Death of the empire. Part VI.

9 The end

9.1 Political economy of the failed coup

On June 17 Gorbachev sends a draft treaty "On the Union of sovereign states" to the governments of the republics. On June 29-30 Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Nazarbayev decide to sign the treaty on August 20. One day before the treaty would be signed the vice-president, prime-minister, defense minister, KGB chairman, leader of the military industrial complex and the army commander supported by the chairman of the Supreme Council (they called themselves GKChP -- the State Committee on the Extraordinary Situation) dare to do (or so they thought) what in their opinion Gorbachev dares not to do -- to use violence. In three days, however, it becomes clear that it's the changed country, not Gorbachev, that matters.

Since the end of 1980s the army officers knew that they will be made responsible for whatever happens, and they did their best to avoid this responsibility. The joint operation Thunder of the army, KGB and the police aimed at the capture of the parliament building was scheduled on the night of August 21. However, nobody in the GKChP takes the responsibility. By the next morning it becomes clear that the KGB detachment Alpha refused to participate in the storm, police divisions did not move and the brigade Tyopliy Stan was gone and nobody knew where they were.

Even if the they used violence, the outcome would be unpredictable. In February and August of 1917 violence did not save the state. And even if it worked, the economic situation would remain critical. Budget deficit was about 30% of GNP. Food supplies sufficed for 15 days. 30% of the citizens could not get the rationed food. Nobody would issue credits to the GKChP. KGB and the participants of the plot knew it quite well. Probably, it was this understanding that made prime-minister Pavlov to drink so much alcohol one day before these events that he could not take part in the coup.

9.2 Political agony

The Union does not control the army, cannot guarantee the security of the state borders, does not control the territory. On September 5 the Congress of the People's Deputies of the USSR dissolves itself.

The attempts to create a commonwealth of the republics were not efficient. The Ukrainian leaders were very careful during the coup and refused to condemn the actions of GKChP. So, to avoid the political bankruptcy, they only had one option -- to promote the independence. On November 8 the chairman of the Supreme Council of Ukraine Kravchuk said: "We will oppose all attempts to create any central organs. There should be no centre besides coordination organs."

9.3 Political desintegration: political consequences

In the first half of 1991 Russia received from other republics 22% of the planned amount of sugar, 30% of tea, 19% of cereals, 22% of soap. All republics except for Russia introduced customs on the borders and limited export of all goods. It was prohibited to export goods to Russia, it was only possible to import them from Russia. Ukraine and Estonia place orders in Canada to print their own currency.

Vice chairman of the Soviet governments L.Abalkin: "In the beginning of October I met Mr. Greenspan, the leader of US Federal Reserve System. He asked me: 'Do you understand that you have some weeks till the financial ruin?' I replied that according to our estimations we have two months." The production decreased in 1991 by 15%. Forecasts for 1992 were the decrease by 23-25%.

Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic countries fully stop money transfers to the budget of the Union. Other republics send some money, but these payments turned from taxes to gifts.

The budget deficit exceeds the planned amount by 3.2 times. The reason is the sharp fall of the incomes.

Riyad Bank postpones the agreed credits ($500 mln). US banks refuse to issue credits.

In 9 months the monetary mass increased from 989 billion rubles to 1.7 trillion rubles. In 10 months the export decreased by 31% and the import -- by 43%. RUR/USD rate rose to 100 rubles. Actually, ruble lost all functions of money and was replaced on the internal markets by *barter payments. The people do not trust money and do their best to get rid of them by buying anything -- goods, foreign currency, gold, etc.

In November 1991 69% of Russians said that the worst times are yet to come. 21% think that now is the worst time.

Meat reserves in St.Petersburg will last 3-4 days.

9.4 Civilized divorce

In the XX century 3 integrated empires fell before the USSR: Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian. Yugoslavia fell apart only some years earlier. In 3 cases out of four the crashes of the empires ended with long wars. Only in Austro-Hungary the chain of conflicts was stopped by the L'Entente armies.

Had someone asked informed experts in 1989 in which of the two socialist multiethnic countries the risk of a civil war was higher, in Yugoslavia, whose relatively liberal political system and the open market economy brought the country closer to the assession to the EU than any other ex-socialist country, or in the USSR, most of them would name USSR.

Nobody knows the exact answer why the war started in Yugoslavia and not in USSR. My opinion (says Gaidar) is: First, Milośević relied on nationalist sentiments, that is he defined his enemy by the ethnic criterion, and Yeltsin opposed the unpopular communist regime, that is his opponent was a political one. Second, a certain role was played by the nuclear weapons located in some Russia, Belorussia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The data on the distribution of the nuclear warheads in the republics are unreliable and testify the level of threat represented by the nuclear weapons. The tactical weapons were the largest problem, since the strategic weapons were controlled from Moscow. The decisions on the usage of nuclear shells and mines were taken on the local level.

The threat of the Yugoslav scenario was real. On August 26 1991 the press-secretary of the president of Russia Voshchanov warned that Russia may question the borders with the republics (except for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) which would not sign the Union treaty. These claims might include the northern Kazakhstan, Crimea and parts of the left-bank Ukraine. On August 27-28 the mayor of Moscow Popov layed even larger claims: Odessa and the areas near Dniester river.

The leaders of the new independent states managed to understand that questioning the borders, however unjust, leads directly to war. On December 30 1991 the agreement on the strategic forces was signed. Ukraine, Belorussia and Kazakhstan had to destroy a part of the nuclear arms and to remove to Russia the remaining part.

By May 6 1992 the tactical nuclear weapons were withdrawn from Ukraine to Russia. After the USA guaranteed the safety of the Ukraine, by June 1 1996 the strategic weapons were withdrawn, too. By December 13 1993 Kazakhstan became a zone free from nuclear weapons and on November 23 1996 Belorussia followed.

On December 25, 1992, after the resignation of Gorbachev, the independence of the ex-republics turns from a political to a legal reality. However, the dissolution of the USSR did not solve the problems faced earlier by the USSR and now by the independent republics.

The lesson taught by the last years of the USSR is that the seemingly solid, but inflexible political constructions, unable to adapt to the challenges of the constantly changing world, are fragile and break under the influence of unpredictable situations.

The cause of the break-up of the USSR, the fall of the prices for oil, seems to be incomparable with the consequence. Indeed, this was not the cause, but an occasion for the break-up. The Stalin's model of industrialization, as opposed to the Bukharin's model, became the foundation where huge crevices were produced by relatively small external effects.

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