Of cuckoo coup, there's much ado (and ballyhoo, too)

ROGER SIMON *

August 23, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

Does it occur to anyone besides me that the coup in the Soviet Union made no sense from the very beginning?

That it was the Coup That Couldn't Shoot Straight? The Koup Klutz Plan?

All the analysts are saying the same thing: Why didn't the coup leaders grab Boris Yeltsin when they grabbed Mikhail Gorbachev?

Surely they knew that Yeltsin was a firebrand, a passionately committed democrat and, as president of the Russian Republic, that he commanded considerable resources.

But no, they leave him in place to organize a resistance movement. Does this make any sense?

And why didn't the coup leaders cut off the Western press? Why didn't they cut off the satellite links and the telephone lines? The Chinese, during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, finally learned that you couldn't run a really good massacre with Western newspeople broadcasting your every move on live TV.

But no, the satellite hookups in the Soviet Union stay in place and the phone lines stay up, and while the coup leaders are trying to consolidate power, Diane Sawyer is interviewing Boris Yeltsin on the nightly news. Does this make sense?

No, none of it made sense. Which is why I believe it was all a fake.

The Russians are masters of this. They call it disinformation, an art form they perfected. Sometimes they do it subtly and sometimes they do it boldly, but consider these scenarios:

1. GORBACHEV WAS BEHIND HIS OWN COUP. Think about it. Gorbachev comes back from the economic summit in London with peanuts. The Western powers make great speeches about how they love democracy in the Soviet Union, but they won't give Gorbachev the hard dollars he needs to make democracy work.

So Gorbachev gets eight nobodies together, including his own vice president, and he tells them to fake a coup. Nothing very long, mind you. Just a three-day coup. And what can he expect?

That the West will be consumed with worry over another coup and will pour money into the Soviet Union to prevent it.

You don't believe this scenario? Well, in that case you have to believe that three overweight generals and some KGB thugs were able to arrest Gorbachev in the Crimea.

Gorbachev isn't constantly surrounded by hand-picked security forces that are personally loyal to him? He just walks around unprotected? He doesn't even pack heat? Yeah, right.

Or try the next scenario:

2. YELTSIN WAS BEHIND THE COUP. Who really emerges from this coup as a national hero? It is Yeltsin, the man who climbed on top of a tank. Gorbachev emerges as a weenie, the guy who got locked in his own house.

Yeltsin has never liked Gorbachev, but is not yet ready to take complete power. So he stages a short-term coup to make himself an international figure. He probably hired a U.S. public relations firm to engineer the whole thing. Or maybe he just talked to Roger Ailes.

3. CNN WAS BEHIND THE COUP. CNN's ratings soared with the Persian Gulf War. Bernie Shaw and Peter Arnett became stars, with book contracts and speaking fees to match.

But what happened after the war? CNN's ratings sank back to normal, even though they have a number of anchors who look like they could be exotic dancers.

So what better way to boost ratings than through a world crisis that CNN can cover live? Besides, world crises help CNN in another way: They force the other networks to break into their daytime soap operas to do news bulletins, losing the networks money and making people very angry.

4. HENRY KISSINGER AND OTHER SOVIET EXPERTS WERE BEHIND THE COUP. These guys haven't been able to get on TV since before the Gulf War. Imagine spending all of your life studying the Politburo, Five-Year Plans and rural electrification, and finding out that nobody cares.

But overnight, the Soviet experts are sought-after again. I turned on the TV and saw Kissinger and asked myself: When is the last time anybody listened to this guy about anything? Was it during the bombing of Cambodia?

Now Kissinger is on the tube and the anchors are nodding sagely and pretending they can figure out what the heck he is talking about. Or even what he is saying.

Ditto for Vladimir Posner, the oily Soviet talk show host, who now defends democracy with the same glibness with which he once defended Communism. Posner is trying to launch a new talk show with Phil Donahue and needs the publicity. And does anyone believe this guy wouldn't send a few tanks into the street to do it?

5. I LAUNCHED THE COUP. I didn't mean to. I was screwing around with the new fax machine in the office and I said to a colleague: "What do you suppose would happen if I sent 100 faxes to leaders in the Soviet Union saying: 'The time for the coup is at hand!' "

My colleague thought for a moment and responded: "You'd probably get eight or nine guys to fall for it."

The rest is history. Sorry.

6. NONE OF THE ABOVE. OK, so none of those five scenarios makes much sense. I admit that.

But then again, they don't make any less sense than the official story.

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