What Happened to the August 1991 Soviet Coup Plotters?
A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
Eleven hard-liners in the Soviet government, military, Communist Party, and KGB were named in a Russian court as the organizers of the failed August 1991 coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
They included the so-called “Gang of Eight” that had placed Gorbachev under house arrest -- a short-lived, self-declared provisional government that called itself the State Committee for the Emergency Situation was known by its Russian acronym, GKChP. They also included three other senior Soviet political and military officials.
One “Gang of Eight” member, Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo, committed suicide shortly after the coup collapsed.
The 10 other men named as coup plotters were all granted amnesty by the State Duma on February 23, 1994 -- ending their 14-month trial, on high treason charges, by the military branch of the Supreme Court.
They went on to play various roles in politics and the private sector in post-communist Russia.
Vladimir Kryuchkov, Soviet KGB Chief
Vladimir Kryuchkov, the KGB chief who initiated the creation of the GKChP, was named by the court as one of four main conspirators in the attempted coup. After the amnesty, Kryuchkov wrote extensively about the events that preceded the disintegration of the Soviet Union -- criticizing Gorbachev’s for his political, social, and economic reforms, for the loss of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe, and for the reunification of Germany. Kryuchkov died at age 83 on November 23, 2007.
Valentin Pavlov, Soviet Prime Minister
Valentin Pavlov, prime minister of the Soviet Union, was released on bail in January 1993, more than a year before the amnesty. As a key member of the “Gang of Eight,” he was named by the court as one of the four main coup plotters. From 1994 to August 1995, Pavlov -- a former Soviet finance minister -- was a director of the commercial bank Chasprombank, resigning at the board’s request six months before Chasprombank’s license was revoked for violating Russian central bank rules. In 1996 and 1997, Pavlov was an adviser to Promstroibank, another commercial bank. In 1998, he became vice president of a U.S.-based software developer called Business Management Systems. He also was named during the 1990s as the vice president of an organization called Free Economic Society -- a renamed version of the All-Soviet Economic Society. Pavlov died in Moscow on March 30, 2003.
Dmitry Yazov, Soviet Defense Minister
Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, another member of the “Gang of Eight,” also was named by the court as one of the four chief conspirators. A World War II veteran and the last Marshal of the Soviet Union, Yazov accepted the amnesty after 18 months in Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina jail, but insisted he was not guilty of treason. He was dismissed from military service in February 1994 by President Boris Yeltsin, but continued to take part in veterans’ activities and was a guest of honor at subsequent May 9 parades commemorating the Allied victory in World War II. After Vladimir Putin became president, he became a chief military adviser to the Defense Ministry’s International Military Cooperation Department and to the chief of the General Staff Academy. In 2006, during Putin’s second term, Yazov took a post with the Inspectors General Service at the Defense Ministry, where he was a leading analyst. On November 8, 2014, Putin personally presented Yazov (pictured above) with Russia’s Order of Honor medal for “high achievement in useful societal activities.”
Oleg Shenin, Politburo Member
Oleg Shenin, a secretary of the Communist Party and member of its ruling Politburo, was the only official not among the “Gang of Eight” to be named by the court as a main conspirator. In 1993, while still on trial for high treason, Shenin became the founding chairman of the marginal Union of Communist Parties -- Communist Party of the Soviet Union (UCP-CPSU), and remained at that post after the amnesty. He met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a September 1997 visit to Pyongyang. In 2001, he split from the main Russian Communist Party after its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, refused to support his idea of creating a united Communist Party of Russia and Belarus. Shenin sought to run for the Russian presidency in 2008, but was denied registration on the grounds that there were omissions in his paperwork. He died at age 71 on May 28, 2009.
Boris Pugo, Soviet Interior Minister
Boris Pugo, the Soviet interior minister who was part of the “Gang of Eight,” fatally shot himself on August 22, 1991, after being summoned to a meeting with a Russian prosecutor over his role in the failed coup, according to multiple accounts. His wife also died after the incident. Prosecutors dismissed speculation that one or the other was murdered, saying that both left suicide notes and that Pugo’s wife managed to place his pistol neatly on a chest of drawers after shooting herself. Some of Pugo’s contemporaries have cast doubt on the official version.
Oleg Baklanov, Soviet Defense Council Deputy Chairman
Oleg Baklanov, was head of the ministry responsible for building ICBMs, booster rockets, and space vehicles. As Communist Party secretary in charge of defense issues, he was a top figure in the military-industrial complex at the time of the coup. After the amnesty, he worked as a scientist and a businessman in Russia’s defense sector. Baklanov became chairman of the board of Rosobshemash, a state-owned military contractor that builds military aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles, like the SS-18 “Satan,” for Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
Gennady Yanayev, Soviet Vice President
Soviet Vice President Gennady Yanayev was a “Gang of Eight” member who claimed the post of acting president during the attempted coup. His hands trembled at the plotters’ press conference, prompting speculation that he was drunk and making him a symbol of the failed power grab. After being freed from jail in March 1994 under the State Duma amnesty, Yanayev stayed out of politics and business. He became the head of the Department of History and International Relations at the Russian International Academy of Tourism. He died at age 73 on September 24, 2010, after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
Anatoly Lukyanov, Supreme Soviet Chairman
Anatoly Lukyanov was chairman of the Supreme Soviet, the U.S.S.R.’s top legislative body. He became deeply involved in the creation of the Russian Communist Party after the breakup of the Soviet Union, even before the amnesty. In 1993, Lukyanov co-founded the Communist Party of the Russian Federation with Gennady Zyuganov. He served until 2003 as the chairman of the party’s Central Advisory Council and as a senior adviser to Zyuganov. Lukyanov also was elected as a Communist Party deputy to the State Duma in 1993, 1995, and 1999. Lukyanov stopped taking part in Duma elections in 2003 when he became a board member of OEG Petroservis, a Russian firm involved in exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas.
Valentin Varennikov, Soviet Deputy Defense Minister
Valentin Varennikov, a Soviet general and deputy defense minister, is the only coup plotter who refused to accept the State Duma’s amnesty offer after it was reviewed by a Russian court in March 1994. Varennikov was acquitted of treason on August 11, 1994, when a newly appointed judge in the case ruled that he had merely followed the orders of Defense Minister Yazov and had acted “in an interest of preserving and strengthening his country.” Varennikov won a State Duma seat in 1995 as a member of the Communist Party, and headed the Committee on Veteran Affairs. In August 2003, Varennikov co-founded the nationalist political party Rodina. He also founded a nongovernmental group that he called the International League for Human Dignity and Security and vehemently defended the reputation of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, saying that the Soviet Union “became a great country because we were led by Stalin.” Varennikov died at age 85 on May 6, 2009.
Vasily Starodubtsev, Soviet Peasants Union Chairman
Vasily Starodubtsev, chairman of the Soviet Peasants Union, continued his political career after the August 1991 coup. He was treated leniently by the court compared to other members of the “Gang of Eight.” He was released from jail in 1992, officially for health reasons, on the condition that he stay out of politics. But Starodubtsev ignored those terms. In 1993, he helped found the Agrarian Party of Russia, which advocated agrarian socialism and collectivism, and was elected to the State Duma. Starodubtsev was governor of Tula Oblast from 1997 to 2005. His party supported Dmitry Medvedev’s 2008 presidential candidacy and merged into Putin’s ruling United Russia party the same year. Starodubtsev died of a heart attack at age 80 on December 30, 2011.
Aleksandr Tizyakov, Soviet Industrial Consortium Leader
Aleksandr Tizyakov, a member of the “Gang of Eight,” used his connections as the head of a Soviet industrial association to launch a career as a private businessman after the 1994 amnesty. At the time of the coup, Tizyakov headed the Soviet Union’s Association of State Enterprises and Industry, Transport, and Communications Facilities. By 2001, he had founded or cofounded a series of private companies: a mechanical engineering firm called Antal; an insurance company called Severnaya Kazna; a consumer goods firm called Fideliti; and plywood producing enterprise called Vidikon. He is founder and board chair of an investment firm called Noviye Tekhnologii. He also founded a Russian-Kyrgyz joint venture called Tekhnologia and a Yekaterinburg-based firm that rents out non-residential properties called Nauka-93, and is listed as a founder of several other companies. Tizyakov ran unsuccessfully for the State Duma in 1995 and 1999 and again in 2003, when he was a candidate on the Communist Party ticket.
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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