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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Varennikov Maintains There Was No '91 Coup

One day after his acquittal of a high-treason charge, General Valentin Varennikov said Friday that the August 1991 coup he was accused of leading never happened.

"How can people who lead the country launch a coup d'etat?" he said of the 12 top officials who were charged with high treason in 1992 for their attempt to remove former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev from power. "There was no coup d'etat."

Varennikov, acquitted from a high treason charge Thursday for his role in the three-day putsch, has been denying there ever was a coup since his trial resumed in June.

But his words to a press conference Friday gained credibility after Russia's Supreme Court ruled that, because Gorbachev did not prove he had actively opposed the attempt to usurp power, it was impossible to prove the accused had actually launched a coup.

Even the state's prosecutor in the case, after dropping all charges just before the ruling, told journalists he believed there was no conspiracy to remove Gorbachev from power.

"It was an act by the leadership of the country against the policy of Gorbachev, which led to the collapse to the Soviet Union," Varennikov said. "That is not a coup. That is defense of the country."

Varennikov, who headed Soviet ground forces in 1991, said the group had wanted to keep Gorbachev in power but tried to stop him from signing a power-sharing agreement with neighboring republics. On Friday, Varennikov said that Gorbachev should have been removed "by any means possible."

Gorbachev condemned the ruling in an interview Friday.

"If our courts and legal bodies react in this way to such events, it will be difficult for us to move toward a new, democratic Russia," he told Reuters.