MOSCOW -- Interior Minister Boris Pugo, the lone stalwart among the eight coup conspirators, calmy answered the telepone call of his Russian KGB pursuer early Thursday, said 'come,' then shot his wife and himself, according to an initial account of his suicide.
After the 60-hour coup collapsed Wednesday, KGB men of the Russian Republic tried to ferret out the diehard chief of the national police force, but could not raise him via the special 'Vertushka' communication line for top officials, the Russian Information Agency said.
The news service, which is affiliated with the government of the Russian Republic, gave the following account:
When the U.S.S.R. Interior Ministry reception office failed to give any infirmation either on his whereabouts, Russian KGB Chairman Viktor Ivanenko decided at last to dial his home telephone number. Pugo picked up the receiver and asked who was calling.
Ivanenko identified himself, then said, 'It is necessary to meet.'
'Come,' Pugo said.
Pugo, 54, a former head of the Latvian KGB, then shot his wife, put the barrel of the revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
It took 15 minutes for the Russian republic KGB officials to get inside the apartment because there was no answer either to their ringing or knocking at the door. At last the door was opened by a middle-aged man who said: 'Here is great misfortune.'
The officers found Pugo and his wife on the floor, blood running from their wounds, and three emptry cartridge cases. Both were still alive and were taken to a hospital, where Pugo died. His wife survived.
Police experts surmise the former interior minister tried to kill his wife with two bullets, and pumped the third into his mouth.
The murder-suicide apparently was attempted Thursday morning, depriving Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Republic, a chance of announcing dramatically to his Parliament that Pugo had been taken alive.
Listing the names of the eight plotters, Yeltsin said they had been arrested and 'at this moment, officials are on their way' to take Pugo. When Yeltsin finished his speech, his security officer reported, 'Pugo shot himself one hour ago' and his wife was seriously wounded.
Pugo, a Latvian who as the Communist Party chief of the Baltic republic from 1984-88 ran his homeland with an iron hand, apparently was the backbone of the coup.
Ironically, President Mikhail Gorbachev himself chose the iron-willed Pugo as interior police chief last December after firing the liberal Vadim Bakatin as Interior Minister in a brief swerve to the right. In fact, every plotter had been at one time or another a personal choice of Gorbachev.
Reminded by a questioner at a news conference Thursday that he himself had chosen the conspirators for top positions, Gorbachev said: 'I made a mistake.' He said it was not the only error he had made.
Although other members of the so-called 'State of Emergency Committee' absented themselves from a now infamous press conference on the first day of the coup, Pugo attended and said outright that the country needed a strong hand because it had descended into lawlessness.
While the other conspirators who attended the briefing like Gennady Yanayev, the vice president and front man for the putsch, fidgeted, the poker-faced Pugo shook his fist to make his points.
By contrast, Yanayev took a handkerchief from his pocket three times when reading the committee's long statement that sough to justify their taking power. His hands also shook and Yanayev's 'trembling hands' soon became a joke among Muscovites.
Pugo also did not fly down to Gorbachev's resort possibly to seek absolution after the coup was smashed, as did other of the plotters like the Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov, a hardened World War II veteran of tank battles.
Instead, he took his own life in the tradition of failed army commanders and secret policemen whose schemes misfire.