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Leonid Bershidsky

Russians Get a Revisionist View of Soviet Union’s End

A new narrative from a former vice president paints Yeltsin as a tool of the U.S. in thwarting 1991 coup by hardliners.

Yeltsin’s moment of glory.

Yeltsin’s moment of glory.

Photographer: Diane-Lu Hovasse/AFP/Getty Images

Only 27 years after the failure of a coup meant to keep the Soviet Union alive, some of the people who helped crush the revolt are doing their best to blacken their own victory.

It’s been many years since Russia celebrated an anniversary of those three days, Aug. 19-21, 1991. Resolute action by Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, and by tens of thousands of Muscovites, stopped an attempt by almost the entire Soviet leadership of the time (minus President Mikhail Gorbachev, locked up by the plotters at his villa in Crimea) to seize power and restore a centralized Communist state. But nostalgia for the Soviet Union and Russia’s imperial past are now part of the official Kremlin ideology: President Vladimir Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet Union, which swiftly followed the collapse of the coup, the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”