Russians see 1991 coup as national tragedy, but like subsequent developments

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Russia's President Boris Yeltsin, 2nd left, addresses the public in front of the Russian Council of Minister premises during the August 1991 coup © Stringer
According to a new opinion poll, 41 percent of Russians consider the events of 1991 that ended in the breakup of the Soviet Union as tragic and perilous, but 34 percent hold that since then the nation chose the right path of development.

While the share of those who hold that the 1991 coup was a tragedy remains approximately the same as in previous years, the proportion of those who think that the subsequent developments were to Russia’s benefit reached the maximum since 2003. The number of those who would prefer the nation’s course of development take the opposite direction fell from 47 percent in 2014 to 37 percent this year.

The share of those who consider the events of 1991 just an episode of a complex power struggle in the upper echelons of governance hit a historical minimum of 32 percent.

At the same time, the share of respondents who described the failure of the coup as a victory for the democratic revolution was only 10 percent this year and 9 percent in 2014.

The research was conducted by the independent Russian agency Levada Center in late July and its results were made public on Monday.

Deputy head of the agency Aleksey Grazhdankin said in comments to business daily Vedomosti that the shift of moods could be explained by the current crisis in Ukraine.

A large percentage of Russians hold that the roots of the Ukrainian events lie in the breakup of the USSR and the events of 1991 when everything went wrong. This is why more people see the failed coup as a tragedy,” the researcher told reporters.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who lost his post because of the 1991 coup expressed a similar opinion in March this year.

The deep-rooted reason for the turmoil is in the deliberate failure of Perestroika, in irresponsible decisions that were made by the heads of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in the Belovezha Forest,” Gorbachev wrote in a newspaper column. He noted in his article that in just a few years after 1991, Western nations had started dragging former Soviet republics into the Euro-Atlantic community, openly ignoring the interests of the Russian Federation. Gorbachev stated that all sides lost as a result of these actions because they created the threat of a new Cold War, or even a real war.

READ MORE: Gorbachev blames war in Ukraine on Perestroika failure and USSR breakup

August 1991 saw the events that are usually referred to in Russian mass media as the ‘failed Soviet coup’ or ‘Putsch’. Back then several members of the Soviet leadership, including the defense minister and the KGB chief, tried to disrupt the signing of a new union treaty between the country’s constituent republics. They isolated then-President Mikhail Gorbachev in his residence in Crimea and created the State Emergency Committee (GKChP). The coup failed after three days of resistance organized by the leadership of the main republic, Russia, headed by then-President of the Russian Federative Republic Boris Yeltsin.

On August 23, the Communist Party was banned from operating on Russian territory. The Russian Federation took over the institutions of the union state, as the USSR broke into independent republics under a treaty signed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, but none of the other 12 constituent republics.