August coup: why an attempt to save the USSR led to its collapse
And what would have been the fate of the country if the putschists hadn't thwarted the signing of the Union Treaty
Years fly fast. The author of the hit that set the teeth on edge, in essence, correctly conveys the feeling of the passage of time: “I will turn the calendar over and again the third of September.” True, in our case, the calendar is not the third day of autumn, but the 19th of the last month of summer. 31st anniversary of the August coup. But the question, in principle, is the same, sacramental, eternal: “Why did we have to part anyway?” After all, even then, on the eve of the putsch, “everything was serious with us.”
Photo: Lilia Sharlovskaya
How would the fate of the country have developed if the putschists had not thwarted the signing of the Union Treaty? This question, of course, is also hardly new. But it has been studied much less than the possible consequences of the victory of the State Emergency Committee. Recall that the signing ceremony was scheduled for August 20. So, in any case, says the canonical version of events. Not everyone agrees with her. For example, the former head of the Presidential Security Service, Alexander Korzhakov, calls it a “tale.”
“I’m sure there shouldn’t have been any signing on that day,” Alexander Vasilyevich firmly stated to the MK observer. – Look: we flew to Kazakhstan on August 16, and returned on the night of the 19th. That is, a little more than a day remained before the signing. This is an event of very great significance and scale, therefore, in theory, everything should have been ready for it … If the signing had really been scheduled for August 20, we would have to know when and where to go, what time and from what entrance to enter. But there was no protocol, and no sign of preparation at all. I mean, it's all lies. Who was saved by this? Gorbachev, gekachepists, someone else?”
However, none of the other participants in the events – from either side – had any doubts that the signing was to take place on August 20. Here, for example, is what the last head of the State Bank of the USSR, Viktor Gerashchenko, told the author of these lines: , returning from vacation, assembled the presidium of the Council of Ministers, which included me.
The prime minister began without preamble: “On Tuesday, the 20th, I, together with Gorbachev, will sign the Union Treaty. You, members of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers, authorize me to do this? Do you understand that under this agreement we are ruining the country's economy?..” He attacked the Chairman of the State Planning Commission Shcherbakov: “Gorbachev did not invite me to these meetings, but you were invited. Why were you silent there? Because they promised a good position?”… Shcherbakov vaguely justified himself: they say, he was not silent, but no one listened… Most of the members of the presidium spoke out against the draft treaty. It was decided to make something like a memorandum following the discussion.”
Incidentally, Gerashchenko was one of the few, if not the only, representatives of the then Soviet leadership who openly criticized the draft treaty even before the putsch (the result of the Novoogarevo process was published on August 15 in the Pravda newspaper).
“I did not hide my position at all,” recalls Gerashchenko. – I wrote an open letter to the leadership of the country – I later got from Gorbachev for “taking out dirty linen from the hut” – in which it was proved that the project could not be accepted in its current form. It was proposed in each republic to actually create its own emission center, and this is a direct path to the collapse of monetary circulation. The letter was published in Moskovskie Novosti on August 18.
In that appeal, it was really stated that the current version of the Union Treaty “will lead to a situation where it is impossible to conduct a single monetary policy in the country and, as a result, to the collapse money circulation and the detrimental impact of this process on the entire national economy and the well-being of the country's population.
In principle, the issue of money, according to the project, was within the jurisdiction of the Union. However, at the same time, it was argued that the emission should be “agreed” and that control over it was a matter of joint competence of the center and the republics. In this, according to Gerashchenko, the devil lay: “Such a wording of the agreement allows the republic, in the event of a conflict between the norms of the union and republican legislation, to refuse to fulfill its allied obligations and pursue an autonomous monetary policy that is not coordinated with other republics and the Union” .
The conspirators themselves, however, although they later called their main goal the prevention of the signing of a “destructive, anti-constitutional treaty”, in public, oddly enough, they practically did not criticize it. The address of the State Emergency Committee to the Soviet people, read out on radio and television on the morning of August 19, spoke only of the unwillingness to rush into its adoption: “We promise to hold a broad nationwide discussion of the draft of the new Union Treaty. Everyone will have the right and the opportunity to comprehend this most important act in a calm atmosphere and decide on it, because the fate of the numerous peoples of our great Motherland will depend on what the Union will become.”
Although indirect hints that they did not like the plans of the President of the USSR isolated in Foros were present in abundance: they say, “extremist forces arose that headed for the liquidation of the Soviet Union”, they say, what is happening is “the result of purposeful actions of those who, grossly trampling The fundamental law of the USSR, in fact, makes an anti-constitutional coup.”
But simultaneously with the appeal, a statement was made by the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Anatoly Lukyanov, who was not formally a member of the State Emergency Committee. Here the criticism is direct, although by no means devastating: they say that in the published text “they did not find a sufficiently clear reflection” of a number of provisions important from the point of view of preserving the Union, and these problems require “additional discussion at a session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and then, apparently, and at the Congress of People's Deputies of the country.
Such caution was evidently dictated by tactical considerations: Gorbachev alone was not the author of the project. The leaders of nine union republics – Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan – participated in the Novoogarevsky process, the result of which was this document. And to make enemies out of all of them – which would inevitably have happened if the project of their work had been called anti-constitutional and extremist – did not seem to be part of the plans of the conspirators.
However, this is already, as they say, an area of conjecture. But the fact that the putsch was timed to coincide with the first stage of approving the treaty – it was supposed that on August 20 it would be signed by the heads of the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – can perhaps be considered a proven fact. Now we know that the GKChP was created in a terrible hurry. It was sewn, one might say, on a living thread, without a clear, well-thought-out plan. If it had been otherwise, perhaps the results of the conspiracy would have been completely different. And it is difficult to give any other explanation for this rush, except for the desire to get ahead of Gorbachev and Co. with the signing of the Union Treaty.
But let us return to the question formulated at the beginning of the text: what would have happened if it had been signed then? “History will still pass a harsh judgment on the conspirators,” wrote Mikhail Gorbachev several years after the events. “The consequences of their adventure turned out to be catastrophic… The organizers of the August conspiracy thwarted the emerging opportunity to save the Union by transforming it into a Federation, and the CPSU by reforming it into a political party of left forces.”
Why Gorbachev! Boris Yeltsin, who three months later put his signature under the agreement that ended the existence of the USSR, and he, according to his memoirs, very much regretted the unrealized chance: “What an opportunity was not used! .. It was not just a “civilized divorce”, as she called Novoogarevsky press treaty. Gorbachev and I suddenly clearly felt that our interests had finally coincided. That these roles suit us quite well. Gorbachev kept his seniority, I kept my independence. It was the perfect solution for both.”
The leaders of other former “fraternal republics” have also contributed to these experiences – and continue to do so. Ai-ai-ai, they say, what the damned gekachepy have done! This idea was lost! But these moans are completely illogical. Logically, obstacles to the renewal of the Union existed before and during the coup – in the face of the conservative part of the Soviet ruling elite. After the defeat of the conspiracy and the arrest of the conspirators, these obstacles were removed.
Nothing could prevent the participants of the Novoogarevo Ten (nine republican leaders plus the President of the USSR) from getting together and signing an agreement. Actually, Gorbachev wanted it that way. But it was not there. Potential signatories demanded that the project be redesigned to take into account the new, post-coup realities. The realities, according to Yeltsin, were as follows: “It was clear that the real power lay with the republics. First of all, Russia. Neither the Council of Ministers, nor the State Planning Committee, nor other previously omnipotent structures really decided anything, their functions were limited to registering the existing situation.
Well, that is, signing the treaty in its original form meant for the Republican leaders to part with the lion's share of the power that fell upon them. Therefore, the project was constantly adjusted towards greater decentralization. The federation became a confederation. The Union of Sovereign States, described in the most recent version of the draft, published on November 27, 1991, was already not much different from the Commonwealth of Independent States that soon appeared.
Suffice it to say that the states forming the Union were declared subjects of international law, which can “establish direct diplomatic, consular relations, trade and other relations with foreign states, exchange plenipotentiary representations with them, conclude international treaties.” Moreover, they received the right to create “republican armed formations.” Not a word was said about the monetary system of the Union, nor about the currency in general, in the draft, which implies the right of the participating state to introduce its own monetary systems.
But even this option could no longer suit anyone. “The atmosphere at the Novoogarevo meetings in October-November was very different from the one that prevailed at them before the putsch,” Yeltsin wrote. “If earlier the overwhelming majority of the heads of the republics did not dare to argue with the President of the USSR and even somewhere condemned me for “excessive radicalism”, now they themselves were already throwing themselves at Mikhail Sergeyevich, not letting me open my mouth.”
How it all ended is known. And it is quite difficult to believe that this “serpentarium of friends” could, in principle, have some other result. Even without the August coup. The point is not that the participants of the Novoogarevsky gatherings have changed so much in these two or three months. People don't change that quickly. Circumstances have changed, but people remain the same. Everything indicates that the disruption of the signing of the treaty caused by the putsch was perceived by the republican leaders not as a collapse of hopes, but as a historical chance given by fate.
“The August adventure is not out of a number of conspiracies known to history,” wrote Gorbachev’s aide Georgy Shakhnazarov. “But she has one, if not unique, then at least a strange, extremely rare trait. The more you delve into the details, the more striking is the complete discrepancy between the idea and the result. In every conspiracy there is a secret, because it is by its very nature a dark matter. They don't talk in public. Here, however, quite mysticism, phantasmagoria. Not just a failure, but some kind of fatal catastrophe. It seems incomprehensible how one can destroy a superpower with one careless move.
Shakhnazarov offered the following key to the puzzle: “With diametrically opposed strategic goals, the tactical interests of the gekacheps and their opponents at that moment coincided. Both were eager to disrupt the signing of the Union Treaty. The first – because, in their opinion, it would become only an intermediate station on the way to the final collapse of the USSR. The second – because they saw in the Treaty the salvation of the Center (albeit not with the previous unlimited powers), they feared that its signing could for a long time postpone the so passionately desired defeat of the remnants of the former system and the eviction of the President of the USSR from the Kremlin.
According to Gorbachev's aide, the collapse of the Union was predetermined not by the putsch, but by the election of Yeltsin as President of Russia: .). “It seemed to them that they were only putting forward a more decisive and courageous leader, in reality they preferred a different program: they took power away from a centrist, social democratic political trend in essence and gave it to a radical liberal one.”
After June 12, 1991, Shakhnazarov believed, the possibility of preserving the Union State was only hypothetical. And it's hard to disagree with that. The same Boris Yeltsin frankly told his supporters that the signing of the treaty was a tactical move in a big political game that would not end there anyway: “Until the treaty is concluded, Russia will remain a hostage of the central , without appropriate legal pressure, will not give up their functions to us.”
Some, however, believe that the fate of the Union was decided even earlier – with the election of Gorbachev to the post of General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU and the announcement of perestroika by him. But Shakhnazarov categorically denied accusations against his boss of the collapse of the USSR: “A retrospective shows that only two claims can be brought against the ex-president. The first is that he introduced democracy in the country, and the second is that he did not abandon it for the sake of the integrity of the state.
Today, many will surely say that it was the wrong choice. In the end, they say, they ended up with a broken trough: and there is no former integrity, with democracy, things are, to put it mildly, so-so. But, firstly, Gorbachev, in fairness, did not himself choose between democracy and the preservation of the Union. He tried to combine both, and therefore failed.
Now it is clear: the chances of winning with such a combination were scanty, but then this bet did not seem absurd at all. In words, Gorbachev's position was shared by most of the Union's political elite. Even the conspirators-gekachepy, having reigned in their hour measured by fate, began to assure the people of their commitment to democracy.
Well, secondly, it is worth remembering the words of the wise Deng Xiaoping: when asked to evaluate the significance of the Great French Revolution, the father of Chinese economic Chuda replied that too little time had passed to sum up. Who knows, perhaps future chroniclers will say about us that we are still living in the era of reforms initiated by Gorbachev. And they haven't even started seriously yet.