Transcript of Russian Federation Duma Session with USSR President Gorbachev. August 23, 1991
Original Source: TASS, 23 August 1991
Mikhail Gorbachev met with Russian Parliamentarians at the “White House,” the seat of the Russian Parliament, in Moscow’s Krasnopresnenskaia Embankment on August 23rd.
The opening speech was made by Russian President Boris Eltsin. He congratulated Russian legislators on the “victory over the reactionary forces, the organizers of the putsch, the coup.”
The Russian President announced that all participants in the coup had been arrested and would face trial.
Eltsin said that they discussed personnel problems today with President Gorbachev and later with the Nine. Most of the personnel problems were resolved.
Gorbachev addressed people’s deputies of the Russian Federation:
I will begin with the things which I have already tried to say in the past few days. Thinking over what has happened and appraising what each has been doing, I want to pay tribute to the position assumed by the Russian Federation.
First of all the Russian people in their mass, the Russian Parliament, which expressed the will and interests of the Russian people, the government of the Russian Federation rallied and barred the way to the plotters. Proceeding from the appraisal which is based on the realities of what has happened, I would like to emphasize the outstanding role of Boris Nikolaevich Eltsin, the President of Russia, in these events.
Even when I was faced with the ultimatum-to hand over my powers to the Vice President or resign in order to save the Fatherland, I knew that this venture would fail and that the plotters would suffer a defeat and would have the fate of criminals who are pushing the country and the people to catastrophe in the most difficult time-the time of trials and search for new forms. Nevertheless, thank Goodness that everything ended the way it did, because there had been far reaching designs to deal a blow at the vanguard of democratic forces which are responsible for democratic transformations in the country, despite all complexities. Such was the scheme. The information that the president of Russia had been arrested was part of the blackmail onslaught on the President of the country. By and large, the idea was to deal a strike, to isolate the country’s President if he refuses to cooperate with the reactionary forces, and also to isolate the President of the Russian Federation.
The organizers of the plot made their biggest mistake by misjudging our society. We believe that despite all the difficulties our society has become different over the past six years. By uniting, coordinating its efforts and interacting, it can overcome these difficulties and embark on a broad road of continued reforms and transformations, turning into a new society. Thinking that the Union was on the eve of disintegration and that national catastrophes lay in store for it, the putschists hoped that the people would follow them. This was their main miscalculation.
The people did not support the plotters. The Army did not follow them, although attempts were made to draw it into this venture. We have in our possession a growing number of facts which show that the special forces which have been created for combating terrorism were precisely the forces on which the plotters pinned the greatest hopes and which were used, above all, to eliminate the democratic leadership and stop the democratic process.
People refused to do all this. The Armed Forces, including the units which were used (during the putsch) entered into contact with people in the streets and assumed a principled position. This was true of the bulk of the soldiers and officers in these units. The stake on the support of the people and the attempts to play on current hardships failed to help the putschists reach their objective. this was the main cause for their defeat.
We have approached a state in the development of society when everything should undergo change: power, the federation, the economy, property relations and the condition of the people. This will bring us to an altogether different society, in which there will be no room for reactionary forces. In this context, it was a gamble and the last attempt to take revenge and arrest this progressive process.”
Answering questions from the audience, Gorbachev broached on the further political course of the country. He emphasized the need for a radical rearrangement of political forces. “We need reliable structures of power and the placement of personnel, which would ensure the continuation of our reforms.
“We have already begun discussing our approaches to many questions. We have decided the question of the country’s Defense Minister-former commander-in-chief of the Soviet Air Force Evgenii Shaposhnikov has been appointed to this post. Vadim Bakatin has been appointed chief of the KGB, and Viktor Barannikov, the Interior Minister of the Russian Federation, has now become the Interior Minister of the USSR. We have also adopted a number of decisions in connection with the forces which should be near the leadership, the President of the country and the President of the Russian Federation who are committed to the policy of continued democratic reform. Proceeding from the lessons of the recent situation, we have created a mechanism whereby if one of the presidents cannot, due to some circumstances, give instructions, his rights and powers are automatically transferred to the other.”
Then the President of the USSR pointed to the need to resolve questions connected with the functioning of the Cabinet of Ministers of the USSR. He said that he knew two instances-one fully obvious and the other with some doubts-when members of the Cabinet refused to fulfill the orders of the plotters.
Culture Minister Gubenko refused to collaborate with the plotters and submitted his resignation. I was told that he came out against the plotters at a session of the Cabinet of Ministers, but I have yet to check all this, because I have received some last-minute information that this is not quite so. A more or less critical stand has been assumed by Vladimir Shcherbakov. You think this is not true? Sorry. Boris Nikolaevich gave me short notes of that session when we met, but I had no time to read them. Comrade Primakov told me that Vorontsov expressed a clearly negative position with respect to the decisions of the plotters.
Eltsin asked Gorbachev to read the notes out loud. He stressed that these notes were taken at the session of the Cabinet at 6 p.m. on August 19th, i.e., at the time the storm of the Russian Parliament was to begin.
Gorbachev: I will read this document in a moment. I will read it with you as I have not yet read it myself. I had differing information about the behavior of the Foreign Minister. He either maneuvered or did not assume a clear position. I have relieved Alexander Bessmertnykh from the duties of the Foreign Minister.
I think that we will be able to find a correct approach. This government as a whole should resign. We are to approach the formation of a new Cabinet of Ministers extremely thoroughly, taking into consideration the competence of every contender, his or her political positions and adherence to democracy and the policy of reforms. We should bear in mind, first and foremost, how the republics are represented. It should be a representative and able Cabinet, because a lot of work needs to be done right away and in the future we should be able to solve problems without delay-people expect us to act like this.
Having exchanged opinions, we have agreed to work out proposals and formulate a common approach in this field.- As Alexander Iakovlev said yesterday, we should see to it that there are no more rogues in the Cabinet. I
So, the first most important thing is to continue a course of transformation and the formation of a power structure capable of shouldering this responsibility. This will be the best possible guarantee for the future.
We should advance by more rapid strides to the Union Treaty. After all, it was the prospect of signing this treaty, no matter how strongly it might be criticized by different sides, that made the reactionary forces attempt this putsch. These forces know what the new Treaty and its consequences mean.
Of particular importance now is the opinion of all republics. We should keep together at a hard time like this. We can criticize the weak points of the Ogarevo process. There are some weak points, indeed, and we are perfectly aware of them. What is more, it will take strenuous efforts to reach agreement on cooperation.
We are only creating a mechanism which we badly need. That is why all the republics, all their leaders expressed themselves in favor of continued interaction within the framework of an integral Union. Such cooperation is of special importance in the social and economic field in order to solve faster the tasks the crisis has set forth. We are confronted with a very real problem-the problem of survival. Just look what the so-called Emergency Situation Committee played on. It began by proposing precisely what the governments of republics have been doing lately-the elaboration of a food program which is to help us to live up to the next harvest, the problems of heat supply for the coming winter, stabilization of finances in order to clear a way to economic reforms. All these questions are under consideration right now. 0
We will have to adopt some very unpopular measures. We, all the leaders of the republics, will have to do this. To finish the subject of structures, I think that the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, too, will have to adopt the necessary decisions. The Parliament of the country should act in the wake of what has been manifested in these decisive days. If we had the courage to survive, we will have the courage to bring the putschists to account. By the way, today we agreed with Boris Eltsin to set up a joint team of investigators from the USSR and the Russian Federation. This decision has been backed by all republics. The team will be supervised by the Procurators-General of the USSR and the Russian Federation. The latter will report to us and we will report to you and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on the progress of the investigation. We will make the decisions which will be required by the law.
Gorbachev recalled that the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was to hold its session on August 26.
Gorbachev: I think that Russian MPs and Parliamentarians from other republics will take part in its work. The country’s Supreme Soviet consists of deputies who, like you, have been elected by the people. I think that it will be up to the mark and adopt the necessary decisions. I am sure that there will be no differences in decision-making. I ask you not to be in a hurry to pass judgments and, in particular, on the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. I know there are people who will have to answer, and they will answer.
You, however, should show maturity. The Supreme Soviet of the USSR will begin its work in two days.
Having assumed a firm position in these days of trouble, all the republics supported Russia. By assuming a firm and clear stand, Russia has changed the entire situation and now, after overcoming a crisis, the people of Russia should act jointly with all the Supreme Soviets and peoples of all republics. This is how real Russian people would behave. I will tell you what I think. I hope that you will understand me correctly. A vast opportunity offers itself now for a unifying mission of Russia, the Russian Parliament, the Congress of the Russian Federation’s People’s Deputies, the Russian Government and the entire Russian people. We, Russians, should fulfill this mission to the end. Do you really think that everything is already behind us? This would be a simplistic view of the situation. The most serious troubles and trials are yet ahead. In the next few months we must do our best for the people to see that things have started changing for the better.
I think that the investigation will help us. We saw these people rear their heads in society, at the plenums of the Communist Party Central Committee and in the Supreme Soviet. We, however, did not yield to them. Nevertheless, they took this step. I think that people in their senses would not do such a thing. These are people who lost their heads, lost a sense of responsibility. It is a clear case of treachery and traitors. I must honestly tell you that for me it is a very hard drama.
This is all the more so as the ultimatum has been delivered by Boldin, my chief of staff, the man whom I completely trusted; Shenin, a member of the Politbiuro and secretary of the Central Committee; and Baklanov, my deputy in the Defense Council and ex-secretary of the Central Committee. The fourth person who arrived with them was General of the Army Varennikov. He was not a close associate of mine. But later on he went to the Ukraine to give Kravchuk an ultimatum. By the way, we should make a distinction between those who masterminded the whole thing, who joined them later, who. wrote telegrams and organized local support committees, on the one hand, and rank-and-file members of the party workers, collective farmers and intellectuals, on the other, so that to protect the latter. I welcome the position of Anatolii Sobchak, who said that we must not take the strictest measures under law against all those who were involved in the putsch or assisted the putschists by wiping up anticommunist hysteria. This would be used against the people. We all should bear this in mind. I think that we will adopt decisions which are necessary. What is more, I realized it before, for, otherwise, there would not have been the Novo-Ogarevo process, and I have become convinced once again that the lack of unity among the democrats poses the most serious danger. Disunity would be the biggest gift to the hardliners and reactionaries who dream of bringing the country back to the old times. The most important task is to unite the democratic forces. This has been clearly shown by the events of the past few days.
Then the Soviet President read excerpts from the protocol of the closed door extended meeting of the USSR Cabinet of Ministers held on August 19th under the chairmanship of former Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov. It follows from the text that many officials supported the committee which had been created by political adventurists. It was suggested that each case should be considered separately.
Eltsin said that after a thorough check-out this information would be published in the daily Izvestiia.
Gorbachev: Boris Nikolaevich has sent me a package of decisions which he has made. I have read them. When asked yesterday whether these decisions were legitimate or not, I answered that in the obtaining situation for the country and the Russian leadership there was no other way, in my opinion. All that the Supreme Soviet, the President and the Government of the Russian federation did had been prompted by circumstances and was perfectly legitimate.
Eltsin: I would ask you to codify this statement by a presidential decree.
Gorbachev: Come on, Boris Nikolaevich, we have not agreed to give away everything right away.
Eltsin: This is a very serious question.
Gorbachev: When we met today, we had a very serious discussion with Boris Nikolaevich on this question. Yes, all these decrees corresponded to the situation in which they were issued. Therefore, they were quite legitimate because they pursued a definite aim. We agreed that the President of the USSR should issue a corresponding decree to legally codify them. This is a necessary precedent.
Eltsin: I have put in a special folder all the decrees and resolutions which were adopted in the besieged “White House,” I am giving you this folder.
Gorbachev: I am now going to read notes. I have answered some of them. Some authors make their suggestions concerning the KGB and the Armed Forces. By the way, we have relieved Comrade Moiseev of this duties as the head of the General Staff. Comrade Lobov has taken over. We intend to appoint Comrade Grachev, commander of the land troops, to the post of First Deputy Defense Minister of the USSR.
Eltsin: Evgenii Shaposhnikov has been appointed Defense Minister and Grachev, who organized the defense of the “White House,” his first deputy and also chairman of the Russian Committee for Defense Questions.
Gorbachev: Indeed, we have adopted many decisions, I will not even mention all of them right now. New proposals will be made in the next day or two. We are in for a clean-up, so to speak. Agreed?
Eltsin: I have made representations to the President of the country to confer the title of General of the Army on Konstantin Kobets. I have signed a paper on promoting Colonel Rutskoi to the rank of major-General. The President has agreed to such promotions.
Gorbachev: Comrades, I would now like to deal with a. couple of tactical questions. Judging by everything, different members of the Emergency Situation Committee bear different responsibility for the coup. As far as I know, Starodubtsev found out that he had been included in the committee only at 10 a.m. on August 19. I am asked whether I have received a letter of explanation from Starodubtsev and what my attitude to it is. I haven’t received any letters.
Then questions are asked through the microphones in the hall. The President is reminded that he had once again reaffirmed his allegiance to socialism and intention to improve the Soviet Communist Party. Someone asks whether socialism should be banned from the USSR and the Communist Party disbanded as a criminal organization.
Gorbachev: The question is worded in a very straightforward manner, and I will answer accordingly.
If you take up the problem of banishing socialism from the USSR in the Supreme Soviet and Government of the Russian Federation and even all the Supreme Soviets and Governments, we still won’t be able to solve it. It will be a kind of crusade and a latter-day religious war. Socialism is a conviction for some people not only in our country today but also in other countries and in other times. We have declared freedom of convictions and pluralism of opinions. No one has the right to pose the question of driving socialism away. This is a utopia and “witch-hunt.” Each determines his or her position, chooses a party or a movement or does not chose any.
Now about the second part of the question. I cannot agree with the proposal to ban the Communist Party as a criminal organization. There are certainly people, trends and groups in As party which do impede the processes of renewal and which have been culprits (in the putsch), for which they should be held responsible either politically or legally-it depends. But I will never agree that we should disband all communists, workers and peasants. No, it is impermissible to ban the Communist Party as a criminal organization. There are people in its leadership, including Secretariat, who did not have the guts to stand up in defense of their General Secretary and demand a meeting with him. There are party committees which decided to help the so-called Emergency Situation Committee. Each of these people should be held responsible for their actions. But I will never agree to qualify millions of workers and peasants as criminals.
What is more, we have submitted for discussion our new Program. It proclaims ideas and aims which are hard to contest. If this Program is adopted, those who support it will be democrats and they will be with you.
The President is asked about his position on the proposal of a group of Russian Parliamentarians to adopt urgent measures in order to- eradicate conditions conducive to coups and other similar situations. In the opinion of these Parliamentarians, these measures should provide for the immediate elimination of parallel administration by party structures. It is suggested that the central bodies of the CPSU and the Russian Communist Party-the Central Committees, the Politbiuro, regional and territorial party committees, the political bodies inside the KGB, the Interior Ministry, the Army and the Navy-should be disbanded for the transition period, the property of the CPSU and the RCP nationalized and their financial resources, including hard currency, used for social needs. The party property should be nationalized in the atmosphere of openness, under the control of deputies and public commissions; the KGB disbanded, new security bodies created by uniting the corresponding bodies of the republics and frontier troops, subordinated directly to the President.
Gorbachev: Having made Vadim Bakatin Chairman of the State Security Committee, we have written in the same decree the following: “To submit proposals for the reorganization of this committee.” Other questions will be considered in a short while. By the way, the problems which you raise here were discussed during my meeting with the leaders of all the republics. So, we will solve them and elaborate the necessary attitudes and measures without delay. I repeat, however, that everything should be done in a legitimate way.
The President is asked his opinion on the appointment of the key figures in the government, including the Prime Minister. In the opinion of a group of Parliamentarians, this post should be occupied by a representative of Russia. “There is a candidate who has proved to be a very efficient professional-Ivan Silaev, if he agrees, of course.”
Gorbachev: Boris Nikolaevich knows my position. I think that the President of the country and the Prime Minister should represent Russia, the vice-president another republic, preferably a Central Asian one. I have not given up this position. As for the other part of the question, we have discussed the situation around the Council of Ministers, which is very acute, indeed. We agreed to think it over during the next few days and work out a common approach. It is important to form a coalition government with the participation of all the republics.
One of the MPs says: anti-communism is a response to communism and a return to the norm in the same way as anti-fascism is a response to fascism and a return to the norm. There is either a fascist or a communist hysteria. That is why the CPSU, which from the outset was created on criminal principles, is a party of betrayal. What prevents the President from issuing a decree on sealing all the buildings which belong to the CPSU? According to this MP, the Central Committee is transferring huge sums of money, including in hard currency, from its bank accounts. This should be stopped.
All these questions are to be settled in the next few days, replies the President. “That is why I will not dwell on this issue now. If anything illegal is really taking place, I agree that measures need to betaken to stop it.”
Eltsin: We have taken such measures and sealed the Central Committee building.
Gorbachev: Try to control your emotions. We badly need clear heads on our shoulders now.
Then the President talks about allegations that he knew about plans for the putsch. Some people who claim this refer to the interview which Anatolii Lukianov gave on August 19.
Gorbachev: The forces which have suffered a defeat are capable of any concoctions. This is a gross lie and a rude attempt to cast a shade on the President and his reputation. They failed to blackmail me into signing any kind of document or making a statement. I then knew that they would do their utmost to get me into a condition which would accord with their statement on my alleged disability to fulfill my constitutional functions. I have not seen or read (Lukianov’s) statement. If he says so, he is simply a crook.
Gorbachev is reminded that during the Fourth Congress Russia’s Vice President Rutskoi waited in the President’s office for three hours but the President did not receive him. The events of the past few days have shown, an MP says, that the Russian Parliament is your only reliable support. Have you realized this?
Gorbachev: I think we need each other as people committed to the idea of democratic transformation. A rift or a split between us would be tantamount to the end of this process.
The President is told that in his statements he describes mostly the way he was treated in his Crimea residence, including the behavior of his granddaughter. Today, too, some MPs say, we have heard practically nothing about what you are going to do further with the exception of a few personnel changes. We haven’t heard anything about the Russian property.
Gorbachev: I have said that we have come up right to the implementation of specific measures designed to bring about renewal-the signing of a Union Treaty, the implementation of the anti-crisis program, food and fuel problems and the stabilization of finances. To do all these necessary things, we need to regroup our forces and create new legislative and executive authorities capable of assuming responsibility, commanding the trust of the people and ready to finish what we have started. We have come up to a stage at which specific tasks of democratic transformation should be carried through.
Eltsin: Just a moment, Mikhail Sergeevich. The question was about property ownership. I want to remind you that even prior to these events we agreed that if you do not make up your mind about the transfer to Russia of all property in its territory, then the President of Russia would issue a corresponding decree. On August 20th I signed a decree in accordance with which all the property in the territory of the Russian Federation, with the exception of the functions delegated to the Union, belongs to Russia. You have said today that you will sign a decree confirming all the decrees I have issued over this period.
Gorbachev: I do not think that you have forced me into a trap. The wording should be more precise.
Eltsin said that he had signed a decree suspending activities of the Russian Communist Party, pending the investigation of its participation in the coup. “This is perfectly legitimate. The Russian Communist Party has not been registered by the Justice Ministry of the Russian Federation,” he says.
Gorbachev: Be democrats to the end, and then all the genuine democrats and sober-minded people will be on your side.
The President is asked his opinion about the people who headed the state committees. Is the President capable of qualifying the position of the secretaries of party committees up to the Central Committee? What will the President’s next steps be?
Gorbachev: If there is a need for the most decisive measures justified by the situation, I will take such measures. I am ready for this morally and politically. We should show that we can solve things in a legitimate and democratic manner. I will insist on precisely such a way of action. But this should not be to the detriment of our resolve and firmness.
Eltsin: I can confirm that during our today’s one-on-one conversation which lasted for an hour and a half Mikhail Sergeevich firmly assured me that corresponding measures would be taken with respect to the persons who were involved in the coup, whether directly or indirectly. These should be resolute and stem measures prompted by the law. There should be no mercy on these people.
Several more questions are asked from the audience. Certain things were explained and clarified.
At the request of the deputies, the President laid down his attitude to Alexander Iakovlev and Eduard Shevardnadze. “They have been with me since April 1985, sharing a hard search for the right way and also the mistakes that have been made. I most of all appreciate their contribution to the choice of a way and the elaboration of a course.
A voice from the audience: But they have resigned.
Gorbachev: I am against the resignation of both of them. But I cannot keep persuading them if they wish it their own way.