All over but . . .

August 21, 1991

How incredibly fitting, that in the end, after 70 years of botched rule in Russia, the Old Bolsheviks even botched their final effort to do what they've always done best -- rule by terror. The successors to Stalin, in their dying gasp, became the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.

At this early stage of the breathtaking events that are unfolding today in the Soviet Union, these observations seem safe:

1. Mikhail Gorbachev, if and when he returns to power, will owe not only his position but probably his life as well to the courageous stand of his erstwhile nemesis, Boris Yeltsin.

2. But is no less true that had it not been for the vision and courage of Gorbachev, starting six years ago, Yeltsin would not have been there to make his stand. Or put another way, if Gorbachev had chosen to follow in the footsteps of most of his predecessors, Yeltsin would have been the first to go -- to Siberia, if he were lucky, but more likely to the grave.

3. Now that the second worst-case scenario for the Soviet Union has been miraculously averted, the world must rally, just as the Russian people have rallied, to prevent the worst-case scenario from taking place -- the disintegration of the Soviet Union into a Yugoslav-style civil war. With the onset of a stark winter just weeks away, the Soviet Union must not be allowed to fall into the kind of brute privation that led to the Russian Revolution in the first place. If the Russian people can unite as heroically as they have done over the past few days, it is not asking too much for the world to do the same over the coming few months.

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