By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — On the 30th anniversary of a coup that failed to stop democratic reforms in the Soviet Union and expedited its collapse, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, said Russian society must stand against “usurping power,” the phrase often used by critics of Russia’s current President Vladimir Putin.
Gorbachev, 90, said that the lessons of the attempted coup of August 1991 “remain important” for modern Russia.
“To stand for democratic principles and rule of law, exclude any possibility for usurping power or inconsiderate actions, that is what the society and state must be responsible for,” the former Soviet leader said in a statement published on August 18 on the website of the Gorbachev Foundation. “I believe that the democratic path of Russia’s development is the only correct one, that only on this path can our country develop and solve any problems.”
On August 18, 1991, a group of Soviet officials placed Gorbachev under house arrest at his dacha in Crimea and declared a provisional government whose aim was to stop his democratic reforms.
The coup failed three days later as mass demonstrations in Moscow and other cities erupted demanding Gorbachev’s reforms continue.
Days after the attempted coup failed, several Soviet republics announced their independence from the Soviet Union, which led to the official dissolution of the country in December 1991.
In recent years, Putin has been positioning himself as a leader who established order after the harsh years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
State media and Russian state propaganda have also presented Putin as capable of bringing former Soviet republics back under Moscow’s control when commenting on the Kremlin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east, as well as Russia’s support of breakaway regions in Georgia and Moldova.
The reports by state media have also given Gorbachev’s critics, who accused him of bringing the Soviet Union to an end, a chance to air their comments.
Gorbachev’s statement blamed the State Committee for the Emergency Situation, known by its Russian acronym GKChP, for the collapse of the Soviet Union, saying that the group was responsible for the dramatic developments that finished the country.
“People did not want to return to the old order. In general, all democratic institutions created during perestroika managed to stand the test,” Gorbachev said in a subtle poke at Kremlin policies against them.
In recent years, democratic institutions, independent media, opposition politicians, and human rights organizations across the country have been targeted by laws and regulations that many in Russia and beyond say have been created to curb dissent and muzzle free speech.