Gorbachev back in Moscow, 'in 'full control' THE SOVIET CRISIS


August 22, 1991|By Serge Schmeman | Serge Schmeman,New York Times News Service

MOSCOW -- A coup by hard-line Communists collapsed yesterday as abruptly as it began, and President Mikhail S. Gorbachev returned to Moscow early this morning to reassert control.

Mr. Gorbachev made no statements at Vnukovo Airport on his return from his summer retreat in the Crimea, where he had been placed under house arrest early Monday at the start of the short-lived putsch.

He avoided the press and was driven directly away. He was expected to meet later today with Boris N. Yeltsin, the Russian Federation's president, who led the popular resistance that defeated the coup.

In a statement reported yesterday by the evening television news program "Vremya" after the collapse of the coup, Mr. Gorbachev declared that he was "in full control of the situation" and would resume his full duties within a day.

The program also reported that he had restored contact with the Cabinet and the Defense Ministry -- both under acting chiefs with their leaders, who were members of the junta, disgraced -- and had talked by telephone with Mr. Yeltsin and President Bush.

The coup crumbled yesterday as abruptly as it began, without any formal announcement from the eight old-guard members of the State Committee for the State of Emergency who sent tanks into Moscow on Monday and declared themselves in command.

It seemed simply to fizzle under the disdain of masses rallying to the call of Mr. Yeltsin, who rose to condemn the coup almost from the moment it became known, and the irresolution of the plotters, who failed to garner support or even to maintain the loyalty of their forces.

Mr. Yeltsin said yesterday that the Communist Party had been "the organizing and inspiring force" behind the coup, and the implication was that with its last, desperate, rear-guard action, the once-formidable force that has controlled the Soviet Union for more than 70 years might finally be exhausted.

It remains uncertain whether Mr. Gorbachev, after his ordeal, will bolt the party he heads, as Mr. Yeltsin and other former Gorbachev aides have.

The awareness that the coup had failed came at dawn, when it became evident that army tanks had not moved against the well-defended headquarters of the Russian republic's government in the capital.

Relief spread among the thousands of Muscovites who had spent two drizzly nights at makeshift barricades around the building, called the White House, a wedding-cake-like building on the banks of the Moscow River from which Mr. Yeltsin marshaled the anti-coup forces.

Within hours, reports swept through a jubilant Moscow that the members of the emergency committee were in flight, and long columns of tanks and armored personnel carriers began to leave the capital, some decorated with Russian flags, to the cheers of jubilant Muscovites.

Like the marchers in Leipzig, Germany, or the demonstrators in Prague, Czechoslovakia, who brought down Communist governments through the sheer force of their determination, Muscovites, even those who had not directly taken part in public demonstrations, felt a personal satisfaction in facing down forces that had held them so long in thrall.

"Weren't we great?" exclaimed one woman, capturing a joyous sense that the nation had united to thwart the long-awaited counteroffensive by the forces of the former Communist dictatorship.

"Leave, just please leave," another woman shouted at the tanks.

The fate of the plotters was unclear. There was a persistent but unconfirmed rumor that Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov had shot himself. But one of the republic leaders who had talked with Mr. Gorbachev, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, said that General Yazov and three other plotters -- Interior Minister Boris K. Pugo; Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, chairman of the KGB; and Nikolai I. Tizyakov, head of an association of state enterprises -- had gone to Mr. Gorbachev's residence in the Crimea, apparently to await his judgment, but that he was refusing to receive them.

Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov reportedly remained hospitalized after an attack of hypertension Tuesday. One official said Mr. Pavlov was truly ill and had been deceived into signing the emergency decree by being told that Mr. Gorbachev was incapacitated.

There was no information on the whereabouts of other members of the junta.

Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi said Mr. Kryuchkov had been arrested and would be tried for his role in the coup, Reuters reported from Moscow.

"The scoundrel Kryuchkov has been arrested and taken to the Interior Ministry of the Russian Federation," Reuters quoted Mr. Rutskoi as saying. "The trial will come later."

"Vremya" said Mr. Gorbachev expected the "adventurists" to carry "full responsibility" for their actions, and the Soviet prosecutor general's office announced it had opened an investigation of the emergency committee on charges of committing a "state crime."

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