On the Failure of the Communist Coup in the USSR in Mid-August 1991

Anthony Easton offered insights on the coup here.

There was a follow-up by a site member on a forum.

August 1991 Coup attempt “The failed coup against Gorbachev occurred on August 18, 1991” My wife and I were returning from a couple of months in Eastern Europe, mostly in Russia. Our hosts were Ham Radio operators that had invited me to tour Russia. My call sign was well-known worldwide and that is why it happened.We later learned how the Coup was stopped. Our Russian Ham Radio friends just happened to have a Ham Radio station in the building where Gorbachev was located. The telephone and power lines had been cut to stop the military from learning of the Coup. One of our Ham friends was able to get a message out that quickly got to the military. They showed up and stopped the Coup.

A few months later one of those Russian Hams was visiting the USA and came to California. We hosted him and he explained how it all happened.

This will be very hard to believe, but the only reliable communication in Russia was Ham Radio. Private people had an underground system that actually worked. They also knew that the propaganda was crap because they could talk with us anytime that they wanted. However, we learned that it was mostly them listening to us talk on Ham Radio amongst ourselves that they learned about our lifestyle.

Nothing there worked. If it weren’t for the “black market” there would have been nothing to eat. I could tell stories for days about life in Russia. We stayed in private homes for most of our time.

Easton responded in an email to me.

This is correct. Ham radio was critical to provide the general population with the truth to counter the continuous lies of the Soviet State. As an Amateur Extra Class “ticket holder” myself, I too know the power of Ham Radio operators in keeping freedom alive worldwide. Amateur Radio is a vital force in the world today, and with the ability to bounce signals off the moon and Ham Radio satellites, individual transmissions are difficult to monitor and control in all but the most totalitarian state (like North Korea today).In the Soviet state dacha in the Crimea where Gorbachev was vacationing when the coup was attempted, the LOCAL telephone service and power were indeed cut. This was easily done by a couple of dozen renegade security forces reporting to one of the Coup Plotters sent from Moscow.

However, neither domestic nor international telephone circuits in and out of Moscow were cut or affected in any way. All ordinary rotary-dial “black telephone” proletariat traffic was maintained as normal. Nor was the Communist Party’s secure touch-tone “Red Phone Network” affected in any way. This was a separate modern national network of 50,000 telephones — similar to the American military’s Autovon Network (see:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autovon). I have direct knowledge of this.

Information on the Gorbachev “house arrest” was, in fact, known instantly by multiple civilian and military Party authorities in Moscow as well as at the regional command centers of both Internal Security and Military Defense in Ukraine. This happened within minutes of the incident occurring. Gorbachev’s sudden and unauthorized detention was not a surprise to the Party. It was only a surprise to the 97% of the proletariat who were not members of the Communist Party. For the 97%, however, Ham Radio was truly the people’s information and communications pipeline.

The Coup Plotters did NOT, for example, have my powerful friend, the head of the Moscow Telephone Company, on their side. Nor many other key players who needed to agree to make the coup a success. The coup was an ill-thought-out project by a group of renegades. It was NOT in any official way supported by either the Alpha Forces Commandant, the Atomic Forces General, or the KGB Directorates.

The half-dozen Coup Plotters were on the periphery of real power, although some were closer than others to the KGB para-military enforcement units. They had blindly hoped that their actions would quickly win acceptance by their Central Committee comrades.

But they forgot to take into account the real-world mechanisms of asserting power — especially in an uber-bureaucratic state, the USSR.

So, this is what happened “on the ground” in Moscow: Orders were given to a number of key people personally by the Coup Plotters,-verbally, to do certain things. This included shutting down our Moscow cable TV system – while it was being watched real-time by the Central Committee members in their apartments adjacent to our Central Committee hotel “headend”.

Some forces loyal to the Coup Plotters did follow their verbal orders, violating protocol. These orders were issued beyond the powers of the Coup Plotters’ official authority as listed in the Chart of Command of the USSR. The Coup Plotters did have armed guards with them who were loyal to them, but of course in those days, every member of the Central Committee with any power had similar armed personal protection forces.

Hmmm… So what can a good Comrade do faced with such a dilemma…?

The solution I personally know of was that the Russian “Director General” in charge of our J/V CATV system replied, loosely: “But of course, Comrade, we will follow your orders. But, as you understand, this is the Soviet Union, and we operate along well-established lines of Protocol. We need to have these orders in writing, signed and with the appropriate seals of authority included. Upon receiving these documents, we will, of course comply immediately”.

The Coup Plotter returned to his office and ordered the documents to be prepared for delivery with due haste. By the time that this was expected to happen (24 hours later), the coup had collapsed, the plotters arrested, with one having committed suicide before capture.

Under Yeltsin’s command in the Moscow “White House,” as the head of the Russian Federation unit of the USSR, and with his own armed ‘National Guard,’ Yeltsin was able to personally stop the coup process by using his own chain-of-command authority — with the necessary written documentation and orders being provided — to ignore the verbal orders of the Coup Plotters.

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