The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
MR. MacNeil: Good evening. The stunning overthrow of Mikhail Gorbachev by Communist hardliners dominates the news this Monday. Gorbachev was reported under house arrest as Soviet tanks took up positions throughout Moscow. Russian leader Boris Yeltsin called for a nationwide strike to protest the ouster. President Bush said the U.S. would not recognize the new regime and called for Gorbachev's return to power. We'll have the details in a moment. Judy Woodruff's in Washington tonight. Judy.
MS. WOODRUFF: We spend the entire NewsHour tonight on the developments in the Soviet Union. We'll have reports from Moscow and reaction around the world. Then four Soviet analysts, including two former KGB agents, will join us to assess what's happened. And we'll get the U.S. view of it all from three American policy experts.NEWS SUMMARY
MR. MacNeil: Mikhail Gorbachev was removed from power today in a pre-dawn coup by Communist hardliners backed by troops and tanks. The man who turned the Soviet Union from cold war towards free institutions was pushed out by a committee of eight led by his own vice president, Gennady Yanayev. Yanayev said Gorbachev was ill, but there were reports he was under house arrest at his vacation home in the Crimea. The new leaders immediately declared a state of emergency, banned demonstrations, and asserted control over the media. But Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Federation, declared the coup illegal and called for a general strike in defiance. In return, the new regime warned of the danger of armed conflict. We have a report from Moscow by Independent Television News Correspondent Robert Moore.
MR. MOORE: There were scenes of desperation in Moscow this afternoon, scenes of anger, frustration. The Red Army tanks had rolled into the heart of the city and not even heroic gestures could stop them. Workers and shoppers quickly surrounded the security forces -- pleading with them, appealing for the sake of the Russian motherland for them to go home. Some even tried grappling with the tank crews. But it was an act of futility, an act of people bewildered, not violent. The tanks had come not to the Kremlin, but to the seat of the Russian parliament a mile away. There was a reason for this, for inside the building was one man who has the popular appeal that might yet reverse this right wing coup de ta. From the Baltics to the Soviet Far East, life is now paralyzed. There are growing fears that a massive purge against the reformers may soon begin. No one knows whether they have time to regroup and what will happen if they do. A senior general gave the protesters some hope this afternoon, raising the specter that the army might refuse to disburse the crowds. "Don't assume that everyone in uniform will obey orders," He said. "The army will never fight against its own people. But tonight the tension is still rising with an announcement that all but nine newspapers will be banned, that Moscow is under a state of emergency. Soviet TV gave the news, reading a statement that was cataclysmic in tone. "We're addressing you at a critical hour," the announcer said. "There is mortal danger for our motherland. The country has become ungovernable." The timing was no coincidence. Tomorrow the Kremlin was due to sign an historic union treaty that would have redistributed much of Gorbachev's power to the individual republics. It was too much for the hardliners to bear. The man who has taken over is Vice President Gennady Yanayev, whose reputation as a hard-liner is matched only by his image as a gray man who would serve loyally. But that was Gorbachev's error, for many of the men he promoted have now turned round and destroyed his frail program. Dimitri Yasov, the defense minister, the KGB boss, Vladimir Krichkov, even his own prime minister, Valentin Pavlov, all have deserted Gorbachev when he needed them most.
MR. MacNeil: Early in the day, Russian President Republic -- Republic President Boris Yeltsin called on the Soviet people to challenge the coup leaders. The onetime Gorbachev rival made the appeal on top of a tank near the Russian parliament building. Later he told a crowd of about 5,000 people the reactionaries who staged the coup would not succeed. The crowd chanted, "Bring them to justice." A column of 10 tanks reportedly loyal to Yeltsin took up positions near the Russian parliament and barricades around the building were reinforced. Yeltsin also ordered the responsibilities of the KGB and Soviet defense forces in the Russian Republic be turned over to forces loyal to him. It was not clear how he intended to enforce that decree. Also today Soviet naval and land forces moved to take control of the three breakaway Baltic republics. Government officials said they were threatened with arrest if they resisted. Judy.
MS. WOODRUFF: President Bush issued a statement tonight condemning what he called "an unconstitutional resort to force." He said, "This misguided and illegitimate effort bypasses both Soviet law and the will of the Soviet people." He called for Gorbachev to be restored to power and said the U.S. will not recognize the new regime. The President interrupted his vacation to deal with the crisis. He returned to the White House this afternoon for meetings with top advisers, including the man he appointed to be ambassador to the Soviet Union, Bob Strauss. Strauss will be sworn into that job tomorrow morning. Before leaving Kennebunkport, Maine, this morning, Mr. Bush spoke to reporters.
PRES. BUSH: It seems clearer all the time that contrary to official statements out of Moscow, that this move was extra- constitutional, outside of the constitutional provisions for governmental change. Clearly, it's a disturbing development. There's no question about that. And it could have serious consequences for the Soviet society and in Soviet relations with other countries, including the United States.
MS. WOODRUFF: The President said it was in the U.S. interest to go ahead with the recently signed Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, but he said the U.S. and other countries will suspend economic aid to the Soviet Union because of the coup. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft traveled with mr. Bush on the trip from Maine to Washington. Aboard Air Force One reporters asked Scowcroft if the U.S. was considering other options to show its disapproval, including military ones.
BRENT SCOWCROFT, National Security Adviser: I think you've got to remember this is an internal development in the Soviet Union and it is not something that we are directly engaged in, other than as we react either, you know, good government, bad government, and so on, but it's not up to the United States. The Soviet Union is going to have to work it out for itself.
MS. WOODRUFF: Both Sec. of State James Baker and Defense Sec. Dick Cheney are cutting short their vacations to return to Washington late tonight. They are not expected to meet with President Bush until tomorrow. The Soviet ambassador to the United States went to the State Department at mid-day. He reiterated to Deputy Sec. of State Lawrence Eagleburger the new government's pledge to continue reforms and good relations with the West. There was swift and stunned reaction around the world to the Soviet news. UN Sec. General Javier Perez DeCuellar said he hoped the coup would not lead to violence or derail democracy in Eastern Europe. We get more reaction in this report narrated by Louise Bates of Worldwide Television News.
MS. BATES: At the Soviet embassy in Bonn security was increased for fear of protest after the overthrow of the popular Soviet President, but there was no real trouble, just a small and peaceful gesture which illustrated the feelings many Germans have toward Gorbachev. The real protesting was left to the world leaders sharing sympathy for the deposed President. Many saw German Chancellor Helmut Kohl as the closest Western leader to Gorbachev. He cut short his summer holiday to warn the new Soviet leadership it could lose aid if it halts the process of reform. He issued a five point list of demands, one of which stated that Gorbachev should not be harmed. Britain joined the international voice of condemnation. British Prime Minister John Major had been early consulting with other leaders.
JOHN MAJOR, Prime Minister, Britain: There seems little doubt that President Gorbachev has been removed from power by an unconstitutional seizure of power. There are constitutional ways of removing the President to the Soviet Union. They have not been used.
MS. BATES: His predecessor, who broke the ice with Gorbachev, wants a freeze on Western defense cuts.
MARGARET THATCHER, Former Prime Minister, Britain: Those cuts which were going to be implemented should not be implemented now. We must pause to see what happens.
MS. BATES: Eastern Europeans like Czechoslav President Vaclav Havel pledged that there was no turning back from their own freedom, despite the problems in Moscow. President Havel said the process of radical political and economic reform could not be reversed, but East European nations are still tied to the Soviet economy. All of Czechoslovakia's fuel, for example, comes from the Soviet Union. Like many Western leaders, French President Francois Mitterrand voiced disapproval of the coup after lengthy talks. He has a warm relationship with Gorbachev. The two men signed a wide ranging Franco-Soviet friendship treaty. Meanwhile, in Brussels, there was an emergency session of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. A meeting of foreign ministers of member states has been called for later in the week.
MS. WOODRUFF: The government of Iraq was one of the few to welcome today's dramatic change in the Soviet Union. A spokesman said under Gorbachev the Soviet Union followed a policy that negatively affected the international situation and had negative consequences in third world countries, especially in Iraq. The spokesman expressed hope that the new regime would redress what he called "the international imbalance."
MR. MacNeil: World financial markets were thrown into turmoil by the news from the Soviet Union. The dollar shot up against foreign currencies and gold surged more than $2 an ounce. Stocks fell sharply around the world. The London Exchange closed down more than 4 percent. In Tokyo, the Nikkei Average fell nearly 6 percent, its third worst day ever. On the New York Stock Exchange, the Dow Industrial Average plummeted more than a hundred points in the first hour of trading. It later recovered some of that loss, closing down nearly 70 points on the day.
MS. WOODRUFF: For the remainder of tonight's program, we analyze the forces and people behind the coup. Within hours after the takeover, the new leaders in Moscow called reporters in to give an explanation of what they had done. Roger Mudd has more. Roger. FOCUS - OUT OF POWER
MR. MUDD: Instead of the single charismatic Gorbachev the world had become accustomed to over the past six years, it was once again eight men in gray suits who held the power. It was the first appearance of the state committee for the state of emergency and it included the head of the KGB, the defense minister, the interior minister, and the police. The press conference was held today in the foreign ministry's press center outside the Kremlin. Acting President Gennady Yanayev began by calling this a "crucial moment for the Soviet Union." "A drastic drop in production," he said, "poses a real threat of survival of the Soviet nations. The situation has gone out of control." Yanayev said, "We're also facing a threat of disintegration, the break-up of a single economy, a single defense, a single foreign policy." "A normal life under these circumstances is impossible," he declared. The acting President said that "Action has become mandatory."
GENNADY YANAYEV: [Speaking through Interpreter] To do nothing at this crucial period means to take grave responsibility for tragic and very unpredictable circumstances. Anyone who wants to live and work in peace, who does not accept the bloodshed, who wants to see his homeland in prosperity, must make the only right choice. We call on all genuine patriots, all people of good will, to put an end to this turbulent time. We call on all the citizens of the USSR to fulfill their responsibility and to provide the necessary support to the state of emergency committee in its efforts to get the country out of the crisis.
MR. MUDD: The urgent measures Yanayev promised came in a 1300 word decree and contains language that is not only heavily bureaucratic but also ominous and foreboding. For instance, "All bodies of authority and administration of the USSR, union and autonomous republics, territories, regions, cities, districts, villages, and settlements should ensure unfailing compliance with state of emergency regulations." Quoting further, "In the event of their inability to ensure the observance of these regulations, the powers of the respective bodies are to be suspended." And quoting again: "The structures of power acting contrary to the Constitution and laws of the USSR are to be dismantled immediately." Beyond that, the decree suspends the activities of all political parties, requires citizens and organizations to turn in without delay all unlawfully held weapons and munitions, disallows all rallies, street marches, demonstrations and strikes, permits curfews and interrogations, and tighter border and custom control, and established state control over the mass media. In addition, the cabinet of ministers is instructed to ease the food shortage by assigning all city dwellers up to 1/3 of an acre to grow fruit and vegetables, to prepare the nation for the coming winter fuel and power crisis, and to put together a five year plan to relieve the housing shortage. When Yanayev was finished, the very first question, of course, was, "Where is Mikhail Gorbachev?" Yanayev's answer drew derisive laughter from the press.
GENNADY YANAYEV, Acting President, USSR: [Speaking through Interpreter] Well, let me say that Mikhail Gorbachev is now on vacation. He is undergoing treatment, himself, in our country. He is very tired after these many years and he will need some time to get better -- [laughter from press] -- and it is our hope -- it is our hope that Mikhail Gorbachev as soon as he feels better will take up again his office. At any rate, the policy that was initiated back in 1985 by Mikhail Gorbachev will be continued by all those present here.
MR. MUDD: Repeatedly Yanayev was asked about Gorbachev and each time he tried to assure a skeptical press that he was safe, that he was only temporarily incapacitated, and that as soon as he felt better, he would meet the press. Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President, however, said Gorbachev has been detained at his home in the Crimea. Today when asked about Yeltsin's call for a general strike to protest Gorbachev's removal, Acting President Yanayev said such conduct was dangerous and irresponsible. Robin.
MR. MacNeil: We now get the views of four Soviet-born analysts. Stanislav Levchenko is a former KGB intelligence officer who defected to the United States in 1979. Victor Sheymov is a former major in charge of security and communication at KGB Moscow headquarters. His defection 10 years ago was made public just last year. He is now a consultant to U.S. companies. Vitaly Korotich is editor of the Soviet magazine Ogonyok. He's been in the US as a fellow at the Freedom Foreign Media Study Center at Columbia University. Dimitri Simes is a senior associate fellow at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. He left the Soviet Union in 1973. Vitaly Korotich, what are Yanayev and the others trying to do by grabbing power now, and can they get away with it?
MR. KOROTICH: First of all, they try to call back the power of the Communist Party, previous system of ruling, and keep the Soviet empire together. They're acting strongly against the right of national republic. This commission is illegal. Those leaders absolutely criminal people, and at the same time they did it before, one day before on 20, August 20, it was promised to sign first union treaty; they stopped it because all they represented, our national power, army, KGB party -- they want to survive. Of course, it's not fight for socialism, for communism; it's fight of Soviet bureaucracy for their survival.
MR. MacNeil: Can they succeed?
MR. KOROTICH: No, never. Never. But bloodshed is possible. I think they are too late. I think few years ago they had more chances. Now after we know the taste of freedom, now when they're the most unpopular people in our country, because it was necessary to organize the most unpopular people in one -- I think they have no chances, but they have a lot of power and having so many power, they can do a lot of dirty things.
MR. MacNeil: Um mm. Dimitri Simes, what do you think they are trying to do? And then I'll ask you: Can they succeed?
MR. SIMES: Well, I think what they're trying to do is to save their political skin. If tomorrow the union treaty would be signed, if there would be new democratic elections the first of May, then as new parliament, then as the president, these people would be out of power, the party would be destroyed as a ruling party, and this is not a political party in the Western sense, they do not know how to exist without being in power. Can they succeed? The answer is no, absolutely not. I completely agree with Vitaly Korotich. It is too late. It is not China during the Tiananmen Square. There are new legitimate authorities like Boris Yeltsin. There are republics. We still did not hear from the Ukrainians, from Kazikstan, from Transcaucuses, but it may be bloody mess, and these people acted in the name of law and order, and my concern is that in the process they may trigger a civil war.
MR. MacNeil: They do what, I'm sorry?
MR. SIMES: My concern is that while acting in the name of law and order, they may trigger a civil war.
MR. MacNeil: I see. Mr. Levchenko, you and Mr. Sheymov are both former KGB men. What do you make of the manner of the coup, no bloodshed, no mass arrests so far, immediately calling a press conference to reassure the world that the Soviet Union is going to honor its commitments and so on, is that a KGB coup?
MR. LEVCHENKO: The manner is frightening and in many ways it is a KGB coup because the -- one of many responsibilities of KGB as the largest secret police in the history of civilization is to watch their own leaders and they monitor telephone conversations between the members of Politburo and other Soviet leaders. They assign security details to them which, on one hand, you know, are in charge of their security, but, on the other hand, they're spying after them. So definitely KGB was not reporting for quite a while to Mr. Gorbachev on what was really going on inside of his own circle and due to the complacency of KGB and personally Gen. Krichkov in the plot, the plot succeeded because it's only KGB again can -- is capable of doing it in total secrecy.
MR. MacNeil: Both Mr. Simes and Mr. Korotich think this cannot succeed. What do you think?
MR. LEVCHENKO: I agree both with Mr. Korotich and Mr. Simes. I think the hardliners are a little bit late in their agony, however, you know, for me, for instance, I do believe that within few months, probably within a year, all of them will be gone. The problem, however, is that they can cause great civil unrest and maybe civil war in the Soviet Union and before they will be kicked out of power, unfortunately, a lot of people can die.
MR. MacNeil: Mr. Sheymov, what is your view of the coup, the manner in which it's carried out and can it succeed?
MR. SHEYMOV: Well, I've seen quite a few KGB orchestrated coups while being in the center, and I must say that this is a very, very unusual coup, in a sense that -- first of all the timing. Most coups happen on Friday, Saturday. This is the coup which happened on Monday, which is very unfortunate for the participants, because everyone is in town, so it looks like this coup wasn't really designed to succeed in the first place. Secondly, there are certain signs how the coup performs. The KGB knows that in order for any coup to succeed one has to act extremely decisively and that's what they do. You can recall a lot of examples of it like -- Afghanistan, and so on. This coup, the head of the government was just isolated and not eliminated. They could have done much better than that. For instance, they could arrange let's say a heart attack for Mr. Gorbachev and do the same thing with the commission. That would be much more plausible and at least they had much better chance of succeeding.
MR. MacNeil: What did you mean, Mr. Sheymov, what did you mean when you said it perhaps was designed not to succeed? What does that mean?
MR. SHEYMOV: Well, I wouldn't exclude, it's certainly not a high probability, but certainly I wouldn't exclude that Mr. Gorbachev could be behind that coup, because he could benefit more than anybody else from this coup. For instance, he went recently to London. He was literally begging for help and he didn't get too much of it. His popularity within the country is plummeting. And he needs some kind of support from his own people. In this case, he could force people to ask themselves fundamental question, what is the alternative.
MR. MacNeil: Let me ask -- you know Gorbachev quite well, Vitaly Korotich. Is that plausible, that Gorbachev could have engineered this to win sympathy and support?
MR. KOROTICH: Not practically possible to imagine because Presidents never engineer coups themselves, but I cannot imagine that head of KGB, head of army, and party officials would sacrifice them for Gorbachev's success. They're too egoistic and they're fighting for their own interest. Theoretically it's possible, but practically when they remember Krichkov's or Yasov's face, it's not face of martyrs.
MR. MacNeil: Okay. Let's turn to the other side of the story today, Dimitri Simes. Boris Yeltsin, who is the only elected national leader or nearly national leader in the Soviet Union has called for resistance. He's declared the strike illegal. He's called for a general strike throughout the Russian Federation tomorrow. Will people follow him? Will the security forces obey him or their commanders?
MR. SIMES: Well, I think that there will be some police departments under the control of the Russian ministry of the interior which will follow Yeltsin. They work for him. I'm not sure that all of them will follow his orders; some definitely will. Now if you are talking about interior troops in general and particularly some units of the Soviet army, from what I understand, they brought a lot of ethnic units. These people, most of them at least, are not Russians, and Yeltsin doesn't mean very much to them. I suspect that if there is no great deal of violence, if the troops do not encounter a lot of resistance, then perhaps they would have very central government rise in Yeltsin, but the question to which I don't have an answer is what is going to happen if Russian workers are going to resist -- if the Georgians would go into the mountains, if Armenian guerrillas would attack Soviet army units -- in short, in short, the real question is now how the army would perform if everything is nice and easy. The real question is whom the army will follow if they encounter a lot of resistance. And I don't know whether they will follow Yeltsin, but i doubt very much that they will be willing to fight and die on behalf of the new President and his cabinet.
MR. MacNeil: The argument was made on this program a few weeks ago when we interviewed -- Charles Krause interviewed Col. Alksnis, the -- one of the hardliners who was advocating the overthrow of Gorbachev -- he made the argument that the army would never fire on the Soviet people but that they would regard Gorbachev as so unpopular that the people would be in favor of the coup. What do you say to that?
MR. SIMES: That's very interesting. That's why we were so surprised, at least I was so surprised about the timing of the coup. It's relatively easy to pick on Gorbachev, but to challenge Yeltsin is a different story. So a lot of us had the theory that the hardliners would wait for several months, there would be winter of discontent, cold, hungry, people would be angry, Yeltsin would be unable to deliver, and then people would be prepared to accept any solution, any strong leader, but the hardliners, in my view, were sufficiently desperate, they moved now. I completely agree with Mr. Sheymov, not so much about Gorbachev being behind the coup but about this being a very strange coup. This is not very well organized, not well prepared. It almost seems spontaneous. These people are acting not in decisive and coherent manner. And I really, I really do not know why these people picked this particular moment, except they felt that if they did not move now, tomorrow could be too late.
MR. MacNeil: Speaking of it being a strange coup, they have asserted control over the news media, and including your magazine, Ogonyok, you told me just now, which has been a radical opposition magazine, but both the Tass News Agency and Vremya, which is the main national television program seen by millions and millions throughout the Soviet Union, tonight carried Yeltsin's call for a general strike tomorrow. What does that mean?
MR. KOROTICH: It means that they want to support somebody and Yeltsin is a real power. It's not so easy --
MR. MacNeil: You mean the people who are the news writers in Tass and Vremya did that or --
MR. KOROTICH: Of course, Soviet news agencies never show real news, but to hide this kind of news, it's too dangerous and I think now, now general strike is possible but main thing, and Mr. Simes told about this, we saw only Moscow, coup de ta is going only there. What is going in republics -- because Ukraine, Georgia, everywhere, and army which will be there, what kind of resistance it will meet, what kind of strike, it's really important, and I think this coup de ta was -- was prepared badly -- done now because they were in panic. We don't know the details of this. We don't know what's happened with Gorbachev. We don't know what's with Yakovlev or Shevardnadze, maybe finishing this I can tell only that when Shevardnadze resigned we tell ah -- when Yakovlev warned us, nobody believed. But in my baggage here I have letter from Gorbachev's adviser, Marshall Hermiev, who said that I, in our magazine, our provocateurs because it'll never be coup de ta in our country. I have it in paper here. Simply this coup de ta was the result of something very unexpected and in the same time necessary to understand that now republics will go into play and Yeltsin was first national leader who called -- let's wait for others -- it will be real problem.
MR. MacNeil: Mr. Levchenko, what -- do you think -- kind of support do you think Yeltsin will pick up in his appeal to resist the coup and declare it illegal?
MR. LEVCHENKO: That's a very good question. It's hard really to predict precisely what will happen, but difference is that Mr. Gorbachev for many of the Soviet citizens until yesterday was a bad guy because his popularity rating was fluctuating somewhere from 6 percent to early teens. He is good guy now when he is under house arrest and when the hardliners took over the power. With Mr. Yeltsin, it's entirely different story. Mr. Yeltsin is the first President of the Russian Federation in the history who had been elected by direct open vote. His rating is somewhere around 60 percent and to implement any decisive, aggressive action against him, it's a great challenge for the members of that coup. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Korotich about the fact that this coup was kind of almost unprepared and happened all of a sudden. I was following the speeches by KGB Chairman Mr. Krichkov -- minister of defense -- Yasov and other hardliners for quite some time, and there was a very serious and sometimes ominous criticism in all the speeches, specifically by Mr. Krichkov, of the policy which Mr. Gorbachev was conducting. His name was not mentioned, mentioned -- and I personally do not think the policy of Mr. Gorbachev was ideal. On the other hand, it was clear that the hardliners were preparing to, probably to engage in the last battle, to try agonizingly to save their positions and maybe to reverse the things, and I don't think that they actually will succeed.
MR. MacNeil: Right. Well, thank you, gentlemen, all four of you. Judy.
MS. WOODRUFF: When President Bush took office in 1989, he ordered a thorough review of the Reagan policy which had created a working partnership with Gorbachev. Once the review was completed, Mr. Bush adopted a policy which deepened that pattern of cooperation. Today after hearing the news of Mr. Gorbachev's ouster, Mr. Bush met with reporters at the summer White House in Maine. He was asked what might have motivated the coup makers in Moscow.
PRES. BUSH: Clearly, some of the hardliners have been concerned about the rapidity of reform. They've been concerned about the demise of the Communist Party per se, and it's -- I think they've also been concerned about the Soviet economy. But on a coup of this matter, you never know what's going to happen. And I think Gorbachev was as surprised as anybody, obviously, and let's just remain open on this as to whether it's going to succeed or not. We're seeing first, the first returns, you might say, coming in, but the people 's commitment to reform and democracy and openness is very profound, and I think, I think that it's awful early to say that, that those changes are reversible. I'm inclined to believe that when people understand freedom and taste freedom and see democracy in action, that they're not going to want to change.
REPORTER: Mr. President.
PRES. BUSH: Yeah, Jerry. Jerry, right here.
REPORTER: Mr. President, are you going to stop the process of economic cooperation that's been unfolding in recent months with the --
PRES. BUSH: I think things will be on "hold." If we're going to set back democracy, set back reform, obviously, not only the United States but Europe will put things on hold as well. There's a lot at stake in all of this and certainly I wouldn't go forward with aid or assistance when you have this kind of extra-constitutional action taken by a handful of people backed up by the military there.
REPORTER: You say the economic aid was on hold. What about the START Treaty, will we hold back on that as well?
PRES. BUSH: No. These treaties are in the interest of the United States clearly and they have said that all treaties will be abided by and that's good. We don't want to go back to the cold war days and we're not going to do that. This is a very frustrating and -- and unconstructive step, but we're not going to go back to that. We're not going to go back to seeing Europe as it used to be with Soviet forces into -- all through Eastern Europe -- and so we're not trying to go back to Square One. What we're trying to do is say, let the situation clear up, but adhere to certain fundamental principles.
REPORTER: Would your preferred course of action at this point be for a return of Gorbachev to power?
PRES. BUSH: Well, I've always felt that he represented the best opportunity to see reform go forward. He's been in a bit of a balancing act, as we all know. One of the reasons we supported him, two reasons -- one he was the President of the Soviet Union, and thus, we conducted our, our business as we should through the President, but secondly, he represented enormous productive and fantastic change, and I've -- I think throwing him out in this manner is counterproductive, totally. I'm sure that the Western European leaders agree with that. So if he were there, obviously, I think the world would be sighing with relief now. And they understand, I think, more clearly why we have been trying to keep our foreign policy based on the fact that he offered the best hope, but we have other democratic forces there now and we want to give them the kind of support we can without being counterproductive.
MS. WOODRUFF: Late this afternoon, the White House issued another statement. "Today's events," President Bush said, "have raised most serious questions about the future course of the Soviet Union." The President said, "The illegitimate effort bypasses the will of the Soviet people." The President also supported Russian Republic President Yeltsin's call for the restoration of President Gorbachev. We now turn to three American assessments. They come from Madeleine Albright, who served on the National Security Council staff under the Carter administration and is now President of the Center for National Policy, a public policy research group. Gen. William Odom was director of the National Security Agency, and is now director of National Security Studies at the Hudson Institute, and Rozanne Ridgway was assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration and in that capacity participated in five U.S.-Soviet summit meetings. She is now president of the Atlantic Council. Rozanne Ridgway, do you agree with several of the Soviet analysts we just heard from that this was a poorly planned, poorly organized coup, and it's not going to succeed?
MS. RIDGWAY: Well, starting at the back of that proposition, I do not think over the long run it's going to succeed. Poorly planned, it seems to have been efficient enough to make the necessary change, and I do think perhaps in terms of its reasoning and the public presentation of it, they could have gone back to the drawing board. But it was effective, so I don't think we get too far down the road if we just say it was poorly planned.
MS. WOODRUFF: But you think -- do you think it'll stick? I mean, what's your sense at this point?
MS. RIDGWAY: My sense is that when they get all done, even if they're still holding power, they're going to be facing the same problem that Gorbachev faced in 1985, a society and an economy that don't work, and my view is these fellows don't have the answers to it. We seem to have acted to preserve the union. It was perhaps the one issue that could bring together this disparate group of people. It's not enough to hold them together and it's a very perilous course. I think in time history will throw them out and we'll get back on track.
MS. WOODRUFF: Gen. Odom, you agree, it's destined to fail?
GEN. ODOM: I think the jury's out on that and I think it'll be quite a while. I think one has to be clear about what fail and succeed really means. I think a coup that keeps these people in power a year or two could be called moderate success in setting back the reform and holding the Soviet Union together. Earlier, you heard some comments about how well prepared it was. Coups are never well prepared. They're always messy things because they have to be done in a very conspiratorial manner. I think if you look back over the earlypart of this year, that the Soviet security forces have had a number of what turned out to be dry runs, such as Lithuania, and that they have followed up with tactics in the Baltics throughout in that regard, and if you look at some of the statements that were made, particularly I was surprised by one on 23 July of this year in which it was an outright call for movement --
MS. WOODRUFF: By whom?
GEN. ODOM: By I think it was about ten or twelve people signed it and three or four of those are members of this emergency committee today. They were essentially appealing to everyone to throw out these people who have brought six tragic years to the Soviet Union and who've swindled them and taken power and squandered it.
MS. WOODRUFF: Madeleine Albright, what do you think the prospects are?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the coup will not last. I think the issue here is that Soviet Union is unraveling. What we're seeing are very deep splits within the public and they're unclear about what direction to go in. They treasure their democratization and glasnost. According to the Times Mirror Center Survey that we've just completed really shows that 60 percent plus people believe in multilateral, multiparty democracy and in pluralism. The problem is that they have been suffering through a period of mass disorientation and a sense that they're obsessed by their economic problems, they're very concerned about a deterioration in law and order, and public morality and when we asked them whether they preferred to have a democratic solution to their problems or a strong hand, what we found was that a very slim majority, 51 percent, wanted a democratic solution.
MS. WOODRUFF: What do you think that means? Does that mean people are going to rise up and stand in front of the tanks, get out of the way at the last minute, as we saw in the tape earlier?
MS. ALBRIGHT: I think that what might happen is the most politically active people are obviously the young people in Moscow, and I think those are the ones that Yeltsin is calling upon for the general strike, and I think that they will be there fighting.
MS. WOODRUFF: Gen. Odom.
GEN. ODOM: Let me make a couple of points in that regard. I said that the jury is out on this and I think it'll be quite a while before we really understand how firmly in power these people are. The willingness of people to resist will be very much I think a function of the ability of Republican leaders and other group leaders who form these new organizations to get their groups into action and to communicate against one other. Now you can see the number of measures that have been taken to make that very very difficult. The second very important variable will be the reliability --
MS. WOODRUFF: It'd be the tanks around the various republic --
GEN. ODOM: Right and take down television stations and make sure that no one can get out on the air. I found it very interesting and Vremya and Tass carried Yeltsin's statement today. Now that is communication. And I think the Western radios will become an important vehicle for communicating among the various dissident groups if this thing becomes more of a civil war or a big resistance --
MS. WOODRUFF: What do you mean Western radios? You mean Voice of America --
GEN. ODOM: Radio Liberty, Voice of America, the BBC, Deutsche Kuella, a number of Western radios that broadcast to the Soviet Union and are widely listened to there, and then I wanted to make a point about another variable -- that is how the Soviet military will behave. The lower ranks of the officer corps and the enlisted personnel are very disillusioned. Only 79 percent of the required draftees were -- showed up this year. So that's been somewhat of a disaster. The living conditions now become a matter of public concern so there's great discontent within the military and I think the military senior leaders are very worried about that reliability. But in the last two years, special units and the MVD have been formed and will --
MS. WOODRUFF: MVD being --
GEN. ODOM: The ministry of interior -- Mr. Klugo's organization. And I think a number of them will be reliable. If republics can coordinate their activities, then I don't think there will be enough reliable troops to manage it even the fairly short run, but if they can't, and if they're disaggregated, then I think this limited number of desirable troops will be able to keep these people in power for some time.
MS. WOODRUFF: So Rozanne Ridgway, a lot obviously depends on how the dissident groups communicate and can get their act together, and that must be very much on the minds of these men who are trying to pull this whole thing off.
MS. RIDGWAY: Well, I think they have to be uncertain, but there must have been some objectives that have become apparent. You try to put yourself in their position, representing, as Madeleine Albright says, another generation, an older agenda of people who we've known through all of these six years have not liked uncertainty, who have been concerned about the unpredictability of the marketplace and the impact on forces and law and order, they've all come together now and they're saying to themselves, how do we, how do we hang onto this in order to do what, and I would say to preserve the union as they knew it and to provide for their people. That's what governments, democratic or totalitarian, say that they're trying to do. I don't think they can do either one and I think that they will lose on both scores.
MS. WOODRUFF: Madeleine Albright, is there anything the United States should have done, the West should have done, could have done, to stave this off, to keep this from happening?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that all along we could have been more engaged with what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think from 1989-90 on when, as you pointed out, President Bush started his policy review, and, in effect, I think wasted about 18 months of a very good legacy that was left by President Regan in terms of knowing how to deal on arms control agreements, and, in effect, engaging more with Gorbachev at a time that he was stronger and we might have had more leverage over him. I do think, however, that we have, as not so much the administration, but a series of American groups and private institutions, done a lot to deal with developing communication methods among the dissidents. I think this is something -- we were talking about how they would get together. What has happened as a result of a lot of work by a variety of groups, people have learned to communicate at the intermediate level so that it is not the way it was in the bad old days when people were isolated from each other. They now know how to operate within kind of embryonic political organizations and they know how to communicate with each other. Also, in addition to the radios that Bill mentioned, there are lots of Westerners in there now. This is not a way to hermetically seal the society again.
MS. WOODRUFF: Well, President Bush said, himself, today that based on what Gorbachev told him, Gorbachev was pessimistic that something like this could work because he said once the people have a taste of democracy, they're not going to be quick to -- to give it up. So a lot depends on what the people want.
GEN. ODOM: Well, I don't think we ought to look at that through ethnocentric American eyes. When people become very hungry, worried about how they're going to eat tomorrow, or next week, when they are very concerned with law and order, and the dangers in the street, and when they fear for their personal existence, their enthusiasm for going out in mass demonstrations and participating in the defense of liberty weakens and their willingness to accept law and order, even if it's a little rough and tumbled by this set of great characters may be more appealing. And I think that leadership, this coup leadership, is banking on that attitude. I think that -- and let me connect this back to the point of our own policy toward them -- by letting the nationality problem not become our central focus and letting this separation take a long evolutionary process, I think we've made the -- given the reactionaries the chance they needed. Our experience in Eastern Europe --
MS. WOODRUFF: The Bush administration has made a mistake --
GEN. ODOM: Well, I don't think it's just the Bush administration. I think the leadership, the democratic leadership in the Congress is across-the-board. Many spokesmen in the U.S. have been moderate. We don't want to get in there --
MS. WOODRUFF: Discouraging the --
GEN. ODOM: -- and discourage this thing to break up. I was very struck -- my visit to Moscow last fall -- at the impression among some senior Soviet officials that everyone in the US really does not want to see the Soviet Union break up. Now if we conveyed that -- and we must have -- then I don't think just the President's responsible for that. That has given them confidence.
MS. WOODRUFF: Have we sent the wrong signals, Rozanne Ridgway?
MS. RIDGWAY: Well, Bill's an old friend so I think he'll take it well if I say I think he's dead wrong. I don't think we've sent the wrong signals. I think we have walked a very, very difficult path, but I think we've walked it successfully, not to become embroiled in internal issues about which we know very little, except have, as Bill has suggested, some strong sort of ethnic impressions. We have expressed ourselves for freedom in democratic institutions and open societies and been very careful. This was found in many respects always to be one of the most unattractive, awful things that could happen. Gorbachev knew it, tried to proceed on consensus, angered people who said he didn't go fast enough, angered people who said he went too slow, and eventually an issue came along such as perhaps the union agreement that got the right together for what I think historically over the decades of change in the Soviet Union will be seen as a brief moment.
MS. WOODRUFF: Just quickly, you want to make a point, and then - -
GEN. ODOM: Yes, I do. If this course had succeeded, we wouldn't have the coup. The old policy has clearly not been effective in that regard. Now you might defend it and say that our influence is not that significant. We won't be able to test the other policy -- and by the other policy I don't mean really beating the drums on the issue, but certainly realizing that self-determination is important.
MS. WOODRUFF: I just want to get in the last couple of minutes that we have, Madeleine Albright, is there anything the United States or anyone in the West can do at this point to influence events in the Soviet Union?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it's very important that we remember who we are and we ought to condemn the way that this has happened, and realize that we cannot deal with a government which sends tanks through the middle of its capital in order to terrify people, and I think that we have to make very clear that a continued U.S.- Soviet relationship depends on them dealing in a legal way and allowing Gorbachev to be restored.
MS. WOODRUFF: Well, we've already said that they came to power outside the Soviet Constitution. Can we deal with these people at all?
MS. ALBRIGHT: I think we cannot at this stage. And what President Bush has said, quite properly, is that a lot of issues have to be on "hold," and it puts us in a very tough position in terms of how far to move forward.
MS. WOODRUFF: And yet, Rozanne Ridgway, the President also said he wants to move ahead with the START, with the Strategic Arms Treaty Ratification --
MS. RIDGWAY: And we have all said communication must be maintained and that should not exclude official communications telling this group what it's going to take for them in the way of their behavior, restoring democratic means, getting on with reform, to be accepted in that global scene, which they require to prosper.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Judy --
MS. WOODRUFF: But do they really care -- we only have a couple of seconds left -- but at this point?
MS. RIDGWAY: Even if they're going to be tough, I think the START agreement's a good idea. If you're going to go to deterrence, at least have the minimum number of nuclear weapons.
MS. WOODRUFF: But is Congress ready to go ahead and ratify the START agreement under these circumstances?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, if they can be persuaded that it's verifiable, and those people who negotiated believe it is, but I think what does need to be done is that the countries in Central and Eastern Europe which have benefited the most from Gorbachev, President Bush needs to assure the leaders of those countries that there will not be a roll back.
MS. WOODRUFF: President Gorbachev, if he's around to talk to anyone. Madeleine Albright, Gen. William Odom, Rozanne Ridgway, thank you all. RECAP
MR. MacNeil: There was one other major domestic story today. Hurricane Bob with winds in excess of 110 miles an hour hit much of the Northeast section of the country. It passed off the tip of Long Island, as well as Block Island and Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Cape Cod and the Coast of Rhode Island also took the brunt of the storm. Massive evacuations and power outages were reported throughout the region. This evening, Coastal Maine prepared for Bob's arrival. Storm surges of five to eight feet were expected.
MS. WOODRUFF: Again, recapping the main story of this Monday, Mikhail Gorbachev was ousted by Soviet hard-liners supported by the army and the KGB. He was reported under house arrest at his vacation home in the South of the country. Russian President Boris Yeltsin defied the new regime and called for a nationwide strike to protest Gorbachev's ouster. And President Bush called the coup misguided and illegal. He called for Gorbachev to be restored to power. Good night, Robin.
MR. MacNeil: Good night, Judy. We'll be back tomorrow night with more reaction to the dramatic events unfolding in the Soviet Union. I'm Robert MacNeil. Good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
- Producing Organization
- NewsHour Productions
- Contributing Organization
- NewsHour Productions (Washington, District of Columbia)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This episode's headline: Out of Power. The guests include VITALY KOROTICH, Ogonyok Magazine; DIMITRI SIMES, Soviet Affairs Analyst; STANISLAV LEVCHENKO, Former KGB Official; VICTOR SHEYMOV, Former KGB Official; ROZANNE RIDGWAY, Former State Department Official; LT. GEN. WILLIAM ODOM, U.S. Army (Ret.); MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Former National Security Council Staff; CORRESPONDENT: ROGER MUDD. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNeil; In Washington: JUDY WOODRUFF
- Asset type
- Social Issues
- War and Conflict
- Military Forces and Armaments
- Politics and Government
- Copyright NewsHour Productions, LLC. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode)
- Media type
- Moving Image
Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: NH-2083-7P (NH Show Code)
Format: 1 inch videotape
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- Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1991-08-19, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 20, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-sn00z71s2k.
- MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” 1991-08-19. NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 20, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-sn00z71s2k>.
- APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-sn00z71s2k