Chapter

The National Question, and the Coup, the Collapse of the Soviet Union

Archie Brown

in The Gorbachev Factor

Published in print August 1997 | ISBN: 9780192880529
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598876 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0192880527.003.0008
The National Question, and the Coup, the Collapse of the Soviet Union

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The chapter concentrates on one of the four transformations identified in Ch. 6 as necessary if the Soviet Union were to make a transition from authoritarianism to democracy – the need to transform national and centre‐periphery relations. The unintended consequences of democratization and of reform in the area of inter‐ethnic and federal relations led to the attempted coup of August 1991 to prevent the signing of a new and voluntary Union Treaty, which would have legitimized greatly decentralized power within the Soviet Union. The chapter discusses the general issue of state boundaries and democratic transitions and pays attention to various national hotspots in the Soviet Union of the perestroika years, among them Alma‐Ata (Almaty), Nagorno‐Karabakh, Tbilisi, and the Baltic states. Gorbachev's tactical retreat in the winter of 1990‐91 in the face of a conservative backlash is analysed, as is his break with the conservative forces in the spring of 1991 and his launch of the Novo‐Ogarevo process, designed to preserve the Union on the basis of a pacted settlement. The chapter concludes with discussion of the extremely damaging effects of the August coup on Mikhail Gorbachev's authority and on his prospects of preserving any kind of Union. On 25th December 1991, Gorbachev signed a decree divesting himself of his authority as President of the USSR and transferring his powers as Commander‐in‐Chief of the armed forces to Boris Yeltsin who had been elected President of Russia in June of that year. Control of nuclear weapons, together with the Soviet seat at the United Nations, passed to Russia as the largest successor state to the USSR and its ‘continuer state’.

Keywords: conservatives; coup; decentralization; democratization; Mikhail Gorbachev; Novo‐Ogarevo process; Russia; Union Treaty; Boris Yeltsin

Chapter.  30679 words. 

Subjects: Politics

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