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1991 - Mr Major’s Comments on the Soviet Coup

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on the Soviet coup, made in an interview held in London on Wednesday 21st August 1991.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether it was good news that the coup had failed].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is very good news, yes. The prospect of what might have happened if this coup had succeeded was almost unthinkable. It would have changed the whole balance of power between the world; it would have changed the influence; it would have changed the improving relationship that there has been between East and West for the last decade or so; and it would have been an immense setback for all of us. It is a very good night indeed; a very good night for democracy.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether the attempted coup failed because it lacked support or because it was badly led].

PRIME MINISTER:

In the medium-term, I think it was doomed to failure because of the changes there had been in the Soviet Union. Political freedom is now abroad in the Soviet Union and I don’t believe once a freedom like that is available to people, that they will give it up and so I think in the medium-term this coup could not possibly have succeeded but in the short-term, of course, through repression it could have succeeded perhaps for weeks, perhaps for months, perhaps even for a few years; thankfully, it hasn’t.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether Mr Yeltsin had been over-dramatic when saying that time was running out].

PRIME MINISTER:

He might have been right. When I spoke to President Yeltsin then, there were tanks heading towards the Parliamentary Building; they stopped. For all he knew, they might not have stopped; they might have over-run the Parliamentary Building; they might have arrested Yeltsin; they might then have cut off the communications with the rest of the world. Nobody knew what might have happened. It didn’t happen and it didn’t happen in the view of people in the Soviet Union for several reasons: because the Muscovites and other people in other cities were resisting the troops; it didn’t happen in the view of those people I have spoken to because of the universal condemnation of people in the West; the moral support that was given, I am told was very important to the people who were there; that is what they have said to me. The fact that we made it clear that the coup was illegal and that we wanted the legal government of the Soviet Union restored made an immense difference those people in the Parliamentary Building have said to me, an immense difference to their spirit and to what happened in the Soviet Union.