A Brief History of People Power
The Failed August Coup, Russia, 1991
As the Soviet Union headed toward fragmentation and democracy under the stewardship of then President Mikhail Gorbachev, a group of hard-liners in the KGB and military attempted to halt the transformation. In a short-lived putsch, they placed Gorbachev under house arrest in the Crimea on Aug. 18 and attempted to seize control of the organs of state in Moscow. But they were thwarted by mass protests there, led by the newly elected President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, who famously stood upon a tank while exhorting the crowds to join in the fight and the military to back down. By Aug. 22, most of the coup plotters had been arrested. The event is considered to have sparked the disintegration of the Soviet Union.