Soviet coup leaders struggle to consolidate control


MOSCOW, Aug. 19, 1991 (UPI) - The Kremlin's new rulers, moving swiftly Monday to clamp control over a nation stunned by the ouster of Mikhail Gorbachev, sent troops and tanks into the streets of Moscow and cracked down on the breakaway Baltic republics.

But resistance to the coup began to spread.


Several small army units declared their loyalty to Boris Yelstin, president of the Russian Federation, who was urging civil disobedience and a general strike to protest what he called an illegal coup.

Thousands of Gorbachev's supporters blocked the tanks and armored personnel carriers and some climbed aboard. Civilians of all ages lectured apparently sympathetic soldiers and denounced what they called ''fascism.'' Muscovites even decorated gun turrets with flowers.

Miners in the key Donbas coal region of the Ukraine and the Kuzbas fields in Siberia announced they would join the nationwide strike. Yeltsin's press office said regional governments in the key Siberian coal, oil, gas and industrial centers of Kemerovo, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Tomsk supported the Russian government's call for opposition to the new Kremlin rulers.

The new government, led by Acting President Gennady Yanayev, formerly Gorbachev's vice president, includes the hard-line chief of the KGB security force, the defense minister and the interior minister. It declared a six-month state of emergency to save the country from ''extremist forces'' that ''have set out to dismantle the Soviet Union.''


The State of Emergency Committee banned all strikes and demonstrations and imposed control over Soviet society, from ''major state and economic facilities'' to the Soviet mass media, which had flourished under Gorbachev.

The United States and other Western nations questioned the constitutionality of Gorbachev's ouster, especially at a time when the superpowers were embarking on a historic Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and a jointly sponsored Middle East peace conference. Washington and London immediately cut off aid to the new Moscow government.

The takeover by the hard-liners occurred as the reformer Gorbachev, 60, was vacationing on the Black Sea. Yeltsin said he and other republican leaders could not reach Gorbachev, indicating he may have been put under house arrest.

The coup came one day before Gorbachev was due to break his vacation and return to the Soviet capital to sign a treaty shifting some of the central government's power to the nation's 15 republics in a milestone of his reform program.

Tanks converged on the Russian parliament building in Moscow. Thousands of Gorbachev's supporters waving pre-revolutionary white, blue and red Russian flags turned out to protect the building and used buses to block the advancing mechanized units in Manezh Square outside the Kremlin.


Muscovites of all ages climbed aboard the military vehicles and shouted, ''You should defend the people! ... You are violating the Soviet constitution!''

At one point Yeltsin climbed upon one of the tanks deployed outside the Russian government offices, shook hands with a soldier and urged the troops not to obey illegal orders from those who had taken power.

Later the tanks under central control backed off, and a unit of 10 tanks from the Tamanskaya division and two units of 18 infantrymen each declared their loyalty to Yeltsin and joined protesters around bonfires for an all-night vigil to protect the Russian republic's government.

Older men in the pre-revolutionary uniform of the Cossacks also were among the crowd of about 5,000 citizens surrounding Yeltsin's government headquarters to protect against a feared takeover.

''This is the square where we have waged a peaceful revolution!'' Moscow City Council member Valery Fadfeyev yelled through a bullhorn at an earlier demonstration at Manezh Square outside the walls of the Kremlin. ''Let this be the last place of freedom in our country.''

The crowd roared: ''Fascism will not win!'' and ''Strike! Strike!'' in response to Yeltsin's appeal for a nationwide general strike to begin Tuesday. A mass rally was called for noon Tuesday in Manezh Square.


The State of Emergency Committee said Gorbachev was replaced in accordance with the constitution, but Yeltsin called the move illegal and issued a decree saying that the Russian republic government was seeking to control all forces within its borders until the legitimate government of Gorbachev was returned to power.

The new government held a news conference within 12 hours of the announcement of Gorbachev's ouster, but Yanayev gave few specifics about Gorbachev's whereabouts or the ''health reasons'' cited as in the takeover. He said only that Gorbachev ''is now undergoing treatment in the south of our country.''

''He was very tired after these many years and will need some time to get better,'' Yanayev said. ''It is our hope that Mikhail Gorbachev as soon as he feels better will take up his office again.''

The Latvian mission quoted Latvian Foreign Minister Janis Jurkans as saying the commander of the Soviet Baltic Military District, Feodor Kuzmin, informed the Latvian government he be assuming control of all three Baltic republics.

The Latvian legation said a Soviet warship was blocking the Estonian port of Tallinn. This report could not be independently confirmed.

A Lithuanian Parliament spokesman told the independent Baltic News Service that armored personnel carriers were seen near the television center in Kaunas, the only independent broadcaster in the republic since the Vilnius TV center was seized by Soviet troops Jan. 13 in a takeover that left 14 dead.


''The coup is ... illegal and unconstitutional,'' Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis said in an interview with Cable News Network from Vilnius. ''The Soviet commandants are claiming they are in power, they will rule Lithuania. The only legal power in Lithuania is elected by the people.

''(I appeal) to the nations of the world and the governments of free states and to the United Nations organization and other international organizations: Render rightful aid to the government of Lithuania. Do not allow the tragedy of Budapest and Prague to repeat itself and destroy the Baltics.''

He was referring to the bloody Soviet crackdowns on socialist reform movements in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The army and KGB troops are highly disciplined and always have been under the strong control of those who now control the government, but there were isolated reports of individual units declaring their loyalty to Yeltsin.

''I am the commander of this group and we are of the Soviet Army, but I am under the orders of the president of the Russian republic,'' an officer leading about 160 paratroopers near the Russian government building told a crowd of civilians gathered around them. ''We are here to protect you.''


When one column was stopped by a barricade of buses at Moscow's Manezh Square outside the Kremlin, an officer in the lead vehicle told the crowd by bullhorn: ''The Soviet army does not kill its people,'' and he symbolically removed the ammunition clip from his pistol.

''There is quite a big gap in the army between the top and mid-level officers,'' said Alexander Lukin of the Moscow City Council, who joined the crowd outside Russia's parliament. ''To what extent they will be disloyal is not known. It is one thing to line tanks up and it is another thing to open fire.''

Yanayev's statement announcing the takeover said the Soviet Union would honor all international commitments but said there was ''no other way'' than taking power to halt what it described as the disintegrating process in the country.

President Bush said he would have to reassess his view of Yanayev as being committed to Gorbachev's policies of economic and political reform, and he called Gorbachev's ouster ''momentous, stunning ... disturbing.''

Bush interrupted his vacation in Kennebunkport, Maine, to return to Washington for meetings with Secretary of State James Baker and Robert Strauss, who was to be sworn in Tuesday as the new U.S. ambassador to Moscow.


As for U.S. economic assistance to the Soviet Union, Bush said, ''Things will be on hold'' both with the United State and its European allies. ''I won't go forward with aid or assistance when you have this kind of extra-constitutional action taken by a handful of people.''

Bush had been a supporter of Gorbachev. On July 30-Aug. 1, the two leaders held the first superpower summit of the post-Cold War era, signing the landmark arms reduction treaty and seeking to set the course for future U.S.-Soviet relations. It was the fourth summit between the two.

In London, British Prime Minister John Major said Gorbachev's ouster was an ''unconstitutional seizure of power.'' Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said Britain was suspending $82 million in technical aid to the Soviet Union and that it would urge the European Community to reduce aid to the new Moscow government.

In the first sign of the crackdown, the KGB closed Echo Moscow, an independent Soviet radio station, reporter Aleksei Nikolov said. He said the KGB walked into the studio and told everyone to clear out.

''We were reporting the news and had just started commentary from people's deputies and they stopped the transmission,'' Nikolov said. ''They entered the studio.''


Yanayev, 53, a career Communist Party official, was first rejected as a vice presidential candidate by liberals in the Congress of People's deputies in a vote Dec. 27, 1990. Gorbachev then resubmitted his candidacy, saying he could work with no one else. Yanayev was then elected.

At the time, Gorbachev answered liberal critics that they knew little about Yanayev and said they would ''get acquainted with him.''

The takeover by Yanayev came three days after Gorbachev's former close aide and Politburo member Alexander Yakovlev quit the Communist Party and predicted that desperate hard-liners would attempt a coup to stop Gorbachev's reforms.

News of Gorbachev's removal from power sent world financial markets into a free-fall of panic selling. In New York, the blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average closed down nearly 70 points. Stock prices closed dramatically in the Far East and Europe.

Also in London, former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Arthur Hartman expressed numerous worries, telling BBC Television in an interview from France that Gorbachev's ouster had been maneuvered by ''the old guard of the Communist Party who realized they were about to lose their power.''

''If they start cracking down now, if people begin to get shot on the streets of (the breakaway republic of) Lithuania, it does call into question all of the agreements we've signed and all of the hopes we've had for cooperation and a change,'' he said.


''I think that they will, in the end, not succeed. But I think this is a tremendous setback for all of the things the West had hoped for in the Soviet Union -- a reform of its economy, a market economy and all the international steps that have been taken.

''The really dangerous situation is that there is a large part of the Soviet army still sitting in Germany.''

About 330,000 Soviet troops are still stationed in eastern Germany and are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 1994.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl cut short his vacation in Austria and was scheduled to return to Bonn where he was to issue a statement on the replacement of Gorbachev, government officials said.

Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher canceled a Monday meeting with the Portuguese foreign minister and sped back to Bonn from his vacation in southern Germany, the spokesman said.

In China, the world's other communist superpower, there was no immediate official comment. Beijing, which used troops to crush a democracy movement in 1989, has keenly watched Moscow's move toward political pluralism under Gorbachev and Western diplomats in Beijing said Gorbachev's ouster could fuel a struggle between hard-liners and moderates.

''The Chinese have been very concerned about the reforms put into place by Gorbachev and by the growing instability in the Baltics and other hot spots,'' one diplomat said. ''Privately, some leaders may be happy if they think (Gorbachev's opponents) can put a lid on all these unstable developments ...''


But the diplomat added there were ''deep divisions'' on how to interpret the Soviet changes and said some Chinese leaders will fear a possible Soviet ''hard-line, nationalist backlash'' in which Moscow ''might renew efforts to seize territory claimed by both Beijing and Moscow.''

Israeli officials expressed hope Gorbachev's ouster would not slow Soviet Jewish emigration or derail a proposed Middle East peace conference.

''One might say that this is an internal issue of the Soviet Union, but in the Soviet Union ... everything internal has an influence for the entire world,'' Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said in Jerusalem.

The apparent Soviet coup came in the seventh year of Gorbachev's power, a stretch in which he destroyed the Communist Party as a single entity and moved the power from the Politburo to the Supreme Soviet.

Gorbachev, a charismatic career communist and architect of the revolutionary changes that swept Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War, lobbied the world's leading economic powers last month for financial aid to his struggling nation.

In Budapest, Hungary -- one of the former Soviet satellite nations in Eastern Europe that broke from Moscow's influence during Gorbachev's rule -- deputy speaker of parliament Matyas Szuros said Moscow should be encouraged to ''use a calm policy'' to avoid civil war.


Gorbachev's popularity began to fade at home as separatist movements spread from the Baltic states to Azerbaijan and Armenia. Soviet citizens were clamoring for long-awaited material results from his campaign of political and economic reform -- known as perestroika.

Gorbachev had unprecedented popularity overseas from Berlin to Washington since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April 1986, when his policies of glasnost, or openness, began to gather support at home and praise abroad -- and through the December 1988 Armenian earthquake, when those policies took root and allowed Moscow to break its traditional silence and look to the world for help.

During his historic, Western-style trip to the United States in 1988, New York cabbies watched in awe as Gorbachev stopped his motorcade and cheerfully raised his arms under the Coca-Cola sign in Times Square. East German students hammering at the Berlin Wall in November 1989 raised his picture amid chants of ''Gorby! Gorby!''

But at home in the Soviet Union, domestic policies menaced the president.

Meat, produce, sugar and other staples and household items were scarce, and the maverick, give-em-what-they-want politics of rivals like Yeltsin grew in their appeal to Soviet citizens.

Gorbachev was the eighth leader of the Soviet Union since the November 1917 Bolshevik revolution.


Vladimir I. Lenin led the masses in the 1917 uprising and created a system of centralization and state planning. Lenin was succeeded in 1924 by Josef Stalin, who ruthlessly eliminated his opponents and ruled until his death in 1953.

Georgi Malenkov lasted only 10 days in power in 1953 before being replaced by reform-minded Nikita Khrushchev.

After being blamed for the Cuban missile crisis and other failings, Khrushchev was ousted in 1964 by Leonid Brezhnev, who moved to strengthen Soviet defense and ruled the Soviet Union during the invasion of Afghanistan.

Brezhnev's death in 1982 led to two short-lived tenures: Yuri Andropov's rule lasted 15 months and Konstantin Chernenko remained just 13 months. Both died in office.

Gorbachev was passed over when his mentor, Andropov, died and emerged under Chernenko as indisputable No. 2 man in the Kremlin -- and as No. 1 only hours after the ailing Chernenko died.

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