Russian Language Blog

Russian History: 25th Anniversary of Coup Attempt in USSR Posted by on Aug 23, 2016 in History, News

August 20 marks the 25th anniversary of an attempted coup in Russia and the USSR. Many news outlets have published their accounts and analysis of this event. Let us read some of the coverage.



Ironically, many in Russia, especially young people, have a fuzzy understanding of the events, as demonstrated in the video below.

On August 19, 1991, high-ranking officials of the Soviet Union tried to seize power from the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (Михаил Горбачёв) as he was vacationing in Crimea (Крым). They saw his reforms as a threat to the integrity of the USSR.

Many of the Soviet republics, including Russia, had by then declared their independence from the USSR. On August 20, a new agreement was to be signed among some of the Soviet republics to define their new union that would give the constituent countries a greater degree of independence. Opponents from Gorbachev’s team wanted to get him to declare a state of emergency in the USSR, and when he refused on August 18, they placed him under house arrest and proceeded with their plan.

A Meduza article titled Стыдные вопросы про август 91-го (“Embarrassing Questions about August ’91) says:

По мнению участников комитета, перестройка и связанные реформы вели к развалу страны. В частности, на 20 августа 1991 года была назначена дата подписания нового союзного договора между республиками СССР. Вместо Советского Союза должна была появиться конфедерация под названием Союз Суверенных Государств, и не все республики СССР планировали к ней присоединиться.

Let’s break this down:

по + possessive + мнению (по моему мнению, по твоему мнению…) – in someone’s opinion. Here, “in the opinion of the committee members”
перестройка – perestroika, Gorbachev’s reforms of the power structure. пере- is re-, and строить is to build
вести + к + dative – to lead to something; the perfective is привести
развал – collapse; развалиться is to fall apart
в частности – specifically
назначить на + accusative – to appoint, designate; here, to schedule
подписать – to sign
союзный договор – union treaty
под названием – called
присоединиться к + dative – to join something


On August 19, 1991, members of the ГКЧП (Государственный комитет по чрезвычайному положению, State Committee on the State of Emergency) announced that President Gorbachev could no longer serve due to health issues and his Vice-President, also a member of the Committee, was taking over. The Committee imposed a state of emergency (чрезвычайное положение) and a curfew (комендантский час). Tanks, called in by the conspirators, entered Moscow, and important media outlets were occupied. A media blackout was imposed with many channels broadcasting the ballet Swan Lake (Лебединое озеро) between officially sanctioned news bulletins.

Рано утром 19 августа по приказу министра обороны СССР Дмитрия Язова, члена ГКЧП, в Москву ввели войска. Танки и бронетранспортеры выехали на центральные улицы и площади, подразделения десантных войск взяли под охрану Телецентр в Останкино, центральный телеграф, радиостанции и другие важные объекты инфраструктуры.

по приказу + genitive – on someone’s orders
министр обороны – defense minister
ввести войска – deploy troops
бронетранспортёр – armo(u)red vehicle
взять под охрану + accusative – to secure
объект – here, facility

People in Moscow and St. Petersburg protested the coup. The center of resistance in Moscow was at the Белый дом (White House), at that time the seat of Верховный совет РСФСР (Supreme Council of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic), the Russian (not all-Soviet) legislature. People gathered outside the White House and put up barricades in an effort to defend it from a potential takeover. The Russian President, Boris Yeltsin (Борис Ельцин, not Борис) — remember, Russia had its own president separate from the all-USSR president — supported the anti-coup effort.

In the early morning of August 21, armored vehicles were enforcing the curfew and three young men protesting it were killed. Unwilling to kill more civilians, the Committee pulled out the troops on August 21, and Gorbachev was allowed to return to Moscow on August 22.


Members of the Committee received prison sentences but were pardoned in a few years. Yeltsin banned the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (КПСС) and had Gorbachev’s Cabinet, many of whose members were implicated in the coup, resign. Some three months later, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus finalized the legal dissolution of the USSR.

More information on these events can be read in ГКЧП 25 лет спустя. Разрушение советского Левиафана, and eyewitness photos are available in Августовский путч 1991 года глазами фотографа Юрия Феклистова.

Do you remember learning about these events at the time they happened or later? How were and are they covered in your country?

Tags: , , , ,
Keep learning Russian with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.