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SPECIAL ISSUE: The Collapse of the Soviet Union (Part 1) Introduction

he collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was remarkable because it occurred so suddenly and with so little violence, especially in Russia itself. Even now, more than a decade after the fact, the abrupt and largely peaceful end of Communist rule in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union seems nearly miraculous. History offers no previous instances in which revolutionary political and social change of this magnitude transpired with almost no violence. When large, multiethnic empires disintegrated in the past, their demise usually came after extensive warfare and bloodshed.1 As late as mid-August 1991, just before an attempted coup dtat in Moscow, few if any observers expected that the Soviet Communist regimeand the Soviet state as a wholewould simply dissolve in a nonviolent manner. Many long-standing Western theories of revolution and political change will have to be revised to take account of the largely peaceful upheavals that culminated in the breakup of the Soviet Union. Despite the enormous signi cance of the Soviet collapse, Western scholars have not yet adequately explained why and how it occurred. Although a plethora of articles and books on the subject have been published over the past eleven years, the cumulative results of this research have been modest.2 The basic chronology of events from 1985 through 1991 is well-known, but the details of many crucial episodes (such as the failed coup of August 1991) are as murky as ever. There has not yet been a systematic, in-depth assessment
1. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Con ict from 1500 to 2000 (New York: Random House, 1987), pp. 514516. 2. Most of the items that have appeared will be cited in a bibliographic essay in the third special issue on this topic (Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, forthcoming). Journal of Cold War Studies Vol. 5, No. 1, Winter 2003, pp. 316 2003 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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of the major factors and circumstances that precipitated the breakup of the Soviet state. Nor has there been a wide-ranging comparative analysis of the demise of the Soviet Union. The dearth of comparative research is surprising. Several important books examining the performance and decline of large empires from the past were published in the 1980s and early 1990s.3 Although the Soviet Union was not an empire per se, it did possess many of the same characteristics. 4 The dissolution of the USSR is certainly worth comparing to these earlier cases of imperial collapse as well as to the more recent fragmentation of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Thus far, however, only a small number of political scientists and historians have pursued this line of inquiry.5
3. Michael W. Doyle, Empires (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986); Jack Snyder, Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991); Charles A. Kupchan, The Vulnerability of Empire (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994); Geir Lundestad, ed., The Fall of Great Powers: Peace, Stability, and Legitimacy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); Marc Ferro, Histoire des colonisations: des conqutes aux indpendances, XIIIe-XXe sicle (Paris: Seuill, 1994); Geoffrey Parker, The Geopolitics of Domination: Territorial Supremacy in Europe and the Mediterranean from the Ottoman Empire to the Soviet Union (New York: Routledge, 1988); Henri Grimal, La dcolonisation de 1919 a nos jours, rev. ed. (Brussels: ditions Complexe, 1985); Franz Ansprenger, Au sung der Kolonialreiche (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1981); Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers; and Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981). Nine more recent additions to the literature are Dominic Lieven, Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000); Alexander Demandt, ed., Das Ende der Weltreiche: vom Persen bis zur Sowjetunion (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1997); Richard Lorenz, ed., Das Verdmmern der Macht: vom Untergang grosser Reiche (Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2000); Michael Cox et al., eds., Empires, Systems, and States: Great Transformations in International Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001); David B. Abernethy, The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 14151980 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000); Alexander J. Motyl, Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001); David Armitage, ed., Theories of Empire, 14501800 (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1998); Anthony Pagden, Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain, and France c. 1500c.1800 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); and James Muldoon, Empire and Order: The Concept of Empire, 8001800 (New York: St. Martins Press, 1999). 4. There is a vast literature on the concept of empire and the utility (or lack thereof ) of efforts to come up with a de nition. For a cogent overview of the major issues involved, see Lieven, Empire, pp. 326, as well as the bibliographic notes on pp. 445449. Other sources adduced in footnote 3 above and footnote 5 below also provide helpful conceptual discussions. Additional sources worth consulting on this matter are Maurice Duverger et al., eds., Le Concept dempire (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1980); Shmuel Eisenstadt, The Political Systems of Empires (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1963; republished by Transaction Books in 1993 with a new introduction by Eisenstadt); Mark R. Beissinger, The Persisting Ambiguity of Empire, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 11, No. 2 (AprilJune 1995), pp. 149184, esp. 149164; and Mark R. Beissinger, Demise of the Empire State: Identity, Legitimacy, and the Deconstruction of Soviet Politics, in Crawford Young, ed., The Rising Tide of Cultural Pluralism: The Nation-State at Bay? (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), pp. 97124. Beissinger rightly emphasizes that subjective perceptions underlie what we mean by empire and thereby make it a malleable concept over timea concept dependent on prevailing attitudes. 5. Until 1997, the only preliminary attempts to address this question were in Richard L. Rudolph and David F. Good, eds., Nationalism and Empire: The Habsburg Empire and the Soviet Union (New York: St. Martins Press, 1992); Snyder, Myths of Empire, pp. 194244; and some of the essays in Lundestad, ed., The Fall of Great Powers. In 1997 three other edited works appeared: Demandt, ed., Das Ende der Weltreiche; Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, eds., The End of Empire? The Transformation of the USSR in Comparative Perspective (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1997); and Karen Barkey and Mark von Hagen, eds., After Empire: Multiethnic Societies and Nation-BuildingThe Soviet Union and the Russian, Otto-

Introduction

Much of the existing literature on the breakup of the Soviet Union has tended to depict the outcome as inevitable. Those who believe that the result was preordained are apt to assumeimplicitly or explicitlythat the choices made by Soviet policymaker from 1985 on and the unexpected circumstances that arose at key points ultimately made no difference. Such a mechanistic conception of the Soviet collapse may be super cially appealing, but it is far too simplistic. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was an intricate and highly contingent process and was frequently spurred on by chance occurrences and twists of fate. Choices did exist. Dramatic events often seem inevitable in retrospect, but the reality almost always is more complex, as it was in this case. The past ve to six years have witnessed some valuable additions to the literature on the collapse of the Soviet Union, and these have helped to ll some of the gaps in our understanding. Nonetheless, many aspects of the demise of the USSR have remained mysterious. For scholarly reasons alone we need to have a better understanding of the reasons for the collapse. A careful assessment of this phenomenon is also likely to have practical bene ts, in part because numerous features of the Soviet Union are still present in most of the
man, and Habsburg Empires (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997), which is much briefer than the Dawisha and Parrott volume. The essays in the Demandt book explore the demise of numerous empires from the past, with comparisons in several cases to the Soviet Union. Both the Dawisha and Parrott book and the Barkey and von Hagen book look more at the consequences of the Soviet collapse than at the causes, but they do contain a few important chapters that focus on the causes. Neither book, however, provides a systematic comparison of the Soviet collapse with the dissolution of past empires. Dominic Lieven includes a comparative chapter on the Soviet Union in Empire (pp. 288339), but it is less insightful and much briefer than the meticulous analysis he provides of the Tsarist Russian empire. Even briefer is Robert Strayer, Decolonization, Democratization, and Communist Reform: The Soviet Collapse in Comparative Perspective, Journal of World History, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Fall 2001), pp. 375406, which offers some interesting observations (mainly on pp. 377383) but does not develop them. Valerie Bunces short monograph Subversive Institutions: The Design and the Destruction of the Socialist State (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999) provides an illuminating though problematic comparison of the breakup of the Soviet Union with the disintegration of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, emphasizing what she sees as the vital role of institutions in the fragmentation of multiethnic federal states under Communist rule (an argument that follows very closely on earlier work by Yuri Slezkine, Philip Roeder, Victor Zaslavsky, Rogers Brubaker, and others). Bunce does not, however, look in-depth at any of these cases, nor does she compare them to the breakup of other states in the past. Condensed versions of her argument are available in Valerie Bunce, Peaceful versus Violent State Dismemberment: A Comparison of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, Politics & Society, Vol. 27, No. 2 (June 1999), pp. 217237; and Valerie Bunce, Subversive Institutions: The End of the Soviet State in Comparative Perspective, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 14, No. 4 (SeptemberDecember 1998), pp. 323354. Another version of the institutionalist argument, also emphasizing the role of ethnofederalism in Communist states, is presented by Carol Skalnik Leff, Democratization and Disintegration in Multinational States: The Breakup of the Communist Federations, World Politics, Vol. 51, No. 2 (January 1999), pp. 205235. Leff s analysis, like Bunces, is insightful but not fully convincing. A preliminary but useful comparison of the Soviet and Yugoslav cases is provided in Veljko Vujacib and Victor Zaslavsky, The Causes of Disintegration in the USSR and Yugoslavia, Telos, No. 88 (Summer 1991), pp. 120140. Some of the essays in Amarjit S. Narang, ed., Ethnic Identities and Federalism (Shimla, India: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1995) brie y compare ethnic arrangements in the Soviet Union to those in India and Canada, but the book focuses mostly on the post-Soviet states and is of very little relevance to an understanding of the Soviet collapse.

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post-Soviet states, and in part because some observers have argued that a future regime in Moscow might attempt to reestablish some portion of the Soviet Union. If we gain a better understanding of how and why the Soviet Union broke apart, we may well conclude that the prospects for reviving some semblance of itin any formal senseare much dimmer than sometimes thought. This special issue on the collapse of the Soviet Unionthe rst of three special issues we will be publishing on the subject over the next two yearsis designed to provide as exhaustive a survey as possible of the reasons for the Soviet collapse. The contributors have drawn on declassi ed documents (some that have been published in recent years and many others from the archives), new memoirs, and interviews with leading participants, along with a wide range of contemporaneous publications. The key phenomenon we want to explain in these three issues is the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which occurred more or less coterminously with the demise of the Soviet regime. (The collapse of the Soviet regime and the breakup of the Soviet state were related but separate outcomes. The former did not automatically have to be followed by the latter, though it did make it more likely.) The explanatory factors, which are examined in detail by individual authors, can be grouped into three broad categories: underlying causes of the collapse; intermediate causes; and proximate causes. Proximate causes include the August 1991 coup attempt and the independence referendum in Ukraine; intermediate causes include political liberalization, the weakening of the Soviet Communist Party (CPSU), the confrontation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, Russias nancial maneuvering, and the effects of the international environment; underlying causes include economic deterioration, adverse social trends, the impact of modern technology, and ethnic pressures. To shed greater light on these factors, several of the articles will compare the Soviet collapse with the experiences of other large, multiethnic states that have held together for decades (India and Indonesia); with the experience of another rapidly democratizing, ethnically divided European state (Spain); and with the experiences of two former Communist countriesYugoslavia and Czechoslovakiathat split apart in the early 1990s. In a concluding essay in the third special issue, I will draw on the full collection of articles to weigh the relative importance of the different factorsas well as the element of chancein the demise of the Soviet Union.
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The four articles in this issue look at some of the proximate circumstances surrounding the collapse of the USSR. The article by Brian Taylor considers
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Introduction

why the Soviet military failed to prevent the dissolution of the Soviet state. The article begins by discussing the impact on the army of the far-reaching political changes launched by Mikhail Gorbachev after he came to power in March 1985. Taylor highlights the enormous disruption that Gorbachevs reforms caused within the armed forces, and explains why the Soviet military was forced to put up with the loss of its sacrosanct role in Soviet politics.6 Even a policy that many army commanders welcomedthe withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in February 1989, accompanied by large-scale weapons shipments to the Soviet-backed regime in Kabulwas seized on by some commentators in Moscow to discredit the Soviet armed forces. Taylor readily concedes that, over time, high-ranking military of cers grew deeply unhappy with many of the changes under way in the Soviet Union and with the chaotic turbulence that ensued, but he emphasizes that the militarys entrenched organizational culture inhibited uniformed personnel from openly defying or seeking to displace the civilian authorities. By the end of the 1980s, when hardline of cers below the top ranks (notably Colonels Viktor Alksnis and Nikolai Petrushenko) were publicly challenging and criticizing the Soviet leadership, the norm of civilian supremacy eroded somewhat. Even so, Taylor argues that the Soviet High Command overall remained strongly committed to the maintenance of civilian rule. The entrenchment of this organizational culture, in Taylors view, explains why the Soviet military did not try to prevent the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1989, a development that severely weakened Soviet defense preparations in Europe and sparked adverse repercussions in the Soviet Union.7 Cultural inhibitions, he argues, also account for the militarys willingness to go alongif only very grudginglywith the rapid pullout of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia and Hungary in 19901991. The role of the militarys traditional culture during the coup attempt of August 1991 might seem much harder to explain. The highest-ranking military of cer, Defense Minister Dmitrii Yazov, was one of the organizers of the putsch, and the secondhighest-ranking of cer, General Mikhail Moiseev, the chief of the Soviet General Staff, also was implicated in the plot. Many other high-ranking military of cers, including nine deputy ministers, ten commanders of military districts and eets, the commander-in-chief of Soviet Ground Forces, and the heads of eight main departments in the Ministry of Defense, took an active
6. For another recent treatment of this subject linked to the breakup of the Soviet Union, see William E. Odom, The Collapse of the Soviet Military (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998). 7. The repercussions within the USSR from the downfall of East European Communism will be assessed in my article, The Collapse of East European Communism and the Repercussions within the Soviet Union, in the third special issue on the collapse of the Soviet Union (Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, forthcoming).

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part in the coup.8 Many other of cers adopted a wait-and-see position and were presumably ready to throw their allegiances to the coup plotters if the attempt had succeeded. Taylor acknowledges all these circumstances, but he argues that the militarys organizational culture played a key role in the failure of the coup. Because military of cers were so accustomed to the norm of civilian supremacy, most of them were unwilling to use military force without valid orders from legitimate civilian authorities. Hence, the coup failed not because the military declined to support it, but because no civilian leaders were willing to order all-out repression. In the absence of a valid order, the army itself was not going to take responsibility for a crackdown. Illuminating as Taylors discussion of these topics is, the most important part of his article comes when he explains why the Soviet military did not step in to prevent the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union. The militarys inaction in December 1991 is one of the fundamental questions we need to address if we want to understand the breakup of the USSR. It was one thing when Gorbachev himself became unwilling to use force to hold the Soviet Union together (his loss of nerve seemed to occur in early 1991), but it was quite another for the Soviet Army, as an institution, to allow the Soviet Union to dissolve. A prominent specialist on Soviet politics, Jerry Hough, repeatedly claimed that the Soviet Union would not break apart because Soviet generals would never permit the dissolution of the state they were sworn to defend. Hough made a prediction to this effect as late as October 1991. After noting that much is now said about the disintegration of the Soviet Union, he averred that the Soviet military, like the armed forces in most countries, is willing to initiate the bloodshed to stop the disintegration.9 Within weeks, his assertions had been thoroughly undercut. Taylor argues that the Soviet militarys willingness to acquiesce in the formal breakup of the Soviet Union stemmed in part from the changes wrought by the failed coup, which reinforced the organizational norms that had brie y seemed endangered. The removal and punishment of high-ranking military of cers in the wake of the putsch strengthened the subordination of the military to civilian authority. Multi-country studies have shown that a failed coup attempt in a country that has had little or no experience with coups will greatly magnify of cers inhibitions about intervening in politics again.10 This was certainly true of the Soviet armed forces in late 1991. When Gorbachev,
8. Stephen Foye, Eltsin Begins Housecleaning in the Defense Ministry, Report on the USSR, Vol. 3, No. 36 (6 September 1991), pp. 3134 9. Jerry F. Hough, Assessing the Coup, Current History, Vol. 90, No. 558 (October 1991), p. 310. 10. Donald Horowitz, Coup Theories and Of cers Motives: Sri Lanka in Comparative Perspective (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 215.

Introduction

in an impulse of desperation, spoke with Defense Minister Evgenii Shaposhnikov in mid-November 1991 about the possibility of ordering a military crackdown, Shaposhnikov immediately warned him that it was too late and that the army must not be called on to resolve internal political disputes.11 For both cultural and purely rational reasons, then, the Soviet military was strongly disinclined in late 1991 to get involved in any form of intervention in politics. Amy Knights article shifts the focus from the military to another key organ of repression under the Soviet regime, the Committee on State Security (KGB). The KGB in its various incarnations had long been responsible for quashing dissent and safeguarding the Communist regime in the Soviet Union.12 The KGB was a state organization, but it acted at the behest of the Communist Party. Knight discusses how the reforms introduced by Gorbachev affected the KGB and challenged its most basic missions. The appointment of Vladimir Kryuchkov, a longtime foreign-intelligence of cial, as head of the KGB in 1986 was intended to provide somewhat greater exibility to the agency, but it did not signal a fundamental change. Kryuchkov had spent his formative years in Hungary in the mid-1950s, assisting in, among other things, the bloody suppression of the anti-Communist uprising in 1956. 13 This experience helped shape Kryuchkovs reactions three decades later when widespread unrest and separatist movements emerged in the Soviet Union. He and other senior KGB of cials soon became alarmed by the surge of anti-Soviet ferment and other developments that seemed to be destabilizing the country.14
11. Shaposhnikov rst disclosed this incident during a question-and-answer session after a talk he gave at Harvard University in October 1994. He discussed it at greater length in the second edition of his memoirs, Vybor, 2nd ed. (Moscow: PIK, 1995), pp. 137138. When I asked Gorbachev about this matter during an interview at Harvard University on 11 November 2002, he denied that he was actually proposing the introduction of martial law in November 1991, but he acknowledged that he did consider a number of options, including the use of force, as the dissolution of the Soviet Union approached. After reviewing these options, he added, I decided we could not risk civil war. 12. The KGB was established in 1954, but it had existed in one form or another (sometimes within the Ministry/Commissariat of Internal Affairs, and at other times independently) since the earliest years of Bolshevik rule. For a detailed history of the Soviet state security organs, with very useful organizational charts at the back, see the KGBs own top-secret textbook for senior of cers, edited by Lieut.-General V. M. Chebrikov et al., Istoriya sovetskikh organov gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti, No. 12179 (Moscow: Vysshaya Krasnoznamennaya Shkola Komiteta Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti, 1977). A full copy of this 640-page document, obtained from the Latvian archives, is available in Portable Document Format (PDF) on the Harvard Cold War Studies Project website (http://www.fas. harvard.edu/ ;hpcws). 13. These years are recounted in the rst of the two volumes of Kryuchkovs memoirs, Lichnoe delo (Moscow: Olimp, 1996). 14. The KGBs alarm at the changes under way in the Soviet Union is evident in a large number of declassi ed documents, including thousands of pages of photocopied Soviet KGB documents from the Baltic archives, now stored at the of ces of the Harvard Project on Cold War Studies. See also the

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Despite mounting concerns within the KGB, the agency, as Knight shows, was unable to persuade Gorbachev to crack down once and for all on hostile and anti-socialist elements. Although Gorbachev tilted toward the hardliners in the USSR during the last few months of 1990 and authorized the KGB to prepare for a forceful reassertion of control, he could never bring himself to proceed with ruthless, large-scale bloodshed. The KGB implemented partial crackdowns and set up national salvation committees in the Baltic states in January 1991, but the operation had to be aborted midway through when Gorbachev would not give orders for all-out repression. Kryuchkov and other high-ranking KGB of cials grew increasingly exasperated with Gorbachevs chronic wavering, but Knight shows that they themselves were unwilling to proceed without explicit authorization from the highest political authorities. In a speech before the Soviet parliament in December 1990, just two days after Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had warned of an imminent dictatorship and announced his resignation (a step that was seen as a grave blow to the cause of reform and liberalization), Kryuchkov spoke almost eagerly about the prospect of shedding blood to restore order in the country.15 Yet when the crucial moment came during the coup in August 1991, Kryuchkov proved unwilling to take responsibility upon himself for mass repression. As one of the main leaders of the putsch, with a huge repressive apparatus at his disposal, he certainly could have ordered a full-scale crackdown. But, as Knight argues, Kryuchkov wrongly believed that if the KGB presented Gorbachev with a fait accompli in August 1991, the Soviet leader would have to agree, despite his misgivings, to introduce emergency rule. Kryuchkovs miscalculation on this score guaranteed that the putsch would fail. In the absence of clear-cut authorization from the top, Kryuchkov would not order the KGBs Alpha specialoperations unit to storm the White House (the main government building of the Russian Republic) or to conduct mass arrests of key gures like Boris Yeltsin who were defying the coup. The collapse of the coup dealt a severe though temporary blow to the KGB. For a brief while it appeared that the KGB might meet the same fate that had befallen the State Security Ministry (Stasi) in East Germany, where protesters had stormed the Stasi headquarters in November 1989 after the
items reproduced in Georgii Urushadze, ed., Vybrannye mesta iz perepiski s vragami: Sem dnei za kulisami vlasti (St. Petersburg: Izdatelstvo Evropeiskogo doma, 1995). 15. Vystuplenie V. A. Kryuchkova v Sezde narodnykh deputatov SSSR, Pravda (Moscow), 23 December 1990, p. 1. The speech was broadcast in its entirety on Soviet television. Eleven days earlier Kryuchkov had given a similar speech in which he pledged that the KGB would do whatever was necessary to wipe out destructive elements whose extremist radical political goals were very well funded and morally supported from abroad and were aimed at shattering our society and government and destroying Soviet rule.

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Introduction

East German Communist regime fell. Shortly thereafter, the Stasi was permanently disbanded. Protesters in Moscow in August 1991 gathered en masse outside the KGBs Lubyanka headquarters, but they ultimately decided not to storm the building (contrary to the fears of many of those inside, who were sure that the Lubyanka would be occupied and that they themselves would be arrested).16 The KGB eventually was broken up into a few separate agencies, but the core of the state security apparatus survived intact and even managed to regain its strength after it was brought under the Russian governments control at the end of 1991. During the last few months of 1991, however, the KGB was temporarily in a much weakened position. Gorbachev appointed a reformer, Vadim Bakatin, to oversee the agency after the initial successor to Kryuchkov, Leonid Shebarshin, came under sharp criticism. (Shebarshin, a long-time chief of the KGBs foreign intelligence directorate, had to resign after only one day in of ce, even though he had not supported the coup.) Although Bakatin ran into obstacles when he sought to scale back the repressive components of the state security organs, he ensured that no further abuses would occur while fundamental decisions about the future of the Soviet Union were being thrashed out.17 John Dunlops article on the attempted coup of August 1991 reinforces the ndings of Taylor and Knight. Dunlop looks rst at the coup itself and then, just as importantly, at the effects of the failed putsch on the Soviet regime. By drawing on reams of newly available documents and memoirs pertaining to the coup, Dunlop updates, revises, and extends the detailed account he provided in his book The Rise of Russia and the Fall of the Soviet Empire, published in 1993.18 The article lls in information about the planning and organization of the coup and the motives of those involved, tracing the onset of the coup in a series of events in late 1990 and 1991. The abrupt resignation of Shevardnadze in December 1990, the crackdown in Lithuania and Latvia in January 1991, the move toward a constitutional coup in June 1991, and the publication of the ultra-hardline Word to the People (Slovo k narodu) manifesto in July 1991 were followed by the coup attempt itself on 1921 August. One of the lingering mysteries about the coup is whether, and to what extent, Gorbachev was tacitly involved or at least acquiescent. Dunlop marshals a good deal of evidence rst-hand accounts as well as documentsto show
16. For a vivid account, see Evgeniia Albats, The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on RussiaPast, Present, and Future (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1994), pp. 295297. 17. Bakatin provides a fascinating account of his tenure and the problems he encountered in Izbavlenie ot KGB (Moscow: Novosti, 1992). 18. John B. Dunlop, The Rise of Russia and the Fall of the Soviet Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993).

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that Gorbachev authorized planning for a general crackdown and knew at least in broad terms that a coup was in the of ng. But the evidence also suggests that Gorbachev did not condone the speci c attempt that occurred on 1921 August and that his refusal to back the conspirators proved decisive in the coups failure. By all indications, the leaders of the putschwho set up a State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP) to oversee matterswere hoping that Gorbachev would reluctantly join them if they forced his hand. This expectation was conveyed in a statement by the GKChP chairman, Gennadii Yanaev, at the committees initial news conference:
Mikhail Sergeevich is now on vacation. He is undergoing treatment in the south of our country. He is very tired after so many years and will need some time to recover, but it is our hopeit is our hope that as soon as Mikhail Gorbachev feels better, he will take up his of ce again.19

Although it is impossible to know what Gorbachev might have done if the coup had lasted longer and the conspirators had been more resolute in cracking down, his own actions in refusing to lend his imprimatur to the putsch during the critical early days were crucial in depriving the GKChP of any legitimacy it might have attained. Dunlops analysis of the reasons for the failure of the coup tallies well with the explanations offered by Taylor and Knight. Although Kryuchkov, Defense Minister Yazov, and Internal Affairs Minister Boris Pugo had immense numbers of well-armed troops at their disposal, they were averse to taking responsibility for large-scale bloodshed unless they received explicit authorization from the highest level. This dynamic underscores the enormous importance of the top leaders role in the Soviet political system. Even though the key institutions in the Soviet Unionthe army, the KGB, the Internal Affairs Ministry, the military-industrial complex, and the CPSUwere all complicit in the coup, their backing was insuf cient in the absence of direct authorization from the top. The failure of the putsch, as Dunlop shows, pre gured the collapse of the Soviet Union. Three broad consequences of the aborted coup were especially important. First, Yeltsins highly visible role in the resistance to the putsch enabled him to gain clear ascendance over Gorbachev once the coup was rebuffed. The Russian leader promptly recognized the independence of the Baltic states, Georgia, and Moldova. Although Yeltsin initially wanted to preserve the rest of the union as a Russian-led federation, he was intent on reducing the Soviet regime to a mere gurehead status. His efforts toward this end ac19. Press-konferentsiya predsedatelya GKChP G. I. Yanaeva, v Moskve, 19 avgusta 1991 g. (transcribed by Radio Liberty, 19 August 1991).

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Introduction

celerated trends that ultimately forced him to accept the outright disintegration of the union. Had Gorbachevs position not been so enervated by the coup attempt, it is conceivable that Yeltsin would have been inclined to pursue a slightly revised Union Treaty that would have stood a better chance of holding the Soviet Union together, at least for a while. Second, the failure of the coup gave unstoppable momentum to several of the union-republics in the USSRthe Baltic states, Georgia, Moldova, and othersin their drives for independence. Of particular importance was Ukraine. In the absence of the failed coup attempt, the independence movement in Ukraine probably would not have gained the momentum that it did by December 1991. As recently as March 1991, when a countrywide referendum was held on the future of the Soviet Union, nearly three-quarters of voters in Ukraine had been in favor of preserving the union.20 Although this earlier result was skewed somewhat by the wording of the question, there is no doubt that public sentiment in Ukraine was profoundly altered by the aborted coup. The Ukrainian parliament re ected the new mood by adopting an independence declaration on 24 August. When a republic-wide referendum was held on 1 December, more than 90 percent voted in favor of full independence, a result that led a week later to the Belovezhskaya Pushcha accords codifying the end of the Soviet Union. Third, the failed coup undermined the CPSU and severely weakened the KGB, the army, and the Soviet government. None of these institutions was in any position after 21 August to rely on violence as a last-ditch means of holding the Soviet Union together. Yeltsin promptly suspended and then banned the CPSU, bringing a de facto end to Communist rule.21 The KGB and the army were temporarily immobilized and were incapable of resisting the breakup of the Soviet state. The failed coup was decisive in eliminating any further willingness on the part of top elites to resort to large-scale repression. Although Gorbachev raised the possibility of a military crackdown with Mar20. Detailed results from the referendum, broken down by provinces, were tabulated in Radyanska Ukraina (Kyiv), 23 March 1991, p. 1. Two questions were on the ballot in Ukraine. The rst, which was asked all around the Soviet Union, was: Do you believe it is necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which the rights and freedoms of an individual of any nationality will be fully guaranteed? The second question, which was asked speci cally in Ukraine (at the initiative of the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet), was: Do you agree that Ukraine should be part of a union of sovereign states based on the principles of the Declaration of state sovereignty of Ukraine? More than 70 percent of voters in Ukraine answered yes to the rst question, and more than 80 percent answered yes to the second. Only in three provinces of western Ukraine was the yes vote relatively low, and in one of these (Ivano-Frankivsk) the second question still passed by a majority. Everywhere else in Ukraine, the yes vote for both questions was overwhelming. 21. On the fate of the CPSU in the aftermath of the coup, see the important book by F. M. Rudinskii, Delo KPSS v Konstitutsionnom Sude: Zapiski uchastnika protsessa (Moscow: Bylina, 1999), which also includes some relevant documents.

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shal Shaposhnikov as late as mid-November 1991, the Soviet leader undoubtedly realized that it was too late for such a step even as he proposed it. Indeed, Gorbachevs awareness that the time for a forcible crackdown had passed may have been what induced him to broach the option, in keeping with his Hamlet-like approach to the use of force. On the one hand, he was desperate to hold the Soviet state together; on the other hand, he could never marshal the will to order an all-out crackdown. When confronted by the choice of either authorizing large-scale bloodshed or allowing the state to unravel, he opted for the latter, if only by default. Marc Zlotniks article lls in and elaborates on a key dimension of the events described by Taylor, Knight, and Dunlop. Zlotnik focuses on the relationship between Yeltsin and Gorbachev, starting from their early cooperation in support of reform in 19851986 and Gorbachevs fateful decision in October 1987 to remove and humiliate Yeltsin, an episode that Yeltsin passionately sought to avenge in later years. Ordinarily, Yeltsins ouster from the CPSU leadership in 1987 would have marked the de facto end of his career, but the political reforms introduced by Gorbachev created new rules of the game. Zlotnik recounts Yeltsins dramatic return from political oblivion in 1989 when he was popularly elected to the USSR Congress of Peoples Deputies, a comeback that succeeded despite the CPSU hierarchys vigorous efforts to thwart it. Clearly, no similar opportunities were available in the preGorbachev era (and in that sense Yeltsin was one of the greatest bene ciaries of Gorbachevs reforms). Once Yeltsin was back in a position to challenge Gorbachev, the competition between the two men took its toll on the Soviet regime. Although Yelstin was not intent on breaking the country apart, he did increasingly seek to have Russia eclipse the Soviet regime, as opposed to simply wanting himself to gain predominance overor replaceGorbachev. Yeltsin would have preferred to hold the Soviet Union together in an arrangement that gave Russia a commanding position, but his personal animus toward Gorbachev got the better of him and drove his larger political goals. At an early stage, Yeltsin came out in support of independence for the Baltic states, a stance that, while partly based on principle, was also intended to undercut Gorbachev. The constraints that Yeltsin faced in Soviet Russiaa vast republic that, unlike the other union- republics, did not have its own Communist Party until 1990 and its own KGB branch until 1991prompted him to expand his objectives vis--vis the Soviet regime. Zlotnik shows that although Gorbachev was aware of the threat posed by Yeltsin, the Soviet leader consistently underestimated his rival and declined to seek a more harmonious relationship with him until it was too late. Gorbachevs misjudgments of Yeltsin gave the Russian leader valuable oppor14

Introduction

tunities to expand his popular support at Gorbachevs expense. Yeltsins narrow election as chairman of the Russian parliament in June 1990a victory he eked out on the third round after Soviet-backed candidates nearly derailed his hopesand his highly publicized departure from the CPSU the following month enabled him to consolidate his political ank and to prepare for a fundamental challenge to the Soviet regime. Even at this stage, however, Gorbachev was wont to underestimate Yeltsin and failed to take steps that could have fended off the Russian leaders challenge. Not until April 1991 did Gorbachev nally begin to work seriously with Yeltsin in negotiating a Union Treaty. Despite the animosity of the previous two years, the two men worked surprisingly well together to forge a treaty that would have devolved a great deal of power to the republics, above all to Russia. The treaty was scheduled to be signed on 20 August, an event that the coup leaders sought to prevent when they launched their putsch on the 19th. It is conceivablethough by no means certainthat if the treaty had been signed it could have led to a viable relationship between the Soviet and Russian governments and between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Yeltsins conspicuous de ance of the coup as he stood atop a tank outside the Russian White House, and the remarkably swift and decisive defeat of the putsch, drastically changed the Gorbachev-Yeltsin relationship. With Gorbachev now relegated to a subordinate position, Yeltsins long-simmering anger and desire for revenge got the better of him. After publicly humiliating Gorbachev in the immediate aftermath of the coup, Yeltsin worked sedulously over the next few months to ensure that the Soviet regime would play no more than a ceremonial role in a new political structure. No longer did Yeltsin seek to cooperate with Gorbachev in any sustained way. Although both men hoped to preserve a union after 21 August, their conceptions of the entity that should emerge were incompatible. The overwhelming shift of public opinion in Ukraine in support of outright independence, as re ected in the voting results on 1 December, is what ultimately forced Yeltsin to change his goals and bring about the demise of the Soviet Union through the Belovezhskaya Pushcha agreements. But even if the situation in Ukraine had not changed so dramatically, it is questionable whether a viable union structure could have been devised that would have satis ed both Yeltsin and Gorbachev. Even after Yeltsin concluded the agreements at Belovezhskaya Pushcha on 8 December with his Ukrainian and Belarusan counterparts, he continued to in ict slights on Gorbachev. With the tables turned in the nal few months of 1991, Yeltsin was merciless in his revenge. He compelled Gorbachev to retire on 25 December under demeaning circumstances. By then, the antipathy between the two men was so great that Yeltsin sought to complete the dissolution of the USSR as rapidly as possible. Although some of the union-republic
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leaders, especially Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, were very reluctant to break up the Soviet Union, Yeltsin created a fait accompli.
C C C

These four articles highlight a vital aspect of the demise of the Soviet Union, namely, the unwillingness of high-ranking elites to rely on massive force to hold the state together. Classic theories of revolution have postulated that upheavals are likely to occur if a repressive government loses its will to use violencewhen necessaryto remain in power. As Reinhard Bendix put it: Wherever a mandate to rule is to sway the minds and hearts of men, it requires the exercise of force or the awareness that those who rule are able, and will not hesitate, to use force if that is needed to assert their will.22 Similar views can be found in the writings of Crane Brinton, Theda Skocpol, Hannah Arendt, and other leading theorists of revolution.23 The articles here show that Gorbachev consistently failed to meet the criteria stipulated by Bendix. In the Soviet Union, with its highly centralized polity, the loss of will at the top was crucial. If the CPSU General Secretary was unwilling to resort to mass repression, other senior of cials did not want to take responsibility upon themselves for large-scale bloodshed. The disinclination of Soviet elites to use ruthless force in 19891991 was one key part of the phenomenon we are exploring in these three special issues. Other important dimensions of the story will be covered in the second and third issues, which will focus on the underlying and intermediate factors that helped bring about the collapse of the USSR.

22. Reinhard Bendix, Kings or People: Power and the Mandate to Rule (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), p. 27 (emphasis in original). 23. Crane Brinton, The Anatomy of Revolution, expanded and rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1965); Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolution: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979); and Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1963).

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