Jailed Conspirators Call Coup Attempt A `Patriotic' Act


WITH the exception of Vasily Starodubtsev, the key figures in the August coup attempt remain confined. But being behind bars has not prevented some of them from freely expressing their views on last year's failed putsch.

Interviews with several alleged coup conspirators - including former parliament speaker Anatoly Lukyanov, former Vice President Gennady Yanayev, and former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov - have appeared both on television and in newspapers in the weeks leading up to the putsch anniversary Aug. 19.

Mr. Yanayev and Mr. Kryuchkov were both members of the eight-man State of Emergency Committee, which ousted former President Mikhail Gorbachev and nominally took charge of the Soviet Union for three days, Aug. 19-21. Mr. Lukyanov, though not an Emergency Committee member, is suspected of masterminding the coup attempt.

In the interviews, the accused showed little remorse, calling their actions a patriotic attempt to save the Soviet Union from collapse. The coup began the day before a new union treaty was to be signed, which would have granted the 15 union republics increased powers at the expense of central authorities in Moscow .

"I feel guilt before the Russian people only in that I could have changed their lives, could have avoided the situation the country now finds itself in ... but I failed," said Yanayev in a television interview last month.

Kryuchkov said people should not blame the coup conspirators for the ethnic conflict and economic collapse that has befallen the former Soviet republics in the last year.

"History will hold responsible for the fate of the Soviet Union not those who made an attempt to save it, but those who ruined our powerful and united motherland," Kryuchkov said in an open letter published last month in Pravda, the former Communist Party daily.

Rather than defend his actions, former Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov attacked the "shock-therapy" economic policies of the Russian government.

"We have had enough of economic experiments on our country," Mr. Pavlov said in a Pravda interview Aug. 8.

Of all the Emergency Committee members, only former Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov has expressed any regret, calling himself "an old fool" for taking part in the plot.

The coup conspirators are being held at Moscow's Sailor's Rest prison, where life is harsh in comparison to what they enjoyed when at the top of the Soviet power structure. Mr. Yazov, for example, reportedly has lost more than 40 pounds while living on a Spartan prison diet of gruel, potatoes, meat, and fish.

Some of the accused say they look forward to their trial on charges of conspiracy to seize power, saying they will be completely vindicated. Yanayev, for example, maintained it was impossible to prove the accused were guilty of conspiracy, saying they talked with Mr. Gorbachev as early as in April about plans for introducing a state of emergency. "How can you speak of a conspiracy to seize power if the highest state officials participated?" asked Yanayev.

In a news conference Aug. 17, Gorbachev called those allegations "a lie from beginning to end."

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