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Gorbachev’s empire falls apart

The News - 26 August 1991

Adelaide; News Limited

Newspaper, 410 x 300 mm

Location : State Library of South Australia - view catalogue entry

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On 19 August 1991 a group of hardline Communists known as the ‘Gang of Eight’, led by Vice-President Gennady Yanayev and defence minister Dmitry Yazov, attempted to wrest power from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. He was placed under house arrest in the Crimea where he was on holidays. Gorbachev had supported the reform of Soviet economic and political life by initiating ‘perestroika’—a major reconstruction of the Soviet State. He had also introduced the policy of ‘glasnost’, meaning openness, which informed the Soviet people about the changes taking place. Communist governments in several Central and Eastern European countries were overthrown during Gorbachev’s time as president.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin led popular resistance against the ‘Gang of Eight’, ostensibly supporting Gorbachev. After the coup had collapsed on 21 August, however, Yeltsin took advantage of his own popularity to consolidate his power. Gorbachev’s position had been extremely weakened by the coup against him. He was forced to resign as general secretary of the Communist Party on 24 August.

By the end of the month the three Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) and seven other Soviet states were calling for independence from the Soviet Union. In early December, Belarus, the Ukraine and the powerful state of Russia called for an end to the Soviet Union and the commencement of a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). On 25 December Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet State. The Soviet Union was officially dissolved and replaced by the CIS (formed by all former Soviet states except the Baltic countries) and at midnight on 31 December, the Soviet flag was removed from the top of the Kremlin.

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