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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

1991 Coup Plotters Praise Putin

Organizers of the failed coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, sitting together in an eerie reprise of their last joint appearance a decade ago, defended their actions and said President Vladimir Putin is working to achieve many of their goals.

The August 1991 hard-line communist attempt to overthrow the reformist Gorbachev was an attempt to keep the Soviet Union from disintegrating, the organizers said. But it backfired and precipitated the end of the Soviet Union, which collapsed four months later.

"The current leadership is making efforts to restore control over the country," said former Soviet Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, flanked Wednesday by other coup-plotters at the offices of the hard-line newspaper Patriot, the first time they had been together in public since a news conference during the coup. "Today they are trying to do what we attempted to do in the Soviet Union in 1991."

Pavlov and other members of the State Emergency Committee said their action was aimed at preventing independent-minded republics from dissolving the Soviet Union, and that it failed mostly because they were too cautious to use force and were badly prepared.

The coup plotters announced Gorbachev ill, isolated him at a Black Sea resort and put themselves in charge. They moved armored columns into Moscow but stopped short of using force against thousands of protesters who rallied behind Boris Yeltsin, at the time the president of the Russian republic. After just three days, the coup was defeated.

"We didn't want to fight against our own people," said former Soviet Vice President Gennady Yanayev, who was the formal head of the coup.

The coup plotters were amnestied by parliament in 1994. Some of them later became lawmakers, and one, Vasily Starodubtsev, recently won a second term as a provincial governor.

The coup's defeat encouraged former Soviet republics to claim broader independence, and in December 1991 Russia, Ukraine and Belarus announced the Soviet Union defunct, forcing Gorbachev to resign on Dec. 25.

The coup organizers said the ensuing economic meltdown and a string of armed conflicts in Russia and other former Soviet republics has proved they were right in trying to stem the Soviet breakup. "The last 10 years can be summed up in one word — collapse," said former Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov. "Current leaders have begun to understand it," he added.

Putin has pledged to restore Russia's economic and military power and its international prestige. He has championed a war in Chechnya and trimmed the powers of the regions, putting them under stronger federal control.

"I hope that the current political leadership will learn the lessons of 1991 and keep Russia from breaking up," Pavlov said.

"President Putin has given signals that he is trying to defend Russia's positions in the international arena," said Oleg Baklanov, the former chief of a Soviet military-industrial complex.

Putin's liberal critics have expressed concern about media freedom in Russia and assailed his decision to restore the old Soviet anthem — albeit with new words. Some eyebrows were raised when Putin invited one of the coup plotters, former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, to his inauguration ceremony in May 2000.

Kryuchkov did not attend Wednesday's news conference but hailed Putin in an interview published Wednesday. "Putin is an independent politician and the most constructive leader of recent years," Kryuchkov told the weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta.