In August of 1991, members of the Soviet Union’s government — who were also hard-line members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) — attempted to take control of the country. What many call a coup attempt failed in just two days.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the failed effort. During a conversation with Interfax, former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev spoke openly about the situation of the Soviet Union at the time. But he also seized the opportunity to take a stab at what many in America believe to be one of their country’s worst traits: foreign interventionism.
When the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed imminent, Gorbachev told Interfax, “I told the Americans: you are trying to impose your democracy on the people of different countries, spreading it around like coffee in bags, but we must give the people a chance to make their own choice.”
The “one-legged solutions” imposed by American governments against other nations, Gorbachev added, are inevitable and beyond the president’s power. “Even President Obama,” the former Soviet president said, “democratically elected and enjoying in this regard a significant authority in the country, could not change this course.”
His discontent seems to be rooted in how America reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union, noting “[t]hey did not want the Soviet Union to become a powerful democratic state.”
According to Gorbachev, reforms and changes were already underway, and decentralization of the Soviet Union was only a matter of time. At the time, U.S. officials feared their country’s “policy of unilateral measures … [or] the policy of US domination in global affairs” would not work, Gorbachev added, prompting U.S. officials to push for a total collapse as opposed to letting the country take its own course.
“And then, when they made a bid for Boris Yeltsin, their goal was the same – to prevent the emergence of Russia as a powerful democratic state. Remember, when the [Soviet] Union collapsed, what was the West’s reaction to this tragic event? They said, ‘this is a gift from God.’ And when Russia was on its back, the US president openly applauded the Russian leadership of the time.”
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During the interview, RT confirms, Gorbachev admitted that the union’s downfall was not mainly due to foreign intervention. Instead, he declared, “the country’s authorities and he himself were late with reforms which were strongly needed.” Said reforms included the replacement of “the centralized government planning that had been a hallmark of the Soviet system with a greater reliance on market forces.”
But Gorbachev defended his position by saying that, once the country was getting ready “to launch [reforms], reshaping the entire system of managing the [Soviet] Union … our opponents also knew that tomorrow would be too late” — meaning members of the Western world, including the United States. The former Soviet leader claimed they knew “there were contradictions, that the old shape of the Union no longer” met the needs of the country, and that the USSR “had to be reformed, decentralized, but not destroyed.”
He also added that, by then, he thought “only a fool would try to break it all.” But once he allowed confidence to grow into arrogance, Gorbachev told reporters, things got out of his control.
Twenty-five years after the failed coup, Gorbachev appears to admit that domestic intervention is just as bad as foreign intervention, providing those who are listening with a great opportunity to learn from his own mistakes as a statesman.
While the Soviet Union had a long history of perpetrating crimes against humanity that are often hard to compare to any other brutal dictatorship in history due to their devastating outcome, it’s also important to consider that many may have learned from this tragic episode in history. As a result, many now have a better grasp of human nature and voluntary exchange.
Hopefully, his words on the dangers of intervention — domestic or abroad — will resound with the Russian people, and maybe even with Americans.