Staunton, August 20 – Nikolay Leonov, a retired KGB lieutenant general who in 1991 was in charge of that institution’s analytic administration, said that KGB officers did not defend the Soviet Union during the August 1991 putsch because they knew that the people of the country were against the regime.
There are several reasons that the KGB did not come out in support of the Soviet system, Leonov says. “Above all” it was because “we clearly understood the attitude of society which rejected the existing political leadership and also then-existing economic and political model of the state system” (versia.ru/v-avguste-91-go-po-moskve-xodili-60-tysyach-vooruzhyonnyx-chekistov).
Not to take these attitudes into consideration, the former KGB general says, would have been impermissible. Indeed, earlier in 1991, he says, he advised KGB officers in Lithuania that they “must not fight with their own people” because “this would be a crime.”
“We must be true to the Motherland and not to that political circle which in this case is exercising leadership of the country.” In other states, elections change governments because people change their minds. In the case of the Soviet Union, the KGB knew that the people were no longer on the side of the regime.
The KGB of course had the capacity to act, but it chose not to, Leonov says. There were 60,000 armed KGB personnel in Moscow alone, but they did not leave their barracks or offices and on August 21, Leonov says, he ordered all the KGB personnel there to turn in their weapons for safekeeping lest something go wrong.
It was very important, he continues, to send a clear message that he and the others intended “to participate in the political struggle only via peaceful means … Arms are not an argument in civilian arguments. For this, there exists the media and political parties, for this, there exists a parliament. That is where it is necessary to conduct a discussion.”
At the same time, the general says, he and his officers were prepared to defend the Lubyanka if the crowds had tried to storm it. That didn’t happen because Boris Yeltsin calmed the crowd. Leonov adds that he and others protected classified information against those, like Oleg Kalugin who later went into emigration, who wanted to seize it.
Leonov says he not only resisted their efforts but also destroyed the most sensitive documents, continuing a policy he had promoted without success in the former Warsaw Pact countries after 1989.
Obviously, the former KGB general has an obvious interest in putting the best face possible on the activities of the organs during the coup. But much that he says rings true and helps to explain why the events in the Soviet and Russian capital did not dissolve into violence. As such, they are worthy of note.
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