (Mr Gorbachev). The time is nearing when I will finally be told whether I lived my life decently, whether I really served the interests of my people or whether I harmed them.'

The chances are that the slim, bespectacled general, who appeared in court dressed in a smart civilian suit, will be able to celebrate today. Prosecutor Arkady Danilov, said on Tuesday that on the basis of the Soviet law, the defendant could not be convicted and he dropped his case. The ruling will be made by three military judges.

The bungled coup attempt, which resulted in the deaths of three civilians, ended after three days of public resistance led by Mr Yeltsin from his stronghold in the White House. Mr Gorbachev returned to the Kremlin but was weakened and the Soviet Union collapsed four months later.

The plotters spent 18 months in prison but were free by the time their trial began in April 1993. From the outset it was a farce. The elderly defendants were constantly falling ill, so that the court was more often adjourned than sitting. Also, the man who first took charge of the prosecution, Valentin Stepankov, seriously compromised himself by publishing a book about the coup.

The public was also losing interest in the drama of 1991. Although Mr Yeltsin opposed the amnesty which freed opponents to return to politics, he accepted parliament's decision without fuss.

Historians regret that the trial never ran its course because the whole story of August 1991 has not been told and probably never will be. This week the prosecutor, Mr Danilov, said there was evidence Mr Gorbachev was not really a captive in the Crimea during the coup and that he could have escaped had he wanted to. The implication was that the former Soviet leader, whose reforms were leading to more radical change than perhaps he had bargained for, may secretly have approved of the crackdown, something the plotters have claimed all along.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
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
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: Recording Engineer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A long established media compan...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Events Business) - Manchester - Urgent!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A teacher of Science is required by this 11...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea