Three Days in August That “Shook” the World

It’s been 28 years since the failed attempt to save the USSR, which went down in history as the State Committee on the State of Emergency, the constitutionality of which is disputed.

Today, the short-term period – from August 19th to 21st 1991 – of the State Committee on the State of Emergency can be considered a transition from the era of “velvet” revolutions that swept through eastern Europe (from 1989 to 1991) to the era of “colour” revolutions, which formally started with the 2000 “Bulldozer revolution” in Yugoslavia. At the same time, the State Committee on the State of Emergency has signs of both “velvet” and “colour” revolutions. And the very fact of the State Committee on the State of Emergency being created was a reaction of the Soviet and party leadership to the clearly approaching “velvet” revolution in the USSR.

How does the “velvet” revolution differ from the “colour” “revolution”

The “velvet” revolution is the last stage of the voluntary surrender of power by the leadership of a specific socialist country, which itself prepared such a transition. The leadership, on its own initiative, blocks the resistance of the “velvet” revolution on the part of state authorities and ensures self-destruction, trying to simultaneously (mostly unsuccessfully) integrate into the new government.

The “colour” revolution is initiated from the outside, in conditions when the state power is stable enough and is not going to give power to political opponents. External forces paralyse the ability of the state apparatus to resist the illegal actions of the “coloured” putschists, playing on their personal (moral and/or material) dependence on the west.

At the same time, although both “velvet” and “colour” revolutions are declared as bloodless, in cases where individual structures of the old government or individual social or national groups retain the ability to actively resist, revolutionaries do not hesitate before shedding blood in any quantities.

In fact, the fundamental difference between the two types of revolutions is that in the first case, the current government independently prepares and ensures a coup, and in the second – it is forced to agree to refuse to resist the coup prepared by external forces and the internal fifth column.

The State Committee on the State of Emergency, as was already mentioned, was the reaction of most of the Union leadership to the attempt of Mikhail Gorbachev‘s group, supported by part of the regional elites, to conduct a “velvet” revolution in the USSR, turning it into a confederate union of sovereign states.

At the same time, Gorbachev himself, in his traditional style, took an ambivalent position. On the one hand, he did not interfere with the preparation of the State Committee on the State of Emergency, and on the other hand, he officially refused to join it, waiting to see who would win. To then join the winners.

State Committee on the State of Emergency starts, and loses

The openly treacherous position of the head of state (the President of the USSR and the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee) became one of the prerequisites for the defeat of the State Committee on the State of Emergency. But it cannot be said that Gorbachev’s actions had a critical impact on the fate of this attempt at a “velvet” counter-revolution. The determining factor was the unwillingness of members of the Emergency Committee to commit an active, concerted action. Apparently, they were sure that the appearance of troops on the streets of Moscow and the announcement on TV of the state of emergency would paralyse any resistance.

KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov failed to secure the internment of Boris Yeltsin and his closest associates. This did not decapitate the potential resistance of the State Committee on the State of Emergency in the capital. The head of the Interior Ministry, Boris Pugo, was unable to block the mass outpouring of Yeltsin’s support groups on the streets of the capital and their gathering to the house of Soviets of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (now the governmental House of Russia), where the resistance headquarters were based. The Minister of Defence of the USSR Marshal Dmitry Yazov did not dare to use the army to crush the resistance and allowed the partial demoralisation of the units that entered Moscow, and then the beginning of the transition of the army to the mutineers.

Thus, in the fate of the State Committee on the State of Emergency, and with it the USSR, a fatal role was played by indecision, inconsistency of unsuccessful rescuers of the state and the lack of a clear plan of action. They simply did not know what to do if not everyone obeyed them. Although most of them still obeyed, but not all, and the critical mass of those who did not obey was concentrated in the capital and had decisive leaders.

In fact, from that moment on, the State Committee on the State of Emergency operated partially in the format of a “colour” revolution. The only small difference was that its speech was not inspired from abroad, but was spontaneous, and its success was ensured by the inadequate actions of the State Committee on the State of Emergency itself. Trying to prevent a “velvet” transfer of power to the opposition, the State Committee on the State of Emergency provoked non-violent resistance, and its leaders were morally not ready to use force to suppress this resistance.

The rise and fall of “colour” technology

After that, the era of “colour” revolutions started. On the example of the helplessness of the State Committee on the State of Emergency – the leadership of the world’s most powerful non-western country, the west became convinced that the recommendations of the author of the “colour” tactics, Gene Sharp, work in real conditions, even when these conditions are not prepared specifically, but developed spontaneously. From this moment, active preparation of “colour” revolutions started in post-socialist (where the “velvet” ones did not take place) and post-Soviet countries.

For 10 years, the west created NGOs, patronised and controlled the media, and prepared a fifth column in the state structures of target countries. At the same time, it cannot be said that upon completion of training, it (the west) immediately achieved success. The “bulldozer revolution” in Yugoslavia took place only thanks to the military aggression of NATO (the bombing of 1999), which critically weakened the central government.

In Ukraine, the first Maidan, planned for the same year 2000, failed completely. It took another four years to achieve success in Ukraine and Georgia. Nevertheless, since the beginning of the noughties, “colour” revolutions were done on a conveyor belt by the west, and this successfully continued until 2014.

Evidence of the degeneration of this practice were the coups of the “Arab spring” and the coup of February 2014 in Ukraine. In all these cases, the state authorities of the target countries demonstrated their readiness and ability to resist classic (non-violent) “colour” technologies.

It took an increase in violence on the part of the “revolutionaries”, up to armed putsches and civil wars, to resolve the issue of seizing power. At the same time, the target countries themselves were too destabilised and exhausted by their internal political and economic troubles to fulfil the task assigned to them by the organisers of the coups – to tied down Russia’s forces or oust it from certain regions. On the contrary, the Crimean precedent and the Syrian crisis have shown that Moscow has managed to use the efforts of the west to improve its strategic position. The west bore the costs of organising “colour” revolutions and supporting “post-revolutionary” regimes, while Russia received the geopolitical benefits.

In fact, from this point on, “colour” technology (even at the cost of a transition to an armed putsch and civil war) could only be effectively used against the two main opponents of the United States – Russia and China. The overthrow of the legitimate authorities in Moscow and/or Beijing, the fragmentation of these states, the undermining of their economic and military power, and the seizure of power in them by a pro-Western fifth column would solve American problems, albeit briefly, but immediately.

However, the Bolotnaya speeches of 2011-2012 in Moscow and the “umbrella revolution” in Hong Kong demonstrated to the west that it is impossible to do a coup in Moscow and Beijing either “peacefully” or by force. The authorities of both countries are sufficiently experienced, adequate, and responsible to effectively resist both internal opposition (and with minimal use of force, which is not comparable to the practice of suppressing protests in the west) and external pressure.

Since 2014, the era of “colour” revolutions started to fade rapidly. In small secondary states, classical coups (on the model of the 50s-80s of the last century) are more profitable (faster and less resource-consuming).

As for Russia and China, the “colour” opposition is used not as a mechanism for seizing power, but to justify an information offensive. In addition, the Americans are trying to use the factor of support or not support for the opposition in the conditions of the collapse of Washington’s planetary hegemony for bargaining in the course of principled negotiations on a global settlement. For abandoning marginal, but noisy opposition groups, the US banally wants to get concessions on other, fundamentally important issues.

What will the west come up with now?

We can state that from an effective mechanism for changing the global situation in favour of the west, “colour” revolutions have degenerated into an attempt to sell useless goods for real money. The era, accidentally launched by the careless members of the State Emergency Committee, is ending before our eyes. However, this does not mean that the active intervention of the west in the internal affairs of Russia and other geopolitical opponents will irrevocably end. A mechanism that has lost its efficiency is always replaced by a new, even more efficient one. Only this will no longer be a “colour” revolution.

In general, the West’s interference in other people’s affairs will weaken only along with its own weakening and growth of crisis processes in western societies and state structures, and will end completely only in the event of the death of the west as a civilisation. But such an outcome is not yet visible in the near or longer term.

Rostislav Ishchenko (article written in 2019, but is just as relevant today)

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