Facing unpalatable orders, military defied coup leaders THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 26, 1991|By Carey Goldberg | Carey Goldberg,Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- The Leningrad military commander refused to send his troops into the city, the air force balked at orders from above, and an officer in the Pacific Fleet talked a skeleton crew into slipping its crippled submarine out to sea rather than serving the junta.

The turning point for the Soviet military came "when the army had to make the choice of whom to defend," the reactionaries backed by the party or Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, said Vladimir Lopatin, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's Defense Committee.

"People understood almost right away that this was an anti-constitutional putsch," said Col. Alexander Kondrashev, who helped defend the Russian government building. "We have information that by the next day, 50 percent of the personnel of the Moscow military district had come out against it."

Perhaps the most dramatic of the stories of insubordination to emerge this weekend was that of KGB Maj. Gen. Victor Karpukhin, whose account was included in a special issue of the Russian parliament's newspaper, Rossiya.

General Karpukhin was summoned by KGB chief Vladimir A. Kryuchkov at 5 a.m. last Monday, told that President Mikhail S. Gorbachev was sick and ordered to arrest Mr. Yeltsin, along with the entire leadership of the Russian parliament.

"From the very beginning, I did everything so as not to fulfill the orders of the KGB," General Karpukhin said. And the plotters had no way around him, he said, since his men would obey only him and his group of special forces was "the only force they could depend on."

Eventually, "Kryuchkov called me into his office and told me that the fate of the country depended on my actions," General Karpukhin said. He said he was "given the order to lead the putsch" and was put in charge of 15,000 men, special forces from the Interior Ministry and KGB.

General Karpukhin made up a plan to storm the Russian `D government building in the middle of the night but said, "Thank God, I could not raise my hand. In this situation, everything

depended on me. It would have been a slaughterhouse and a bloody meat grinder. I refused."

In fact, according to a dispatch from the Associated Press, 20 KGB commanders refused, one by one, to storm the Russian parliament building, Mr. Yeltsin said.

He told Russian television that commanders of the KGB's elite Alpha Group resisted intense pressure, including superiors' "threats of court-martial, execution, etc."

"About 20 commanders were invited and bullied, one by one. Not one of them agreed," he said. "Then all were gathered in a gym, but they said no, and once again no."

Mr. Yeltsin said the Alpha Group originally was ordered to "disperse" the people in front of the building and to break inside ++ it Tuesday night at 6 p.m. Because the commanders balked, the time for the attack was postponed until 8 p.m., then 10 p.m., then 1 a.m. Wednesday, then 3 a.m., the Russian president said.

When dawn broke Wednesday and the building had not been taken, the coup fell apart.

There were thousands of other mutineers, including the paratrooper lieutenant general who refused to lead his forces into Moscow and a Captain Medvedev, who, Izvestia reported, persuaded a crew of six to launch his disabled submarine into the Pacific and tried to sail away flying a Russian flag.

Captain Medvedev was apprehended by a cutter, but he will not face charges, Izvestia reported.

Reformers say they are ever more convinced that the Soviet armed forces will never be the same.

Even before Defense Minister Yevgeny I. Shaposhnikov -- who was appointed in part because he refused to order the air force to support the coup -- announced yesterday that he would replace 80 percent of the military leadership, Colonel Kondrashev said that "the changes have already started and will reach the highest echelons."

Within military units, the hated "zampolit," the deputy commander in charge of political orthodoxy, no longer will interfere with normal functioning, said Lt. Alexei Cherevko, who was expelled from his naval unit in Vladivostok for joining the Social Democratic Party.

"It was so unhealthy to have these guys who did nothing and always got the best of everything," he said.

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