Back on the Lenin Farm, Coup Plotter Blames US

INTERVIEW: Vasily Starodubtsev. SOVIET COUP: ONE YEAR AFTER

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THIS village is unlike any other farming community in central Russia.

Despite widespread drought this year, the Lenin Collective Farm, which includes Spasskoye, is prospering. Corn on the Lenin Farm is standing over six feet, for example, while on other farms in the region it is barely higher than four feet.

But not only the crops are doing well. Living standards appear far better than in the typical farming village. Buildings aren't in drastic need of repair and stores are relatively well stocked.

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Residents say Lenin Farm director Vasily Starodubtsev is the man responsible for the good conditions in Spasskoye, which means savior in English. Such lofty praise for Mr. Starodubtsev, though, contrasts sharply with public opinion throughout Russia, where his name is most often associated with the State of Emergency Committee that tried unsuccessfully to seize power during last year's August putsch.

On the first anniversary of the coup attempt Aug. 19, Starodubtsev is the only one of the eight Emergency Committee members at liberty. One conspirator, former Interior Minister Boris Pugo, killed himself in the failed putsch's immediate aftermath, and the rest are in Moscow's Sailor's Rest prison.

Starodubtsev also was jailed for almost nine months following the coup's collapse Aug. 21. But prosecutors released him several months ago after concluding his role in the August events was "significantly less than that of other members of the Emergency Committee."

Though out of prison, Starodubtsev's actions and words are still closely monitored, as the coup investigation continues. Because the charges against him have not been dropped, he is reluctant to talk to journalists.

`MY life is hanging by a thread and they [prosecutors] can cut it at any time," he said, attempting to avoid questions when approached last week.

But it didn't take much prodding before Starodubtsev opened up. As he stood in the quiet village square, a year's pent-up frustration started flowing, and his words were filled with bitterness.

"It's a pity the country has perished and the people are suffering," he says of developments over the past year. "We didn't do anything wrong," he continued, referring to the Emergency Committee members. "We just wanted to save the people and country from ruination."

In Starodubtsev's eyes, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and the West - especially the United States - bear responsibility for current problems in the former Soviet republics.

As for his role last August, Starodubtsev says he merely answered a call from Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov.

"I was in his office when the call came from [Prime Minister] Pavlov," says Mikhail Bogomolov, the editor of Niva, a local newspaper. "Pavlov asked Starodubtsev to come to Moscow and Starodubtsev at first resisted, saying he had an important meeting of the collective farm leadership. But Pavlov reassured him that he wouldn't miss the meeting and Starodubtsev left," Bogomolov continued. "He didn't return until almost nine months had passed."

Those nine months in prison were not enjoyable, Starodubtsev says. "Our conditions were rather harsh. I would not recommend becoming a prisoner in one of our jails."

After his release he returned to the farm, where he has been director for 25 years. Despite the looming prospect of a long jail sentence, agriculture appears to be foremost in his thoughts.

"Other places are having trouble, but everything's normal here," Starodubtsev says. "We should have a good harvest."

Meanwhile, the people of Spasskoye, many of whom referred to Starodubtsev as the "master," have welcomed him back with open arms. Lydia Baldina, the principal of the local kindergarten, intones: "We're lucky we live here under Starodubtsev."

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