Twenty years on, Gorbachev regrets USSR breakup

Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the former Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, says it was destroyed against the will of its people.

In a series of interviews timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of a botched coup d'état staged by Communist hardliners to overthrow him, Mr. Gorbachev said the Soviet Union was pulled down through deliberate efforts of the putschists and his archrival, Boris Yeltsin. On August 19, 1991, the plotters, including the Vice-President, the KGB head and the Defence Minister, put Mr. Gorbachev under house arrest at his Black Sea residence where he was taking a weekend break and declared a state of emergency.

They said their aim was to save the Soviet Union and prevent the signing on August 20 of a new Union Treaty, which would transform the Soviet Union into a semi-confederative state.

Three days later the coup unravelled in the face of popular resistance led by Mr. Yeltsin, President of the Russian Republic.

But it critically weakened Mr. Gorbachev's hold on power, increased separatist sentiments in republics and emboldened Mr. Yeltsin to dissolve the Soviet Union four months later and grab power.

Mr. Gorbachev said his nemesis had acted in flagrant violation of the explicit desire of people to retain the Soviet Union that was overwhelmingly expressed in a national referendum held in March 1991. “This means the Soviet Union was destroyed against people's wishes, and it was done deliberately by the Russian [republican] leadership, on the one hand, and the putschists, on the other.”

Mr. Gorbachev said he wished he had banished Mr. Yeltsin from politics.

“He had such a thirst for power,” Mr. Gorbachev said of Yeltsin. “He was explosive and vain… I should have sent him to a banana republic as an ambassador so he could smoke a hookah where it's nice and quiet.”

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