Lessons from the 1991 Soviet coup

 Published in Peace Research, Vol. 32, No. 1, February 2000, pp. 52-68
Pdf of published article

Wendy Varney and Brian Martin

Given the large number of coups and attempted coups in numerous countries over the years, it is intriguing that there appears to have been so little study of what is most effective in supporting or opposing them.[1] In this paper we examine the resistance to the 1991 Soviet coup, looking for general insights into how to make opposition effective. We suggest that each coup brings its own set of circumstances which protestors must be prepared to understand and use to their advantage. Nonetheless, there are several factors which are common and generally useful to bear in mind. These include the crucial part played by the military, the likely volatility of loyalties in the military and the delicate balance of many coups, especially with regard to their ability to attain legitimacy.

Governments obviously have little interest in disseminating information on how to help coups succeed. Their prime concern is maintaining their own power, and even to stir up thinking about the hypothetical possibility of a coup could be destabilising. Governments seek to prevent plotting and launching of coups, typically by ensuring loyalty and squashing challengers. For elected governments, the usual approach is to ensure that military forces are loyal to the civilian government itself, often by fostering an ideology of the military being "above politics." In dictatorships, military loyalty may be maintained by ruthless repression of actual and potential challengers.

Yet many coups are led by elements in the military. Both the Kapp Putsch of 1920[2] and the 1961 coup by French generals in Algeria[3]--two of the best examples of coups defeated by nonviolent resistance--were military coups. Even in cases that are not military coups, the stance of the military is crucial to the success or failure of the coup.[4] In the case of the 1991 Soviet coup, leading members of the Communist Party were responsible, one of whom was Dimitri Yazov, the Minister for Defence.

However, the military can be heavily influenced by civilian persuasion. In the call for loyalty for or against a coup, the question of legitimacy can be a deciding factor and civilians can play a major role, displaying the illegitimacy of a coup and denying the authority of its leaders. This happened in the Kapp Putsch when civil servants refused to co-operate and bank officials refused to honour cheques presented by the putschists without appropriate signatures which they could not attain.[5] Civilian denial of legitimacy similarly played a role in the Soviet coup and reinforces Gene Sharp's valid point that any actual or aspiring government relies on the compliance of civilians.[6] Much of the tussle will surround whether a junta can secure that compliance. In the USSR it was denied sufficient compliance and had its legitimacy challenged at every move.

One important source of legitimacy is the mass media. Therefore, one of the first priorities in any coup is to occupy radio and television stations and ensure censorship of the press. This is helpful for winning over more of the military but also has the vital function of swaying the general public. It is imperative, therefore, that those dedicated to nonviolent resistance pay due heed to these channels of information and their vulnerabilities and potential in terms of being used for or against attempts to overthrow elected governments.

In most coups, resistance has been improvised, as indeed are the coups themselves quite often. It is only to be expected that with training, resistance could have been even more effective. Short of training, though, lessons can be learned by studying resistance to coups and it is in this spirit that we explore the 1991 Soviet coup. The following section describes the wide range of methods used to oppose the coup and the varied sources of opposition. With this information in mind, in the final section we assess conclusions drawn by Roberts[7] against the Soviet experience, spell out some implications for opponents of coups, and note how commentaries on the coup understate the credit due to the civilian resistance.

The 1991 Soviet Coup

The background to the Soviet coup involved both external and internal matters. There had been a collapse of the Eastern bloc and, with it, the demise of the Cold War. The Cold War had propped up a great many myths, ideologies and rationales in both the USA and the USSR and these now lost their credibility with subsequent repercussions on the Soviet home front. The disintegration of the Eastern bloc had been made possible by President Gorbachev's declared unwillingness to support the previously entrenched Brezhnev doctrine whereby the Soviet government intervened in the political affairs of its neighbours to ensure that its own interests prevailed[8].

Gorbachev also instigated significant reforms with regard to internal politics, most notably Glasnost and Perestroika. Under Glasnost citizens enjoyed new freedoms, especially to criticise the regime and offer alternatives to Soviet organisation. All this was jeopardised in August 1991 when a group calling itself the Emergency Committee, with Gennadi Yanayev as its figurehead, detained Gorbachev in his Crimean dacha and attempted a coup in the hope of maintaining the centralisation about to be diminished by the new principles of the union that Garbachev was about to formalise. The coup leaders were also critical of the changes in the Soviet Union. Within three days the coup had collapsed. Its defeat reveals some interesting and promising perspectives for those seeking to promote nonviolence resistance as a viable and less costly (in both social and economic terms) alternative to violent methods.

Those who took part in the many forms of resistance appear to have come from diverse backgrounds and to have been equally diverse in their motivations. Also diverse were the methods used to bring down the coup. These covered virtually every aspect of the spectrum from organisational and physical aspects right through to supportive gestures such as setting up impromptu cafes at the rallies and providing demonstrators with free tea and coffee.

Communication is a vital part of any nonviolent struggle and much effort was given to communicating via leaflets posted in metro stations right through to pleading with and cajoling soldiers. But, given that the television stations and printing presses were in the hands of the coup leaders, who had ceased normal programming and closed down all but the most compliant newspapers, something a little more imaginative was called for to reach as broad as possible an audience with the message of resistance. Some media workers rose to the occasion with a number of ploys. A Pravda journalist, Ovcharenko, for instance, prefaced his question to the junta at its official press conference with the information that Yeltsin had described the events of the previous night as a rightwing, reactionary, anticonstitutional coup. He also incorporated into his question that there had been a call for a general strike and, while distancing himself from such a call, he nonetheless spread the news that there was resistance afoot.

At the same press conference Yanayev's hands were shaking. Soviet television broadcast this, thereby encouraging the inference that the Emergency Committee lacked complete confidence in the outcome of its own attempts.[9] This may have contributed to expectations that the coup would fail, an encouraging sign for those who wanted to join the resistance but were anxious about possible retaliation. The televising of acts of resistance also added to momentum against the coup.

As well as some media workers working diligently at communicating resistance to the coup and allowing their communication technology to be used for resistance purposes, a variety of other methods can be identified. These included feigned inability to edit from the press conference film pieces that the coup leader requested be cut and inefficiencies (almost certainly contrived) in meeting the junta's demands. Some ploys were as subtle as including on the television blackout, where all programming had been replaced by music, a concert hall production of Boris Godunov, "an operatic blast at regicides, silent majorities and pretenders."[10] Media workers also challenged their editors. At Izvestia, printing workers refused to print the paper unless it contained Yeltsin's anti-coup declaration, which they considered an integral part of the news. The journalists soon joined them in this demand and, after long negotiations, had their way against the wishes of the pro-coup chief editor.[11] Although the junta had closed down all liberal publications and taken control of television and radio stations, journalists from the suspended radical newspapers busily went to work producing makeshift newspapers and leaflets. Izyumov notes that Moscow City Council's daily distributed an "extraordinary issue on the first day of the coup. Workers manually produced 1,000 photocopies with the title `The plot of the doomed.'" Their task went beyond publication and distribution, for they needed also to outwit the censors, which they did by disguising one of three subsequent issues as an innocent rural newspaper.[12] The staff of Rossia spent their time at the `White House', from where they produced one edition of their newspaper and 42 different leaflets as well as duplicating dozens of Yeltsin's appeals and decrees.[13] While banned newspapers set up underground operations, the coup leaders met with refusal by some printers to print a number of junta-endorsed papers. A gazette to which all democratic newspapers contributed is estimated to have had a circulation of at least 100,000.

Radio workers also played their part. The independent radio station Moscow Echo was closed down by the junta several times but kept managing to go back on air, transmitting Yeltsin's declarations and appeals to Muscovites to resist the coup. Many also listened to Radio Liberty which was not jammed and was first in getting out news of events. Media workers within the Soviet Union may have felt more confident and reassured about their position following the creation earlier that year of associations to protect journalistic freedoms.[14]

While much of this effort was aimed at getting otherwise censored information out, those at the barricades were communicating more directly and personally, confronting the soldiers, sometimes hostilely, often more genially and sometimes with material "sweeteners" such as confectionery and cigarettes, but always with a view to convincing the soldiers that they should not be party to any military attack. Many of the soldiers were very receptive to these appeals and, apart from the incident at Kalinin Prospect where three protestors were killed, interaction between demonstrators and soldiers seems to have been peaceful.

There were also more structual attempts to sway the military. Moscow-area Supreme Soviet Deputies organised to visit military bases and installations in their region to acquaint armed forces personnel with Yeltsin's address and decrees. The All Union Soviet of the Parents of Military Personnel tried collective parental persuasion in calling on all officers, soldiers and sailors to oppose the coup.[15]

The role of the military is complex and the interpretation of its reluctance to be involved problematic. One needs to be cautious about extrapolating from the mostly positive relations between soldiers and the demonstrators that the demonstrators' efforts in this regard were decisive. As will be discussed later, there were divisions in the military. Coups virtually always involve splits in loyalty and demonstrators can take heart from this, using those splits to drive home their own conviction about the immorality of a coup. Certainly the persuasive efforts of the demonstrators in 1991 cannot have gone astray. At worst they merely provided a supportive environment for elements in the military that were never comfortable with the coup; at best they helped steer events away from the full-scale massacre that many seriously feared. The latter seems more likely as the culture of the Soviet Union had taught citizens to recognise where strength lay and the large demonstrations would have persauded the military that it did not lie with the coup leaders.

Due to the Soviet Union's program of national (military) service, many troops were conscripts and only 18 or 19 years old. In such circumstances not only were young men--and some women--in the military for reasons other than a personal commitment to and belief in militarism, but those civilians with whom they dialogued had wide experience of the military either personally or through family and friends. This helped break down many of the barriers which might otherwise have existed between soldiers and civilians. Some of the young soldiers also shared enthusiasm about the changes under Glasnost.

At the barricades, organisation was both well-structured and spontaneous. According to Zavorotnyi, "self-generated organized activity was a common occurrence" at the rally in Palace Square, Leningrad.[16] For instance, a caravan of water trucks blocked approaches to the square, disallowing entry of tanks. Leningrad taxi drivers, using their taxi radios to co-ordinate their movements, organised themselves into a fleet to scout around the suburbs looking for tanks or other early signs of attack so that prior warning could be given to the demonstrators. In Moscow, couriers on bikes sped through the city and around the obstructions, bringing news and messages to and among resisters and making a mockery of the clumsy and expensive tanks which were getting lost in the streets of Moscow. (We should not assume that the tanks were genuinely lost, bearing in mind that deliberate inefficiency, some of it by the military, seems to have played a strong part in resistance to the coup.)

The barricades were meant to be both functional and symbolic. In Leningrad one man who had been in Vilnius to guard the Lithuanian parliament building shared his knowledge of building the most sturdy of barricades while elsewhere barricades were thrown up hastily but conspicuously. Moscow's barricades were characterised by pieces from unfinished buildings, torn-up roads and mounds of fragments of reinforced concrete which were so plentiful in the city.[17] (Freidin, 1994:74). These can be seen as symbols of the resistance.

The junta ordered in tanks to intimidate and overpower the demonstrators psychologically if not physically. But the resistance appropriated the tanks for its own purposes. Outside the "White House", as the Russian Parliament was called, Yeltsin gave one of his most memorable speeches from atop a tank, the location arguably making the speech more poignant than it otherwise would have been. Elsewhere in Moscow, demonstrators clambered onto the tanks to speak more intimately with their occupants and, towards the end of the coup, when the tanks had already become a strange component of the social pastiche of resistance, flowers adorned them and children played on them. The tanks had been transformed, "if not into ploughshares, then into a heavy-duty tenement jungle gym."[18]

Strikes can be used both for economic reasons (for instance to help cripple a government seen to be illegitimate) and for symbolic reasons, as a show of the strength of the resistance. The resistance called a general strike but it did not come to fruition, although arguably the coup collapsed before organisation of a strike was properly tested. In Leningrad, Mayor Sobchak, an important spokesperson for the resistance, promised not to call a strike if the military commander would permit demonstrations in that city. Permission was given but some strikes went ahead anyway. One extraordinary strike was pulled off by a single individual, Vladimir Petrik, who was chief of an assembly division at a factory implicated in military equipment. His account of his actions and the repercussions he feared is an insightful account in courage.[19] Resistance came from individuals such as Petrik, from leaders such as Mayor Sobchak, who met with high ranking military officers and urged them not to bring tanks into Lengingrad, and from a range of social groupings. Anarchists, gay activists and Communists for Democracy found themselves alongside people who had started up businesses and enjoyed considerable privileges and who saw their interests lying in increased trends towards a market economy. Many of those who resisted the coup would normally have found themselves strongly ideologically opposed to each other (which can also happen in armed struggle), showing how points of commonality can be used to achieve and organise around broader and more pressing goals.

Not all military leaders supported the coup. The air force in particular was anxious not to become involved in an attack on Soviet citizens and resisters such as Sobchak obtained good mileage out of claims that the coup could not count on the support of the air force.[20] Many officers were anxious to see who the victors would be before throwing their support behind any party--perhaps a sensible move in terms of self-preservation in a country that could still remember the horrible excesses of Stalin. Some military leaders, such as General Mikhail Moiseyev, simply disappeared from public view. In this way they could not be seen as either supporting or opposing the coup. Some lower down in the ranks were more forthright about their resistance. According to Business Week, "Entire regiments of troops sided with reformers" and opposed the coup.[21] Stephen Foye has noted that "The failure of the Soviet coup d'etat was ... significant for its lack of military support ..."[22]

Alexander Pronozin claims that resistance in the military went beyond lack of support. He says that a special subdivision was set up by the coup leaders and equipped with powerful weapons, including grenades and antitank weapons. "But when it became clear to them that they would have to kill hundreds or even thousands of unarmed civilians, [they] refused to carry out the order despite the danger to themselves. Thus the weapon of nonviolent resistance appeared not only within the public but within the armed forces."[23] This also supports the argument that nonviolent methods of resistance are more likely to de-escalate potentially violent situations and that soldiers are more likely to resist orders to kill or injure when they face unarmed civilians.

Those in the military who opposed the coup, or who at least were willing to disappear, resign, shoot themselves or simply be unutterably inefficient rather than carry out the orders of the coup leaders, would have found solace in the presence of high profile figures who were forthright in their opposition. Yeltsin, the elected Russian President, was seen as the symbol of resistance but he only took on such symbolic importance because of the part played by a great many people in spreading his messages and in portraying him as an alternative to the Emergency Committee.

Ex-Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Alexander Yakovlev called on people to resist the coup. It is reported that some Russian KGB officials loyal to Yeltsin began stockpiling weapons and ammunition at the new Russian American university near the Moscow Zoo.[24] As mentioned, any coup can expect to meet with divided loyalty, though the proportions might differ remarkably.

Georgia's president also resisted the putsch, disbanding Georgia's national guard so that it could not be deployed for the purposes of defending the coup. He also played a part in using the telecommunications resources at his disposal to distribute messages of resistance. Similarly, activists from the Moscow office of the International Gay and Lesbian Rights Commission put their communication technology to use to try to spread information and keep the spirit of resisters high. They were but one example of numerous activist groups who went into action to defeat the putsch.

Trade union movement and worker resistance to the coup was also in evidence. The Kirov tractor factory in Leningrad, which had more than 30,000 workers, became a strong centre of resistance, using its fax machines to transmit speeches of defiance and support. The workers at the Kirov factory talked of starting a "campaign of civil disobedience" and thousands of them marched in anti-coup demonstrations.

Then there were concerned individuals, "ordinary people," often of no affiliation. Zavorotnyi describes the people who protested at Palace Square in Leningrad: "The majority were common folk, ordinary people of different generations. Many of them had probably never thought they would ever wind up in such a crowd."[25] The testimony of one Moscow demonstrator, Regina Bogachova, highlights the impact that Glasnost had had on them: "I am 55 years old and for years nothing but obedience and inertia was pounded into my brain." Glasnost had created a different climate for citizens such as Bogachova and now she was willing to struggle. She continued: "These monsters! ... They have thrown out Gorbachev and now they are threatening a government I helped elect. I will ignore the curfew. I'll let a tank roll over me if I have to. I'll die right here if I have to."[26]

Such commitment was crucial for the defeat of the coup, yet some coordination of resistance is also imperative. Still these might not be enough. Different circumstances lead to different problems and opportunities and each situation needs to be explored for its own peculiarities which can provide insight for other nonviolent resisters. In the case of the Soviet Union, improvisation appears to have been one of the factors that gave the resisters an edge. There is no doubt that the Soviet citizens lacked much of the technology in the numbers they would have desired for resisting the coup, but they did not seem to be lacking in technical skill and their ability to improvise was extraordinary. For instance, transmissions from the "White House," which was seen as the centre of resistance, were facilitated basically with a ham radio set-up that utilised parts of vacuum cleaners, a garbage bin and a fan. To keep Yeltsin "on air," amateur ham radio operators had to constantly change frequency to avoid jamming by the putschists. These amateurs used jargon amongst themselves to confuse the would-be jammers.[27]

There are two important points relevant to this improvisation and its role in resisting the coup, both stemming from the history and nature of the Soviet Union. One is that improvisation had become common and was widely practised and the other is that, likewise, there had long been an underground and a considerable part of the population was familiar, adept and confident at using it. Ironically, while the Soviet Union had traditionally tried to suppress dissent and keep tight control over people's knowledge and actions, this had given rise to both these facets of society which proved most significant in the defeat of the coup.

Improvisation to circumvent the lack of freedoms and shortage of equipment was well established in Soviet society. People were well educated with high technical skills but lacked much of the technology available in the West. Undaunted by this scarcity, they adapted available materials to meet their needs. For example, even in the 1950s with the unavailability of modern music, they had developed a method of recording into the emulsion of discarded x-ray plates, producing records which were churned out by the millions and called "recordings on bones." Later on, home-made satellite dishes were developed to keep in touch with external broadcasts.[28] With such a background in improvisation, the Soviet citizens would not have felt at all fazed by the scarcity of some telecommunications technology faced at the time of the coup.

While statements from foreign governments, organisations and individuals were valuable in offering psychological support to resisters, in our view they did not really make much difference. Indeed US President Bush, on hearing of the coup, was at first cautious in his comments and offered no judgement, suggesting that it was an internal matter for the USSR. He had been advised by the CIA that the coup was likely to succeed. However, after desperate appeals for him to take sides, with Soviet citizens looking outside their country for moral support, he changed his position to one of support for the resistance. Meanwhile, foreigners using the net to communicate with the Soviet Union were asked to keep off the lines as they were making it difficult for resisters to get news out.

Although moral support was given to Soviet citizens from many countries abroad, this only served as psychological support for those who acted against the coup (which is not to denigrate psychological support) and had little impact on the overall result. Valerii Zavorotnyi, a resident of St Petersburg (then Leningrad) who was an activist in that city's democratic movement, on being asked by a French visitor "Do you think the West will be able to help?" replied "No, we'll take care of it ourselves."[29] To his credit and the credit of many of his fellow resisters, that is precisely what they did.


Lessons can be drawn from the resistance to the 1991 Soviet coup in at least three areas: analysis of civil resistance to coups, advice for opponents of coups, and the writing of histories of coups. We deal with these areas in succession.

Roberts, in his insightful analysis of civil resistance to military coups, drew a number of specific conclusions which, although not itemised, can be readily extracted from his paper. It is straightforward to test each of these conclusions against the experience of the Soviet coup.

* "One of the reasons why the coup is so vulnerable is that military forces--especially perhaps conscript ones--are susceptible to numerous pressures from the civilian population and from civil institutions ... some forces at least can be greatly influenced in their conduct by civilian opinion."[30] The 1991 Soviet experience is completely in accord with this finding: Soviet conscript troops were indeed susceptible to pressures from civilians. An additional and related point is that civilians' experience of military service gave them helpful insight into how best to apply pressure to troops.

* "... monolithic ideological unity is not necessary to the conduct of civil resistance ... If there was a political idea which inspired the resistance in these cases, it was the idea of legitimacy but this does not amount to an ideology."[31] (p. 32). This was certainly true in the Soviet case. There was no single ideological position among the civilian resisters. The 1991 Soviet coup, like the Kapp Putsch and the Algerian Generals' revolt, took place at a time of ideological uncertainty and flux, when previous political assumptions were in collapse. Such periods may make coups more likely but also allow a greater breadth of participation in civil resistance.

* "... non-violent action, often thought of as an anti-government phenomenon, can in fact be used by governments and even be a key to their preservation in certain crises."[32] The Soviet experience provides another example of nonviolent action in support of the existing government.

* "... contrary to common belief non-violent action can be engaged in by the military themselves, even against violent opponents."[33] The Soviet experience confirms this finding: many Soviet troops were intentionally inefficient or refused to engage in action against civilians or other troops.

The experience with the Soviet coup thus supports every one of Roberts' specific conclusions, as well as with Roberts' general conclusion, that "the coup may be particularly vulnerable to non-cooperation."[34]

We may now turn from a descriptive and analytic assessment of the Soviet coup to a prescriptive approach: what lessons can be learned from the coup for improving the capacity of civil resistance? Here are some recommendations.

Every individual should be encouraged to think of resisting in their own circumstances. Rather than just think in terms of (nonviolent) set-piece confrontations, such as large rallies or general strikes, a range of small, local and individual forms of resistance can contribute to an overall potent effect. In short, the power of noncooperation is enormous. Resistance to the Soviet coup occurred in all sorts of areas, including the military, media, government and public spaces. In many cases the actions might have appeared minor on the surface, such as the choice of an unflattering camera angle used in reporting on the coup, but each such action had the potential to encourage resistance and discourage support.

Individuals should be encouraged to believe that their personal contribution can make a difference. The fact is that a relatively small number of resisters make an enormous difference. Although there was a lot of resistance to the Soviet coup, only a tiny fraction of people took any action one way or the other. Most people just kept doing their jobs and went about their daily life as usual, even in Moscow and Leningrad where the crucial events took place. To improve the effectiveness of nonviolent action, one of the great challenges is to overcome feelings of apathy and powerlessness.

Systems for communication among resisters should be set up that cannot easily be shut down. Communication is vital for nonviolent resistance, to coordinate activities and to stimulate greater activity through example. Coup leaders normally take control of the mass media as a first priority, using these media to present their own perspective on events and censor other views. Therefore, opponents need to be able to subvert such control over the mass media and to use decentralised communication methods such as face-to-face conversations, bulletin boards, leaflets, telephone, fax, email, short-wave radio and micropower broadcasting. In the Soviet coup, both these processes occurred.

Preparation for and training in nonviolent action for resisting coups should be instituted. Roberts also made this suggestion: "Some degree of advance preparations might give people greater confidence in their ability to overthrow a coup, and might also discourage military adventurism into politics in the first place."[35] A key feature of the resistance to the Soviet coup was its improvisatory nature. It is only to be expected that preparation and training would improve the effectiveness of resistance. No government has ever undertaken a serious programme to foster civilian resistance to coups, so the task is probably best undertaken by nongovernment organisations.

Finally, let us turn to the writing of histories of coups. One assumption among some specialists on coups, noted by Roberts, is that the key to success is technique. Underlying this assumption is another one: that coups are won and lost at the government and military level and that members of the public are largely irrelevant. The result of this assumption is that when popular nonviolent action is responsible for the failure of a coup, this outcome is attributed instead to incompetence by the coup leaders. Of course, incompetence may be a factor; the point here is the dismissal of nonviolent resistance.

It was clearly the citizens of the then Soviet Union who deserve credit for defeating the coup. This is somewhat different from how the event is often portrayed, which is that the coup leaders defeated themselves. Time described the coup as "a lesson in incompetency." Business Week spoke of "a curiously inept coup" that "fizzled."[36] Gladys Ganley put the defeat down to "lack of planning and ruthlessness"[37] and the Economist claimed there was a great lack of "military precision" on the part of those organising the coup.[38] It might be argued, however, that the operations were made to look inept because the junta received much less cooperation than was required for its success. Any government or bureaucracy can only be as efficient as it is allowed to be, for it ultimately relies heavily on cooperation and practical support. The withdrawal of such support can make any government or junta quickly appear very inept. This has a spiral impact, furthermore, as it will likely lead to loss of confidence and trigger further noncooperation. As Izyumov notes, "the plotters initially did quite well," especially in their speedy moves to close down all liberal publications and take control of electronic media.[39] That these moves were ultimately thwarted says more for the tenacity and organising of the media workers and population than it says for the lack of skills or ability of the junta.

The assumption that force is decisive is widespread in reporting of news and the writing of history, so it is not surprising that underrating of the power of nonviolence is commonplace. This underrating then partly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: People are encouraged to believe in the decisiveness of military strength and organisation and in their own powerlessness. This suits military interests and provides the ideological environment for extending military capacity at the expense of alternatives. Thus a priority for improving the capacity for civil resistance to coups is a greater understanding of just how potent nonviolent action can be.


We would like to acknowledge Valentin Bazhanov, Stephen Brown and Peter Kind for their discussion of the issues and helpful comments.


[1]. A coup here refers to a rapid and unauthorised change in political leadership.

[2]. D.J. Goodspeed, The Conspirators: A Study in the Coup d'Etat (London: Macmillan, 1962).

[3]. Anders Boserup and Andrew Mack, War Without Weapons: Non-violence in National Defence (London: Frances Pinter, 1974) pp. 120-27; Adam Roberts, "Civil Resistance to Military Coups," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 12, 1975, pp. 19-36.

[4]. T.E. Finer, The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics (London: Pall Mall Press, 1962); Edward Luttwak, Coup d'Etat: A Practical Handbook, (London: Allen Lane, 1968).

[5]. Goodspeed.

[6]. Gene Sharp, Exploring Nonviolent Alternatives (Boston, MA: Extending Horizons, 1970), p. 30.

[7]. Roberts.

[8]. See Ralph Summy and Michael E. Salla (eds.), Why the Cold War Ended: A Range of Interpretations (Conn: Greenwood Press, 1995).

[9]. Gladys Ganley, Unglued Empire: The Soviet Experience With Communication Technologies, (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1996), p. 130.

[10]. Gregory Freidin, "To the Barricades," in Victoria E. Bonnell, Ann Cooper and Gregory Freidin (eds), Russia at the Barricades: Eyewitness Accounts of the August 1991 Coup (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994), p. 72.

[11]. Alexei Izyumov, "Coup Unites Soviet Media," The Quill, Vol. 80, No. 1, p. 27.

[12]. Ibid.

[13]. Ibid.

[14]. Vera Tolz, "The Soviet Media," RFE-RL Research Report, Vol. 1, No. 1, 3 January 1992, p. 29-31.

[15]. Coup in the Soviet Union: A Minute-By-Minute Chronology, http://artnet.net/~upstart/1819aug.html, 30th April, 1999.

[16]. Valerii Zavorotnyi, "Letter from St Petersburg," in Bonnell, Cooper and Freidin, p. 155.

[17]. Freidin, p. 74.

[18]. Ibid.

[19]. Vladimir Petrik, "Moscow's MV Khrunichev Machine-Building Factory Reacts to the August Coup" in Bonnell, Cooper and Freidin, pp. 111-19.

[20]. Interview with Yevgenii Shaposhnikov, "The Coup and the Armed Forces" in Bonnell, Cooper and Freidin, pp. 201-8.

[21]. Rose Brady, Patricia Kranz, Peter Galuscka, Igor Reichlin, Bill Jovetski and Douglas A. Harbrecht, "Yeltsin's Triumph," Business Week, 2nd September, 1991, No. 3219, p. 14.

[22]. Foye, Stephen, "The Soviet Armed Forces: Things Fall Apart," RFE-RL Research Report, Vol. 1, No. 1, 3 January, 1992, p. 15.

[23]. Pronozin, Alexander, "Nonviolent Resistance to Soviet Coup Took Many Forms," Nonviolent Sanctions, Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall 1991, p. 5.

[24]. Jeff Trimble and Peter Vassiliev, "Three Days that Shook the World," U.S. News and World Report, Vol. 111, No. 21, 18 November, 1991, pp. 54-62.

[25]. Zavorotnyi, p. 154.

[26]. Ganley, p. 144.

[27]. Rebezov, Anton and Dima Guskov, "The 'White House' Operation", QST (official monthly journal of the American Radio Relay League), November, 1991.

[28]. Ganley.

[29]. Zavorotnyi, p. 148.

[30]. Roberts, p. 31.

[31]. Ibid, p. 32.

[32]. Ibid.

[33]. Ibid.

[34]. Ibid., p. 31.

[35]. Ibid., p. 32-33.

[36]. Brady et al., p. 14.

[37]. Ganley.

[38]. Anon, "Anatomy of a Botched Putsch," The Economist, 24 August, 1991, pp. 17-19.

[39]. Izyumov.

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