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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

What Putin Did During The Coup

ST. PETERSBURG — Ten years ago, Vladimir Putin was an aide to St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, who quickly sided with President Boris Yeltsin in opposing the Communist coup in August 1991. But what role Putin played is much less clear.

In January 2000, The Washington Post reported without attribution that Putin had "quietly played a key role" in protecting Sobchak at the moment of the coup.

"Sobchak, in Moscow at that moment, vowed to defend Yeltsin and fight the coup, and took the risky step of flying back to his city to oppose the putsch. Putin, with good ties in the local security services, showed up at the airport with armed guards to protect Sobchak, who was potentially vulnerable as a leading democrat," the paper reported.

A series of articles dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the August 1991 coup.
Other reports have also claimed that it was Putin, using his links to the KGB, who negotiated with the military authorities and was primarily responsible for preventing a military confrontation during the crisis.

In his campaign biography, "In the First Person," Putin claimed a far more modest role.

"I was on vacation. And when everything started, I was very anxious that at such a moment I happened to be goodness-knows-where. I managed somehow to get to the city on Aug. 20. Sobchak and I virtually moved into the City Council building. Not us alone, but a whole crowd of people were there during those days, and we were there with them," he wrote.

"We undertook a number of active measures: We went to the Kirov Factory, gave speeches to the workers, went to other enterprises. … We even passed out weapons to various people. Of course, I kept my regulation firearm locked in my safe."

Politicians who were involved in the events confirm this more limited role, saying that Putin — who had joined Sobchak's team just two months earlier and headed his administration's external affairs committee — was still such a minor figure in the administration that he would not have been able to influence events significantly.

"It's kind of hard to remember what he was doing there. I actually don't remember at all that he was there at that time," said Alexander Shchelkanov, who was a Supreme Soviet deputy at the time and responsible for organizing the Mariinsky Palace defenses.

"[Putin] was working as Sobchak's assistant before the inauguration, and he continued doing so during the coup," recalled Ruslan Linkov, who was a journalist for the ANI information agency at the time.

Photographs taken in the palace on Aug. 22 by American businessman Dean LaBaron show Putin seated beside Sobchak, conferring with the mayor animatedly. The copyrighted photos can be seen on the Internet at the web site www.deanlebaron.com/misc/putin.html.

Yury Kravtsov, the former Legislative Assembly speaker who was then a deputy in the City Council, said that it was Sobchak who prevented the tanks from entering the city. "As far as I remember, Anatoly Sobchak had a very serious 'man-to-man' talk with General Valery Samsonov on the phone that night and convinced him not to [move]," Kravtsov said.

Representatives of President Putin's administration also downplayed the story of Putin's involvement in this aspect of the coup.

"To be honest, I can't confirm or deny this. In his book, he said that he met with factory workers, but to say that he stopped the tanks himself, I don't think so," said Natalya Chumakova, deputy head of the presidential press service, in an interview on Wednesday.