Soviet centrifuge: the characters born from the decline and collapse of the USSR

(To Andrea Forte)

If you change the mission of the empire, the empire is lost. And if you don't even realize you are doing it, then you not only lose it, you kill it. Applied to the USSR, to have this fruit, you need sowing and, for it, the farmer. The farmer is Gorbachev (after all he took a degree in agricultural economics and became minister of agriculture), at the head of the USSR from 1985 to 1991, the seeds are the glasnost (transparency), the perestroika (reconstruction) and theuskorenia (higher production). Gorbachev imagines they are the bolts of a mechanical overhaul, instead they are the symbols of a new, but deadly mission.

The future oligarchs, who will emerge from these transformations, act in two stages, first taking advantage of the failed economic reforms of the second 80s, then taking advantage of the capital need of the new post-Soviet states.

In the first phase, the Soviet state gives the possibility to open a bank account and start a business. To earn, without a starting point, the oligarchs (who are not born as such) must speculate rather than invest.

In the second phase, the nineties, the new nation states, which remained owners of the state giants, managers of raw materials (gas, oil, metals etc ...), however, lacked money in the public coffers. This leads, for example, to Yeltsin's Russia to ask for loans from banks (in the hands of the oligarchs) who, in exchange, obtain the shares of those companies as collateral. knowing that the debts would not be paid, ergo seizing the raw materials of the country. The proceeds of the immense resources would then be reinvested, perhaps in the media to influence politicians and public opinion, or transferred abroad.

Boris Berezovskyij, one of them, speaking of this new elite class, spoke of semibankirschina (seven bankers) echoing i semiboyarschina (the seven boyars of the 600th century). Indeed, the objective is not so much direct political power, but real power, which only raw materials in that context give.

For these people, the 1991 putsch is just a trend accelerator, leading to the second phase of their economic empires. I am in favor of it economically. Among the most representative in this sense is Mikhail Chodorkovskyij (photo). In 1987 he took advantage of the opening by the CPSU of the International Youth Center for Scientific and Technological Creativity, of which he assumes the local management of Frunze. In 1988 it becomes a bank (Menatep), with which it has been involved in investments since 1990. With it it buys some media and finally obtains Jukos, the second largest producer of Russian oil, through shares acquired with loans. But he has more in mind, to make a multinational with profits to be taken abroad and to have American shareholders also participate in the game, creating a new power within Russia, but potentially anti-Russian. Too much, he will end up like many oligarchs, tried for politically flawed charges and rendered harmless.

Equally, German Sterligov, who begins by renting (without owning ownership) the spaces of the city stations to artists for their concerts (but the proceeds go to him and the rents do not pay them). rules, everyone can be creators). During the coup he is in New York and, faced with Russian bonds reduced to zero by the news of the coup, he decides to acquire them, literally saying that everything would be over in three days. So it is, the price goes up and sells them at a thousand percent.

Roman Abramovich starts making dolls (Ujut company), thanks to the new freedom of enterprise. With the coup and the sell-offs of the state giants, in 1995 he acquired part of Sibneft, the oil giant, together with Berezovskij.

The limited openings of Gorbachev with foreign countries allow for Artem Tarasov to buy dollars from prostitutes, with which to buy PCs abroad and resell them at home at 35 times the price, taking advantage of the difference in monetary value and the chronic lack of PCs in administrations.

The coup d'état also acts as a watershed for the military. Their attitude will at least partially decide their careers. While some will be against and others for, both are still about defending the system. Gorbachev has initiated a transformation of the order, if we can say so, but to some, who see the transformation more than the order, it worries and act, others, who still see in him the legitimate order that decides, defend. It is an apparatus and as such tending, even if only by inertia, to the defense of the status quo, they are only divided on what defends it best, Gorbachev or a coup.

In particular, during the coup we find the Marshal, the last of the USSR, Yevgeny Saposnikov, commander in chief of the air force, who opposes the deployment of anti-government troops and the State Committee for the State of Emergency (GKCP, the coup leaders). He is even in favor of the dissolution of the USSR itself. He will continue, in the post-Russian USSR, to deal with the arms trade, and in aviation, only to die of COVID last year.

Those days there are other commanders too, for example Pavel Grachev, during the putsch he was commander of the airborne army. His opposition to the coup will only emerge after having first deployed his forces in Moscow, and then go to Yeltsin's side. He will become Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation from 1992 to 1996 and will therefore have to manage, accused of having done wrong, the first conflict in Chechnya, and the definitive withdrawal of Soviet troops from Central-Eastern Europe. He will have to deal with the 1993 riots in Moscow, but above all he has the task of avoiding both the disintegration and the privatization of the armed forces after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is also against the coup Yuri Maximov, commander of the missile forces since 1985, as Deputy Minister of Defense. For this position and for his professionalism he then became commander of the strategic deterrent forces of the community of independent states, after the end of the USSR, but resigned of his own will in 1993.

Victor Karpukhin was a commanding general of the Alpha group (KGB) during the coup, he will later join the president of Kazakhstan Nazarbayev, as head of his security services and will eventually remain as a private individual to deal with corporate security.

Obviously the attempted coup accelerates the idea that the KGB must change too. He was immediately appointed on 29 August Vadim Backatin, as its latest general manager. He had already been minister of the interior, his task is to weaken the KGB, until the dissolution, and for this he will be accused of treason.

The current president of the Russian Federation was part of the KGB at the time of the coup, Vladimir Putin. At the time he was in St. Petersburg with the rank of lieutenant colonel, but resigned on August 20. Probably tactical resignations, one deception. After all, the ideas of conservation of power at the base of the USSR, rather than communism, are the true ideological root of the former KGB and the putschists, ideas shared by those who consider the collapse of the USSR "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century ".

Connected to the KGB, thanks to his oriental studies, under the cover name MAKSIM will be the political future Evgenji Primakov. Since 1989 he has been president of the Soviet of the Union, one of the two chambers of the Soviet Parliament, until he becomes one of Gorbachev's advisers. He will refuse to support the coup, thus remaining in the KGB as a loyal first vice president of the service and director of its foreign secret service until 1996, when his political career takes off. Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs and author of the Primakov Doctrine, that is the idea that Russia must not stop generating influence, at least in the Middle East and in the former Asian-Soviet space, but must do so at low cost. Although hostile to NATO, he is so pragmatic as to sign with the secretary of this Solana, in 1997, the founding act of Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security (for many it is the official signature at the end of the Cold War). It will be his idea
of a strategic triangle with China and India in an anti-American sense. It is with this strong conscience of Russia that he will culminate his career as prime minister until 1999.

The USSR is a world of republics and, as such, in an era of renewed nationalism, not all view the coup with disapproval. Among the most prominent personalities who will have a role after the destruction of the USSR is the Georgian Eduard Shevardnadze. He had been foreign minister with Gorbachev and in that role he had participated in disarmament diplomacy with the United States and in managing the end of the war in Afghanistan. His idea is summarized in the Sinatra doctrine, from the song my way by Frank Sinatra, that is the idea of ​​not ingesting more of the internal affairs of the eastern states, of the Warsaw Pact. Resigned due to economic dissent, however, he will warn Gorbachev about the possibility of a dictatorship, and will return after the coup. After the Soviet end, he will take advantage of the coup d'état in Georgia, to then associate with the coup leaders and govern until 2003.

To be opposed, at least in his opinion, to the dissolution of the USSR, is Alexandr Lukashenko, since 1985 director of a kolkhoz, a collective farm, in 1990 he became a deputy of the Belarusian Soviet and founded the communist party for democracy to make the USSR a true communist democracy. He is still the authoritarian president of Belarus.

Fundamental among the political figures at the time of the coup is Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of the Kazakhstan RSS. He hesitates to express an opinion on the coup, at least on the first day, he will be opposed by the second, convinced that independence would be, at least for his country, an economic suicide. He will be able to make Kazakhstan the pivot of an idea of ​​a Turkish bloc to be opposed to the Slavic bloc of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, to be included in the definition of the dissolution of the USSR and in the new association of the former Soviet republics, which later merged into the community of states. independent (CSI).

In Azerbaijan, the figure of Heidar Aliyev, former deputy prime minister of the USSR with Andropov, is the first member of both the Turkish and Muslim politburo. It will be Gorbachev who will dismiss him as a symbol of Brezhnevian corruption, and this is what will lead him to recycle himself as a nationalist. He will be elected president in 1993 by the coup leaders of his country, which he will govern until 2003.

More important is what happens in Ukraine. At the time of the coup the president Leonid Kravcuk he is absolutely in favor of an independence of his country. He is president of the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet when he refuses to approve the state of emergency advocated by the GKCP.

It will be replaced by Leonid Kuchma, former director of an arms factory in Dnipropetrovsk in the Soviet Union. He will be able to give the figure to the new Ukraine with currency, constitution and above all with the consolidation of a local oligarchic world. Above all, he will manage the contradictions of the Ukrainian identity memory, choosing neither among the Red partisans who had defeated Nazism nor among the nationalist partisans who had helped him.

Disciple not up to this ambiguity will be Viktor Janukovych, a former red manager of Ukrainian transport, will press on the divisions between Russian-speaking and pro-Western Ukrainians in order to reach the presidential office (they continue and generate conflicts to this day). He manages to become Ukrainian president, but in 2014 he has to flee to Russia. He will be convicted of high treason in Kiev after the loss of Crimea.

The patriarch of Moscow also looks to the coup Alexios II. He would be against the idea of ​​religious interference in politics, but he will decide to support Yeltsin during the days of the coup. Under the USSR, which among other things he had recognized in a certain sense the ability to intercept in some phases the imperial needs of the Russian world, declined from a religious point of view as resistance to Catholic proselytism, he carried out a prudent pragmatism. Its collapse does not change the sincerity of its previous attitude, the defense of the Orthodox world from other religious influences.

Basically it can be said that the failed coup in August 1991 accelerates dynamics and protagonists. It is the door through which the new world is able to enter faster.

Photo: PressCenter of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev