What does the collapse of the attempted coup by Soviet hard-liners mean for the future of the Soviet Union, its leaders, reform and independence movements, and U.S.-Soviet relations? Here is a sampling of the thoughts of some Soviet experts in the area:
Henry Trofimenko, a visiting scholar from the USSR, and a professor with the Center for International Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Maryland:
"I think that now President Gorbachev will have no more pretext to postpone signing the Union Treaty [granting more independence to the Soviet republics]. And also [he] will have difficulty finding pretext not to implement a really deep economic reform. I mean deep economic reform that would be really integrating a market system into the Soviet economy.
"I think [Russian President Boris Yeltsin] will be the most influential [politician in the USSR] because he is the only person popularly elected . . . not only elected but tested in a very difficult situation, and coming out of it with flying colors."
The failure of the hard-liners' attempt to grab power "shows that the right-wing powers don't have any popular base. . . . [From now on, conservatives must] either use parliamentary methods of voicing their opinions or they would simply be irrelevant."
The drive toward democracy and economic reform now seems unstoppable. "If they couldn't reverse [it] with the combined leaders of the KGB and army, then it's really irreversible."
"And that was probably the main requirement of the West, for a proof that the Soviet Union could be helped, that the money could be given to it for good purposes. It was the most difficult, and at the same time, most striking test for democracy in the Soviet Union. I think the country has passed quite well."
Ilya Prizel, assistant professor of Soviet studies, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies:
The failure of the coup was not an unalloyed victory for freedom and democracy. "This was the most inept coup I can think of in the last 40 or 50 years. And bear in mind . . . the large masses Yeltsin called for did not show up, there was no general strike [despite Yeltsin's call for one] and the fundamental problems of the country have not been solved."
Gorbachev has emerged temporarily strengthened by popular sympathy. "But at the same time it accentuates his weakness. He is a man with no constituency. Gorbachev's claim to power was that he was a man who could control the army and the KGB."
"If Gorbachev wants to play a serious role, he will have to, and quickly, win a competitive election. I don't think it will be very easy . . . I think the era of unelected people with enormous power has simply come to an end."
With the hard-line Communists discredited, Gorbachev and Yeltsin have a "window of opportunity to push through sweeping reforms. I think they will seize it."
Independence drives in the Baltics, Georgia and Armenia will accelerate, but "should it spill into the Ukraine in a serious challenge, one could foresee a situation that could trigger a civil war."
Western countries must now provide the Soviet Union with food aid "to help them get over this winter. The worst thing one could imagine is a hungry cold winter, and that is a distinct possibility right now." The Soviets also need help in upgrading food distribution and oil production.
Germany Chancellor Helmut Kohl has warned of the consequences of a chaotic disintegration of the Soviet Union, and "up until now that has been an abstraction. Now we have experienced it as a distinct possibility."
The aid will cost billions, but "if we have another fanatical regime, or civil war with hundreds of thousands of refugees, or nuclear instability . . . what will we gain?"
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd:
"You can't ignore what happened this week." This bolsters the case for making reforms in the Soviet Union. We should support reforms, but not send a bundle of cash. "I don't think dollars are needed in the Soviet Union."
Should our defense policy change? "Our defense policy toward the Soviet Union has been cautious. We have moved bilaterally and multilaterally, which is the way to go."
Eric Belgrad, chairman of the political science department at Towson State University:
The collapse of the hard-line coup may have broken the Communist Party's resistance to change in the country, something Gorbachev was never able to do.
Gorbachev "wasn't able to bypass the party apparatus, and the economic decline in the country was nothing short of remarkable."
Party members clung to their power to control the vast government bureaucracies, thwarting reformers' efforts to abandon central control over the economy.
With the failure of the conservative coup, those forces "are now going to be essentially disenfranchised." They will be replaced by people who are more "pliant," and "much more likely to accept democracy and a market economy."