JUDY WOODRUFF: For the remainder of tonight's
program, we analyze the forces and people behind the coup. Within hours
after the takeover, the new leaders in Moscow called reporters in to
give an explanation of what they had done. Roger Mudd has more. Roger.
MUDD: Instead of the single charismatic Gorbachev the world had become
accustomed to over the past six years, it was once again eight men in
gray suits who held the power. It was the first appearance of the state
committee for the state of emergency and it included the head of the
KGB, the defense minister, the interior minister, and the police. The
press conference was held today in the foreign ministry's press center
outside the Kremlin. Acting President Gennady Yanayev began by calling
this a "crucial moment for the Soviet Union." "A drastic
drop in production," he said, "poses a real threat of survival
of the Soviet nations. The situation has gone out of control."
Yanayev said, "We're also facing a threat of disintegration, the
break-up of a single economy, a single defense, a single foreign policy."
"A normal life under these circumstances is impossible," he
declared. The acting President said that "Action has become mandatory."
YANAYEV: [Speaking through Interpreter] To do nothing at this crucial
period means to take grave responsibility for tragic and very unpredictable
circumstances. Anyone who wants to live and work in peace, who does
not accept the bloodshed, who wants to see his homeland in prosperity,
must make the only right choice. We call on all genuine patriots, all
people of good will, to put an end to this turbulent time. We call on
all the citizens of the USSR to fulfill their responsibility and to
provide the necessary support to the state of emergency committee in
its efforts to get the country out of the crisis.
ROGER MUDD: The urgent measures Yanayev promised came in a 1300 word
decree and contains language that is not only heavily bureaucratic but
also ominous and foreboding. For instance, "All bodies of authority
and administration of the USSR, union and autonomous republics, territories,
regions, cities, districts, villages, and settlements should ensure
unfailing compliance with state of emergency regulations." Quoting
further, "In the event of their inability to ensure the observance
of these regulations, the powers of the respective bodies are to be
suspended." And quoting again:
"The structures of power acting contrary to the Constitution and
laws of the USSR are to be dismantled immediately." Beyond that,
the decree suspends the activities of all political parties, requires
citizens and organizations to turn in without delay all unlawfully held
weapons and munitions, disallows all rallies, street marches, demonstrations
and strikes, permits curfews and interrogations, and tighter border
and custom control, and established state control over the mass media.
In addition, the cabinet of ministers is instructed to ease the food
shortage by assigning all city dwellers up to 1/3 of an acre to grow
fruit and vegetables, to prepare the nation for the coming winter fuel
and power crisis, and to put together a five year plan to relieve the
housing shortage. When Yanayev was finished, the very first question,
of course, was, "Where is Mikhail Gorbachev?" Yanayev's answer
drew derisive laughter from the press.
YANAYEV, Acting President, USSR: [Speaking through Interpreter] Well,
let me say that Mikhail Gorbachev is now on vacation. He is undergoing
treatment, himself, in our country. He is very tired after these many
years and he will need some time to get better -- [laughter from press]
-- and it is our hope -- it is our hope that Mikhail Gorbachev as soon
as he feels better will take up again his office. At any rate, the policy
that was initiated back in 1985 by Mikhail Gorbachev will be continued
by all those present here.
ROGER MUDD: Repeatedly Yanayev was asked about Gorbachev and each time
he tried to assure a skeptical press that he was safe, that he was only
temporarily incapacitated, and that as soon as he felt better, he would
meet the press. Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President, however, said
Gorbachev has been detained at his home in the Crimea. Today when asked
about Yeltsin's call for a general strike to protest Gorbachev's removal,
Acting President Yanayev said such conduct was dangerous and irresponsible.
MacNEIL: We now get the views of four Soviet-born analysts. Stanislav
Levchenko is a former KGB intelligence officer who defected to the United
States in 1979. Victor Sheymov is a former major in charge of security
and communication at KGB Moscow headquarters. His defection 10 years
ago was made public just last year. He is now a consultant to U.S. companies.
Vitaly Korotich is editor of the Soviet magazine Ogonyok. He's been
in the US as a fellow at the Freedom Foreign Media Study Center at Columbia
University. Dimitri Simes is a senior associate fellow at the Carnegie
Endowment in Washington. He left the Soviet Union in 1973. Vitaly Korotich,
what are Yanayev and the others trying to do by grabbing power now,
and can they get away with it?
MR. KOROTICH: First of all, they try to call back the power of the Communist
Party, previous system of ruling, and keep the Soviet empire together.
They're acting strongly against the right of national republic. This
commission is illegal. Those leaders absolutely criminal people, and
at the same time they did it before, one day before on 20, August 20,
it was promised to sign first union treaty; they stopped it because
all they represented, our national power, army, KGB party -- they want
to survive. Of course, it's not fight for socialism, for communism;
it's fight of Soviet bureaucracy for their survival.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Can they succeed?
KOROTICH: No, never. Never. But bloodshed is possible. I think they
are too late. I think few years ago they had more chances. Now after
we know the taste of freedom, now when they're the most unpopular people
in our country, because it was necessary to organize the most unpopular
people in one -- I think they have no chances, but they have a lot of
power and having so many power, they can do a lot of dirty things.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Um mm. Dimitri Simes, what do you think they are trying
to do? And then I'll ask you: Can they succeed?
MR. SIMES: Well, I think what they're trying to do is to save their
political skin. If tomorrow the union treaty would be signed, if there
would be new democratic elections the first of May, then as new parliament,
then as the president, these people would be out of power, the party
would be destroyed as a ruling party, and this is not a political party
in the Western sense, they do not know how to exist without being in
power. Can they succeed? The answer is no, absolutely not. I completely
agree with Vitaly Korotich. It is too late. It is not China during the
Tiananmen Square. There are new legitimate authorities like Boris Yeltsin.
There are republics. We still did not hear from the Ukrainians, from
Kazikstan, from Transcaucuses, but it may be bloody mess, and these
people acted in the name of law and order, and my concern is that in
the process they may trigger a civil war.
ROBERT MacNEIL: They do what, I'm sorry?
MR. SIMES: My concern is that while acting in the name of law and order,
they may trigger a civil war.
ROBERT MacNEIL: I see. Mr. Levchenko, you
and Mr. Sheymov are both former KGB men. What do you make of the manner
of the coup, no bloodshed, no mass arrests so far, immediately calling
a press conference to reassure the world that the Soviet Union is going
to honor its commitments and so on, is that a KGB coup?
LEVCHENKO: The manner is frightening and in many ways it is a KGB coup
because the -- one of many responsibilities of KGB as the largest secret
police in the history of civilization is to watch their own leaders
and they monitor telephone conversations between the members of Politburo
and other Soviet leaders. They assign security details to them which,
on one hand, you know, are in charge of their security, but, on the
other hand, they're spying after them. So definitely KGB was not reporting
for quite a while to Mr. Gorbachev on what was really going on inside
of his own circle and due to the complacency of KGB and personally Gen.
Krichkov in the plot, the plot succeeded because it's only KGB again
can -- is capable of doing it in total secrecy.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Both Mr. Simes and Mr. Korotich think this cannot succeed.
What do you think?
MR. LEVCHENKO: I agree both with Mr. Korotich and Mr. Simes. I think
the hardliners are a little bit late in their agony, however, you know,
for me, for instance, I do believe that within few months, probably
within a year, all of them will be gone. The problem, however, is that
they can cause great civil unrest and maybe civil war in the Soviet
Union and before they will be kicked out of power, unfortunately, a
lot of people can die.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Mr. Sheymov, what is your view of the coup, the manner
in which it's carried out and can it succeed?
SHEYMOV: Well, I've seen quite a few KGB orchestrated coups while being
in the center, and I must say that this is a very, very unusual coup,
in a sense that -- first of all the timing. Most coups happen on Friday,
Saturday. This is the coup which happened on Monday, which is very unfortunate
for the participants, because everyone is in town, so it looks like
this coup wasn't really designed to succeed in the first place. Secondly,
there are certain signs how the coup performs. The KGB knows that in
order for any coup to succeed one has to act extremely decisively and
that's what they do. You can recall a lot of examples of it like --
Afghanistan, and so on. This coup, the head of the government was just
isolated and not eliminated. They could have done much better than that.
For instance, they could arrange let's say a heart attack for Mr. Gorbachev
and do the same thing with the commission. That would be much more plausible
and at least they had much better chance of succeeding.
ROBERT MacNEIL: What did you mean, Mr. Sheymov, what did you mean when
you said it perhaps was designed not to succeed? What does that mean?
MR. SHEYMOV: Well, I wouldn't exclude, it's certainly not a high probability,
but certainly I wouldn't exclude that Mr. Gorbachev could be behind
that coup, because he could benefit more than anybody else from this
coup. For instance, he went recently to London. He was literally begging
for help and he didn't get too much of it. His popularity within the
country is plummeting. And he needs some kind of support from his own
people. In this case, he could force people to ask themselves fundamental
question, what is the alternative.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Let me ask -- you know Gorbachev quite well, Vitaly
Korotich. Is that plausible, that Gorbachev could have engineered this
to win sympathy and support?
MR. KOROTICH: Not practically possible to imagine because Presidents
never engineer coups themselves, but I cannot imagine that head of KGB,
head of army, and party officials would sacrifice them for Gorbachev's
success. They're too egoistic and they're fighting for their own interest.
Theoretically it's possible, but practically when they remember Krichkov's
or Yasov's face, it's not face of martyrs.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Okay. Let's turn to the other
side of the story today, Dimitri Simes. Boris Yeltsin, who is the only
elected national leader or nearly national leader in the Soviet Union
has called for resistance. He's declared the strike illegal. He's called
for a general strike throughout the Russian Federation tomorrow. Will
people follow him? Will the security forces obey him or their commanders?
SIMES: Well, I think that there will be some police departments under
the control of the Russian ministry of the interior which will follow
Yeltsin. They work for him. I'm not sure that all of them will follow
his orders; some definitely will. Now if you are talking about interior
troops in general and particularly some units of the Soviet army, from
what I understand, they brought a lot of ethnic units. These people,
most of them at least, are not Russians, and Yeltsin doesn't mean very
much to them. I suspect that if there is no great deal of violence,
if the troops do not encounter a lot of resistance, then perhaps they
would have very central government rise in Yeltsin, but the question
to which I don't have an answer is what is going to happen if Russian
workers are going to resist -- if the Georgians would go into the mountains,
if Armenian guerrillas would attack Soviet army units -- in short, in
short, the real question is now how the army would perform if everything
is nice and easy. The real question is whom the army will follow if
they encounter a lot of resistance. And I don't know whether they will
follow Yeltsin, but i doubt very much that they will be willing to fight
and die on behalf of the new President and his cabinet.
ROBERT MacNEIL: The argument was made on this program a few weeks ago
when we interviewed -- Charles Krause interviewed Col. Alksnis, the
-- one of the hardliners who was advocating the overthrow of Gorbachev
-- he made the argument that the army would never fire on the Soviet
people but that they would regard Gorbachev as so unpopular that the
people would be in favor of the coup. What do you say to that?
MR. SIMES: That's very interesting. That's why we were so surprised,
at least I was so surprised about the timing of the coup. It's relatively
easy to pick on Gorbachev, but to challenge Yeltsin is a different story.
So a lot of us had the theory that the hardliners would wait for several
months, there would be winter of discontent, cold, hungry, people would
be angry, Yeltsin would be unable to deliver, and then people would
be prepared to accept any solution, any strong leader, but the hardliners,
in my view, were sufficiently desperate, they moved now. I completely
agree with Mr. Sheymov, not so much about Gorbachev being behind the
coup but about this being a very strange coup. This is not very well
organized, not well prepared. It almost seems spontaneous. These people
are acting not in decisive and coherent manner. And I really, I really
do not know why these people picked this particular moment, except they
felt that if they did not move now, tomorrow could be too late.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Speaking of it being a strange coup, they have asserted
control over the news media, and including your magazine, Ogonyok, you
told me just now, which has been a radical opposition magazine, but
both the Tass News Agency and Vremya, which is the main national television
program seen by millions and millions throughout the Soviet Union, tonight
carried Yeltsin's call for a general strike tomorrow. What does that
KOROTICH: It means that they want to support somebody and Yeltsin is
a real power. It's not so easy --
ROBERT MacNEIL: You mean the people who are the news writers in Tass
and Vremya did that or --
MR. KOROTICH: Of course, Soviet news agencies never show real news,
but to hide this kind of news, it's too dangerous and I think now, now
general strike is possible but main thing, and Mr. Simes told about
this, we saw only Moscow, coup de ta is going only there. What is going
in republics -- because Ukraine, Georgia, everywhere, and army which
will be there, what kind of resistance it will meet, what kind of strike,
it's really important, and I think this coup de ta was -- was prepared
badly -- done now because they were in panic. We don't know the details
of this. We don't know what's happened with Gorbachev. We don't know
what's with Yakovlev or Shevardnadze, maybe finishing this I can tell
only that when Shevardnadze resigned we tell ah -- when Yakovlev warned
us, nobody believed. But in my baggage here I have letter from Gorbachev's
adviser, Marshall Hermiev, who said that I, in our magazine, our provocateurs
because it'll never be coup de ta in our country. I have it in paper
here. Simply this coup de ta was the result of something very unexpected
and in the same time necessary to understand that now republics will
go into play and Yeltsin was first national leader who called -- let's
wait for others -- it will be real problem.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Mr. Levchenko, what -- do you think -- kind of support
do you think Yeltsin will pick up in his appeal to resist the coup and
declare it illegal?
MR. LEVCHENKO: That's a very good question. It's hard really to predict
precisely what will happen, but difference is that Mr. Gorbachev for
many of the Soviet citizens until yesterday was a bad guy because his
popularity rating was fluctuating somewhere from 6 percent to early
teens. He is good guy now when he is under house arrest and when the
hardliners took over the power. With Mr. Yeltsin, it's entirely different
story. Mr. Yeltsin is the first President of the Russian Federation
in the history who had been elected by direct open vote. His rating
is somewhere around 60 percent and to implement any decisive, aggressive
action against him, it's a great challenge for the members of that coup.
I respectfully disagree with Mr. Korotich about the fact that this coup
was kind of almost unprepared and happened all of a sudden. I was following
the speeches by KGB Chairman Mr. Krichkov -- minister of defense --
Yasov and other hardliners for quite some time, and there was a very
serious and sometimes ominous criticism in all the speeches, specifically
by Mr. Krichkov, of the policy which Mr. Gorbachev was conducting. His
name was not mentioned, mentioned -- and I personally do not think the
policy of Mr. Gorbachev was ideal. On the other hand, it was clear that
the hardliners were preparing to, probably to engage in the last battle,
to try agonizingly to save their positions and maybe to reverse the
things, and I don't think that they actually will succeed.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Right. Well, thank you, gentlemen, all four of you.