Yeltsin's star shines its brightest His defiance key in overcoming the hard-liners. Soviet military coup

August 22, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Long after the tanks are quiet in their garrisons and the barricades dismantled, the indelible image of this week's abortive coup in the Soviet Union will be the picture of one defiant man -- Boris Yeltsin -- clambering up the dark green hull of a T-72 tank to rally his people for democracy.

It was a quintessential Yeltsin moment. The burly Siberian had watched from the windows of his Russian Federation headquarters as the tanks surrounded the building Monday afternoon. After little more than an hour, he strode impulsively out the door, clambered up onto one of the armored vehicles, and greeted a tank officer as if he were a prospective voter instead of the spearhead of a hostile military force.

Then, with the white, blue and red flag of an independent Russia by his side, he spoke in a booming baritone full of the confidence his anxious listeners needed.

"The reactionaries will not achieve their goals!" he declared. "The army will not turn against the people."

Relentlessly larger than life, courageous to the point of foolhardiness, instinctively in tune with the soul of the Russian republic's 147 million people: Boris Yeltsin was the single most important figure in the resistance to the attempted coup -- and the single biggest winner in the political aftermath.

"Yeltsin is our absolute leader," said Alexander I. Riman, 55, an engineer. "He was the one hope that proved to be true and valid."

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