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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

All Charges Dropped In Final Coup Trial

The 18-month trial of the men who attempted to seize power in the Soviet Union in August 1991 appeared to end with a virtually inaudible whimper Tuesday, as the state prosecutor dropped all charges against the only remaining defendant.

State Prosecutor Arkady Danilov asked Russia's Military Supreme Court to acquit General Vladimir Varennikov, 70, of all charges, because there was no evidence he committed high treason or plotted to overthrow former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

"There is no proof they broke the law," Danilov said of Varennikov and his alleged co-conspirators in closing arguments. "A basis for conviction," he said, "can only be the law and nothing but the law."

Danilov's remarks were greeted by raucous applause from a group of elderly supporters of Varennikov, causing the chief judge to order them from the hall.

Varennikov, dressed in a green civil suit, said Danilov's remarks had "a colossal meaning for our people, for our country."

"It proves who is guilty of breaking up the Soviet Union," he said in an interview. "Now that I am found innocent, those who are guilty should take my place."

Varennikov was one of 12 alleged coup leaders who were put on trial in early 1993, but he was alone in rejecting a parliament amnesty earlier this year and insisting that his case should be heard to its end. He has used his court case as a tribune from which to lambast Gorbachev for allowing the collapse of the Soviet empire.

If the court finds Varennikov not guilty Wednesday it could mean an end to the coup-plotters trial, which long ago ran into sand due to a bungled investigation and dramatic changes in the country's legal system.

It was not clear Tuesday, however, whether the Public Prosecutor's Office agreed with Danilov's admission of failure, although it appointed him to handle the case.

"Danilov's view is Danilov's view alone," said Natalya Vishnyakova, spokeswoman for the office. "He does not represent the Public Prosecutor's Office. As soon as he enters the court, he is independent."

Only after the court issues a verdict will acting Public Prosecutor Alexei Ilyushenko inform the court whether he intends to appeal, Vishnyakova said.

Varennikov's lawyer, Dmitry Shteinberg predicted that Ilyushenko would protest a not-guilty verdict, or that the judges might decide to lift charges only in part to avoid offending Ilyushenko.

"We may have to start all over again," Shteinberg said. "I'm not chilling the champagne yet."

After the State Duma amnestied the coup plotters in February, Ilyushenko vowed to resume the case against them, but he has said little on the matter since.

Public Prosecutor Valentin Stepankov took more than a year to investigate the case against the coup-plotters, but severely compromised the prosecution by publishing a book on the findings of its investigation even before the trial started.

All the suspects had been released from prison by the time the trial opened and some have since returned to politics. Anatoly Lukyanov and Vasily Starodubtsev are now members of parliament.

Ironically, former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, who faced down the August coup attempt at Yeltsin's side in 1991, was addressing a judge in the same court house as Varennikov Tuesday. Rutskoi was demanding the return of his rank of major-general, which he lost after his arrest last October when he led an uprising against Yeltsin.

On Tuesday, Shteinberg spent nearly three hours in closing remarks explaining why Varennikov chose to support the coup, why he was innocent and what rules the investigation had broken. His diatribe left the three judges slouching in their chairs.

Who's Who in the 1991 Coup Against Gorbachev

The failed August 1991 putsch was headed by a group of eight top Communist Party officials and was actively supported by another nine. Marshal Akhromeyev, Gorbachev's military adviser, hanged himself in the coup's aftermath. Interior Minister Boris Pugo shot himself in the head before arrest. Nikolai Kruchina, in charge of Communist Party finances, jumped to his death from his apartment window.

The 14 remaining defendants were:

?Soviet Vice President Gennady Yanayev;

?Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov;

?KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov;

?Deputy KGB chief Viktor Grushko;

?Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov;

?Military industry chief Oleg Baklanov;

?State industry leader Alexander Tizyakov;

?Soviet parliament chairman Anatoly Lukyanov;

?Senior Communist Party official Oleg Shenin;

?Farmers' union leader Vasily Starodubtsev;

?Gorbachev aide Valery Boldin;

?Chief of the presidential guard Yury Plekhanov;

?Deputy chief of the presidential guard Vyacheslav Generalov;

?Chief of the ground forces General Valentin Varennikov.