On this day August 19, 1991
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was placed under house arrest while on holiday in the town of Foros, Crimea. Gorbachev’s vice president Gennadi Yanayev, prime minister Valentin Pavlov, defense minister Dmitriy Yazov, KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, and other senior officials acted to prevent the signing of the union treaty by forming the “State Committee on the State Emergency.
” The “Committee” put Gorbachev under house arrest, reintroduced political censorship, and attempted to stop the perestroika. The coup leaders quickly issued an emergency decree suspending political activity and banning most newspapers.
While coup organizers expected some popular support for their actions, the public sympathy in large cities and in republics was largely against them. Russian SFSR President Boris Yeltsin was quick to condemn the coup and grab popular support for himself.
Thousands of people in Moscow came out to defend the “White House” (Yeltsin’s office), then the symbolic seat of Russian sovereignty. The organizers tried but ultimately failed to arrest Yeltsin, who rallied mass opposition to the coup.
After three days, on August 21, the coup collapsed, the organizers were detained, and Gorbachev returned as president of the Soviet Union. However, Gorbachev’s powers were now fatally compromised, as neither union nor Russian power structures heeded his commands.